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Dems Re-Intro Super PAC Disclosure Bill

February 21, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

One of the best ways to understand why Congress does what it does is to follow the money. Take a look at which corporations and unions are donating to members of Congress who support their pet bills and you can start to see the networks of influence that partly control what legislation gets considered and how senators and representatives vote.

Unfortunately, in our post-Citizens United v. F.E.C. world, following the money is becoming much more difficult. In the 2012 presidential contest, Super PACs, which do not have to publicly disclose where all of their money comes from, have officially overtaken candidate campaigns in election fundraising and spending. Any semblance of separation between Super PACs and campaigns has completely disappeared as well, meaning that the traditional, regulated and disclosed candidate campaign has basically been replaced by the unlimited, secretive Super PAC.

The supremacy of the Super PAC will undoubtedly carry over into the 2012 Senate and House elections. That means that while candidates for Congress themselves will know exactly which corporations and unions bankrolled their surrogate campaigns, public information on money in politics will be obscured by references to shell organizations set up to funnel money to candidates anonymously under new loopholes in campaign finance laws. In the wake of the Citizens United decision, the usefulness of publicly-accessible money-in-politics data has been seriously damaged, and if current trends continue it will soon be more misleading than it is illuminating.

If Congress respects the public’s right to know who finance their elected officials, they should immediately pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would require all organizations involved in political campaigning to disclose the identity of the large donors in a timely manner, and to reveal their identities in all political advertisements that they fund. The bill, which passed the House in the last session of Congress but rejected in the Senate, has been reintroduced in the House by Rep. Chris Van Hollen [D, MD]. It already has 117 co-sponsors. Unfortunately, not a single Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor, and with Republicans controlling the House the Democrats that support the bill can not bring it to a vote. Van Hollen is planning to file a discharge petition to bypass the committee process and force a vote on the bill, but he needs the support of a majority of the House to be successful, which is unlikely with the Democrats in the minority.

Congressional Republicans’ arguments against the DISCLOSE Act have focused on claims that the bill violates organizations’ right to express free speech through spending money on political campaigns.

Of course, requiring complete, timely disclosure of corporate and union donations to Super PACs is just the tip of the campaign-finance-system iceberg that needs to be fixed. Congress needs to reassert their power to regulate federal campaign spending, corporate personhood should be revoked, and a robust public financing system should be created to ensure that citizen candidates can compete with wealthy, connected incumbents. The influence of money in politics is at the core of all other political issues, and if we want to start fixing the system we need to make campaign-finance reform a bigger part of our voting decisions and political activism.

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