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No Surprise Here: Disclosure of Unlimited Campaign Money Rejected by GOP-Led Filibuster

July 17, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

The big-money usurption of American democracy has taken another step forward. By a vote of 51-44, the Senate last night voted along party lines to uphold a filibuster the 2012 DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would require corporations, unions and Super PAC that run political ads to release the names of their donors who give more than $10,000 to support a campaign. Just ten years after President Bush signed into law the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” (McCain-Feingold), putting limits on independent campaign spending and requiring disclosure in ads, simple disclosure of unlimited campaign spending has become a bitter, highly-politicized issue.

Even the majority-Republican-appointed Supreme Court in their Citizens United decision, which liberalized campaign finance laws and allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited dollars on elections, supported disclosure of donors. By an 8-1 majority, the Court voted in favor of disclosure, arguing that, “disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” The Supreme Court stated that there is no constitutional inpediment to disclosure requirements and that there is no evidence that such requirements chill speech or expression.

The public widely support disclosure of big-money donors as well. According to polling conducting by anti-campaign-finance-regulation-group the Center for Competitive Politics, 87 percent of those polled agree with the 2012 DISCLOSE Act’s requirement that the identities of people or organization donating over $10,000 should be publicly disclosed.

The reason this bill can’t pass appears to be more about a lack of independence from corporations and unions than any sort of reasoned, fact-based analysis. This is underscored by an op-ed yesterday co-authored by two former Republican Senators, Chuck Hagel and Warren Rudman. The pair, who left the Senate before the secretive unlimited spending really exploded (Rudman in ‘93 and Hagel in 2009), called for every senator to support the DISCLOSE Act. “This legislation treats trade unions and corporations equally and gives neither party an advantage. It is good for Republicans and it is good for Democrats. Most important, it is good for the American people.”

The Sunlight Foundation has a great video showing several current senators who in the not-so-distant past were vocal supporters of money-in-politics transparency, but in recent days have flip-flopped hard on the issue.

To be clear, the Democrats are far from immune to criticism for their treatment of the DISCLOSE Act. For almost a full year after the SCOTUS’s Citizens United decision, the Democrats had a near veto-proof Senate majority, a majority in the House, and Obama in the White House. During that time they managed to enact several major and contentious bills. If they actually wanted the DISCLOSE Act to be the law, they could have done a lot more to drum up support. But again, this isn’t about good policy, it’s about independence from big money, and the Democrats don’t have that any more than the Republicans.

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