January 21, 2015

Senators Reintroduce DISCLOSE Act on Anniversary of Citizens United Decision

Legislation would Shine a Light on Dark Money

WASHINGTON - Five years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its disastrous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for unlimited, secret spending in American elections. Today, to mark this anniversary, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Udall reintroduced the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would crack down on so-called "dark money" by requiring organizations that spend money to influence elections to disclose their spending as well as their major sources of funding in a timely manner.

The legislation is cosponsored by more than 30 other senators, including Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN).

"Citizens United enabled corporations and billionaires to secretly buy election influence," said Whitehouse. "The DISCLOSE Act would require political groups backed by dark money donors to disclose where their money is coming from so voters know who is really behind those campaign ads. It's a simple idea that many Republicans have supported in the past, and I'm hopeful that their new majority and new responsibility will lead them back to standing with the individual voters who elected them rather than the big special interests seeking to buy our democracy."

"A narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has been systematically diluting the power of the American voter by allowing corporations and billionaires to spend millions of dollars to influence our elections," Udall said. "Elections should not be bought and paid for by secret donors and special interests. Momentum continues to build for common-sense campaign finance reform, and I will keep leading this fight on behalf of New Mexicans and all Americans. It is time to restore our nation's founding principle -- a democracy of, by, and for the people."

"It is long past time to shine a light on the dark money that's pervading our politics today. Rather than helping the Supreme Court take us back to the days when robber barons dominated our politics, Republicans should work with Democrats to fix a broken campaign finance system that helps rig the rules against the middle class in favor of narrow special interests," Schumer said.

"Since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, our elections have been defined by corporations and billionaires spending vast amounts of secret money to influence our elections," Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "Corporations are not people. The tidal wave of dark money unleashed by the Court's decision is undermining the moorings of the American electoral process. The people of Vermont and Americans everywhere have a right to know who is responsible for the enormous sums of money flooding their airwaves. By passing the DISCLOSE Act, we can help restore transparency and accountability to our elections. This law would be a meaningful step toward protecting the rights of Vermonters and of all Americans to be heard."

Since Citizens United, we have seen a dramatic rise in political spending by so-called "independent" groups with no disclosure requirements. In the 2014 elections-the most expensive midterm elections in our history, with over $3.6 billion spent-the Washington Post reported that at least 31 percent of all independent spending was spent by groups that are not required to disclose their donors. And that doesn't even count spending on so-called "issue ads," which is not reported.

The DISCLOSE Act requires any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more. Transfer provisions in the bill prevent donors from using shell organizations to hide their activities.

"Our democracy suffers when corporations and special interests can spend limitless dollars trying to sway public opinion and inject themselves in our elections," Shaheen said. "We'll never level the playing field for middle class families and ordinary Americans unless we start reducing the influence of special interests and corporations. The DISCLOSE Act will rightfully require organizations to publicly report their political spending in a timely fashion, and it's a proposal that we should act on immediately."

"Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people and anonymous groups," Bennet said. "Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections."