April 02, 2015

Udall Leads Push to Disclose Dark Money in Politics

Senators urge administration to require government contractors to disclose political spending

WASHINGTON - Today, on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's McCutcheon decision that further eroded the nation's campaign finance laws, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter asking the Obama administration to implement an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose political spending. The letter was also signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The letter from the senators comes on the same day that a coalition of organizations delivered more than 500,000 petition signatures to the White House calling for such an executive order.

The senators note in their letter that the system of disclosure in our campaign finance system has "completely broken down," and that "congressional gridlock has made advancing some of the nation's most important priorities impossible." With that in mind, they write that "[p]olitical spending by government contractors is a problem the President can address without congressional authorization. The President would be on solid legal ground if he were to issue an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by entities that have been awarded government contracts and their senior leadership. The order could also take into account transfers to and from shell corporations and non-profits, to prevent evading disclosure requirements."

"An executive order will not solve our campaign finance problems but it will at least be a step in the right direction, and will show this Administration's commitment to transparency and fairness," they conclude.

Udall is the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United decision, which fatally undermined Congress' ability to enact common-sense campaign finance laws and opened the doors for vast, secretive government influence by corporations and wealthy individuals. Udall's amendment was supported by a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014.

"Until we reverse the Supreme Court's incredibly misguided campaign finance decisions, we must take every opportunity to shine some light on the huge increase in spending to influence elections," Udall said. "This executive order is something the president can do in the near term to increase transparency. If companies are going to benefit from taxpayer money through government contracts, then they should be honest with the public about their political spending."

Whitehouse is the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, which would shine a light on secret campaign spending by requiring timely disclosure of donations over $10,000 by corporations, super PACs, social welfare organizations, unions, and other political groups. Republicans have repeatedly filibustered previous attempts to pass this common sense bill.

"Right now, one thing is clear: Republicans want to protect the status quo that allows shadowy groups to spend unlimited dark money in campaigns," Whitehouse said. "An executive order would disrupt that status quo and could even force Republicans to negotiate with Democrats on a legislative solution. I hope the President and his team will consider such an order."

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Mr. Neil Eggleston
Counsel to the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. Eggleston,

We write to urge you to implement an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by government contractors.

The President has recognized that congressional gridlock has made advancing some of the nation's most important priorities impossible, which is why we applaud his willingness to take executive action on critical issues like climate change and immigration. In our view, campaign finance disclosure is another issue that demands immediate action to restore the public's faith in our democracy.

January 21, 2015 marked the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's fateful decision in Citizens United v. FEC. A premise of Citizens United was that unlimited corporate expenditures would not corrupt the political process because there would be a regime of "effective disclosure" that would "provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."

That regime of "effective disclosure" has completely broken down. Special interests can spend tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars on elections with no public knowledge and no accountability. In the 2014 midterm elections, The Washington Post reported that at least 31 percent of all independent spending in the 2014 elections was spent by groups that are not required to disclose their donors. And that doesn't even include spending on so-called "issue ads," which are not reported.

Further, we write to you today on the anniversary of the McCutcheon decision, which also increased the flood of money in elections. Political spending by government contractors is a problem the President can address without congressional authorization. The President would be on solid legal ground if he were to issue an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by entities that have been awarded government contracts and their senior leadership. The order could also take into account transfers to and from shell corporations and non-profits, to prevent evading disclosure requirements.

An executive order will not solve our campaign finance problems but it will at least be a step in the right direction, and will show this Administration's commitment to transparency and fairness.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter. If you would like further information, please contact Senator Whitehouse or have your staff contact [name of staff member] on his staff.


Sincerely,

 

Tom Udall
United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator