July 23, 2014

Udall Urges New Law to Crack Down on Secret Money in Elections

DISCLOSE Act would reduce impact of Citizens United, require groups to report how they spend millions to influence elections

WASHINGTON - As the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United continues to allow corporations and other groups to spend unchecked secret money to influence elections, U.S. Senator Tom Udall spoke out in favor of a new law to require such organizations to disclose their spending and major sources of funding in a timely manner.

During a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee on the DISCLOSE Act, which would turn back the effects of Citizens United, Udall said new laws are needed to return control of elections to the voters.

Udall is a cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act and has led efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court's campaign finance decisions in Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United and McCutcheon, which have given corporations and wealthy donors increasing influence in elections. His amendment would allow voters to reinstate campaign finance laws at the state and national level.

"We have a broken system. McCutcheon is the latest misguided decision. It won't be the last. Congress needs to take back control by passing a constitutional amendment. We all know that it will take time. In the meantime, the checkbooks will be out, the money will keep flowing," Udall said at the hearing. "Americans are losing faith in our electoral system. There is just too much money hidden in the shadows. It is time to restore that faith. The DISCLOSE Act is a step in the right direction."

Udall delivered the following statement at the hearing:

We have a serious problem and a great challenge. Our campaign finance system is failing and it is broken. It is being dismantled step-by-step by a narrow majority on the Supreme Court; taking us back to Watergate-era rules - the same rules that fostered corruption, outraged voters and prompted campaign finance regulations in the first place.

From 1976 and Buckley v. Valeo, when the Court first tied campaign cash to free speech, to Citizens United, when the tortured logic reached its peak and corporations became people.

The Court's McCutcheon decision in April was the latest blow, further opening the floodgates for wealthy individuals to donate to an unlimited number of candidates. At this point, five conservative justices have said preventing outright bribery is the only legitimate basis for regulation.

This isn't about free speech, and the American people know it. It's about wealthy interests trying to buy elections in secret with no limits. Period.

Because the "speech" we are talking about here sure isn't "free." Citizens United and McCutcheon are not about the grassroots small donor. It's about the big guys, the really big guys - millionaires and billionaires

Politico reporter Ken Vogel has come out with a book about the new era of campaign spending, titled "Big Money." He reports that outside groups spent $2.5 billion dollars in the 2012 campaign.

Open a newspaper. We are seeing more and more political coverage about which billionaires are spending tens of millions of dollars on the political system. This is all coming at the expense of middle class citizens and the issues challenges they face.

It is a broken system, based on a flawed premise: that spending money on elections is the same thing as free speech. There are only two ways to fix this. The Court overturns Buckley, which is not likely, or amend the Constitution to overturn previous misguided court decisions and prevent future ones.

That is why I built on bipartisan efforts going back decades and introduced S.J. Res. 19 last June to restore the historic authority of Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns.

This would include independent expenditures, and it would allow states to do the same at their level. It would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but it would allow Congress to pass sensible campaign finance reform laws that withstand constitutional challenges.

We are seeing momentum. S. J. Res 19 was just reported by the Judiciary Committee last month. It now has 46 cosponsors, and a companion measure has been introduced in the House with more than 110 cosponsors.

I will continue to push for a constitutional amendment. We need comprehensive reform. But in the interim, we also need to follow the money, which is exactly what the DISCLOSE Act is intended to do.

The DISCLOSE Act of 2014 asks a basic-and more than fair-question. Where does the money come from? And where is it going?

The American people deserve to know who is spending all this money to influence their vote. And they deserve to know before, not after, they head to the polls. That's what the DISCLOSE Act will achieve. It is practical, sensible, and long overdue.

We have a broken system. McCutcheon is the latest misguided decision. It won't be the last. Congress needs to take back control by passing a constitutional amendment. We all know that it will take time. In the meantime, the checkbooks will be out, the money will keep flowing - we should pass the DISCLOSE Act.

Billionaires may keep spending, but they can't keep hiding. Americans are losing faith in our electoral system. There is just too much money hidden in the shadows. It's time to restore that faith - the DISCLOSE Act is a step in the right direction.

You know, it was said here several times over and over again that somehow this is about free speech. What DISCLOSE is about is the basic core principle of the voters knowing where the money is coming from. Hundreds of millions in dark money... and I see a chart here on the table... hundreds of millions of dark money in 2012 and 2010 are infiltrating the system. Nobody knows who gives that money except the millionaires and billionaires who are doing it.

Thank you again for holding this very very important hearing on our democracy.