Super PAC Spending: Is DISCLOSE the Answer?
On Tuesday, Super PACs filed reports with the Federal Elections Commission detailing their fundraising and spending activities from October through December 2011. The numbers are astounding, but not surprising if you live in a primary state and have turned on the television once in the last two months. As the battleground for the Republican presidential nomination becomes increasingly contentious, voters in primary states have been inundated with TV ads and radio ads attacking candidates and extolling others. The information disclosed in Tuesday’s report sheds new light on the secrecy of these independent expenditures’ activities, as well as the astoundingly few interests these groups represent. The New York Times reports that some of the Super PACs’ money came from “well-established concerns,” such as Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s’ largest coal companies, or the Service Employees International Union, a powerful union lobby. But the Times’ investigation also found that several major contributions came from unidentifiable or unconfirmed sources, such as a $250,000 contribution to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, from a company with a post office box number but no permanent address and no known employees.
In response to the influx of overwhelmingly corporate-funded and unlimited political spending, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) says that he will introduce an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would bring transparency to election spending. In the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission which struck down a decades-long ban on corporate and labor unions using unlimited amounts of their general funds to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, the last Congress considered a version of the DISCLOSE Act nearly identical to the one Mr. Van Hollen (pictured above) is proposing. It ultimately passed the House of Representatives but failed to pass the Senate by a single vote, deeply disappointing campaign finance reform advocates.
The DISCLOSE Act, which stands for Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, is not a legal challenge to Citizens United, as it does not seek to directly curb political spending; rather, it would require Super PACs to be more open and transparent about their funding, and it would mandate that corporations disclose their campaign expenditures to their investors. This bill would help inform voters make informed decisions about the political positions that may or may not be supporting by investing in a company or buying its products.
Officials working on the new bill say that much of the same language will likely remain, including an exemption provision stating that organizations that meet certain requirements in terms of membership and size of operations would not be required to disclose their sources of funding. The National Rifle Association and similarly well-financed groups primarily supported this provision. However, one provision that sources say will likely not be in the DISCLOSE Act 2.0 is one that restricted government contractors and domestic subsidiaries of foreign companies from supporting Super PACs.
Although this Congress is more gridlocked than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the distorting and nasty influence of money in politics and how challenging it has become difficult to obtain information about those who spend large sums in elections. But does the DISCLOSE Act 2.0 go far enough, or do the exemptions leave it toothless? More coverage of the DISCLOSE Act to come after it is introduced.
Image courtesy of Politico.