Transparency Comes at No Cost
Jonathan Backer, a former RAC Eisendrath Legislative Assistant now working at the , recently wrote in the Huffington Post about the DISCLOSE Act, federal legislation that would revamp campaign finance disclosure rules. The DISCLOSE Act would require Super PACs, “independent expenditures” that have proliferated in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, as well as 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations, to be more transparent, specifically by disclosing the source of all donations over $10,000.
Jonathan criticizes the accusations made by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Washington Post in June that the DISCLOSE Act would force disclosure requirements “upon some but not all,” and allows the government to penalize organizations it does not “agree” with by subjecting them to stricter restrictions and regulations. “It would certainly be alarming if the Obama administration or congressional Democrats were selectively subjecting groups to additional regulation based on their political beliefs,” Jonathan writes. “Fortunately, this is simply not happening.”
The DISCLOSE Act would apply to political and “social welfare” organizations across the board – from the National Rifle Association to the Humane Society to Super PACs supporting both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. Ultimately, the DISCLOSE Act would help voters make informed decisions about the political positions that they may or may not be supporting by investing in a company or buying its products.
The DISCLOSE Act is not a cure-all to the Pandora’s Box opened by the Citizens United decision, which struck down decades of campaign finance regulation precedent and declared money a form of “speech” protected by the First Amendment, thus permitting unlimited political spending by corporations and labor unions. The DISCLOSE Act would do nothing to curb spending. However, greater across-the-board disclosure requirements would live up to what was actually articulated in the Citizens United ruling. Justice Kennedy praised disclosure laws in the Court’s opinion, writing that “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” If Citizens United was about upholding “free speech,” then it is hypocritical for those wealthy individuals and organizations pleased by the court decision to insist the public cannot know who is spending that money.
We’re just beginning to see the impact of the opacity of our post-Citizens United campaign finance system, but these issues will become even more potent as the election season heats up and both the Democratic and Republican parties hold their respective conventions this summer. Overall, disclosure is just one piece of the campaign finance reform puzzle, a larger beast that will include enacting “clean money” public financing structures and allowing states to regulate abuses in their campaign finance systems. But one thing that voters, Members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices all agree on is the need to hold individuals and corporations accountable for what they say or do. Disclosure is a common-sense step toward achieving that goal.
Image courtesy of ThinkProgress.