Tag Archives: Disclose Act

Congress Should Pass the Disclose Act and End Secret Contributions

The US Supreme Court opened the floodgates with its Citizens United decision and money poured into this year’s election from special interests, corporations, insurance companies and Wall Street. Most of it was secret because Congress has not passed the Disclose Act requiring that contributors names be made public for those engaging in trying to influence the outcome of our elections. The bill has passed the House but is stuck in the US Senate.

Such secret money of course comes with strings attached and the public has the right to know who has bankrolled political campaigns and how our elected officials voted on legislation affecting those donors.
Money spent opposing the Health Care bill passed by Congress points out the problems in detail. As a recent New York Times Editoriall points out:

According to tax records unearthed by Bloomberg News, the health insurance lobby secretly gave $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 to try to prevent the health care bill from becoming law. The huge contribution — 40 percent of the chamber’s spending for that year — allowed the group to run ads against the bill without tainting the insurance industry, which was negotiating with Democrats on the bill at the same time.

This year, the chamber raised nearly $33 million in secret donations for political ads in the midterm elections, almost all of which was used to elect Republicans who have vowed to repeal the health care law. Did some of that money come, once again, from health insurance companies that were unwilling to attach their names to their contributions? It’s a logical assumption, but only the donors and the chamber know for sure.

And that’s the problem with secret political donations, which played such a large role in the elections earlier this month. They cast a shadow of doubt and distrust over a huge field, raising questions about who is covertly pushing which bill and supporting which candidate, and for which self-serving purposes. Lobbying and political contributions can be perfectly legitimate practices, but only when the public can see who is pulling the strings.

Secret donors spent at least $138 million on the midterm elections, according to the latest figures, and 80 percent of that secret money supported Republican candidates. What will those donors get for their money, and who will they get it from?

Write your Senators today and urge they pass the Disclose Act. It’s bad enough having all that corporate and special interest money swamp the public discourse without also know who is funding the campaign.

OpenCongress.org describes the bill:

This is the Democrats’ response to the Supreme Courts’ recent Citizens United v. FEC ruling. It seeks to increase transparency of corporate and special-interest money in national political campaigns. It would require organizations involved in political campaigning to disclose the identity of the large donors, and to reveal their identities in any political ads they fund. It would also bar foreign corporations, government contractors and TARP recipients from making political expenditures. Notably, the bill would exempt all long-standing, non-profit organizations with more than 500,000 members from having to disclose their donor lists.

Lack of Timely Congressional Public Disclosure is an Insult to the Voters

The latest campaign contribution and expenditure figures for Congressional races reported by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) are dated from the end of July 2010 for a report only through June 30, 2010. In an age of electronic and computer nimbleness when news can circulate the globe in a matter of seconds, campaign finance disclosure by candidates running for the US Senate and the House seem to be in the pre-telegraph era.

This antiquated campaign disclosure system hurts the democratic process by denying the public access to campaign spending and contribution information.  It is an insult to the public and benefits special interests trying to obscure and cloud the impact money is having in Congressional races. The public has a right to know who is contributing to candidates and how much is being spent. The current system is a failure for timely disclosure.

And this is not even discussing the most recent insult – the unfettered and unrestricted flow of special interest and corporate dollars flowing into committees and organizations, including those that are filed with the IRS as 501-c-4 organizations that are not required to disclose their donors at all.  This is all the result of the conservative faction put on the US Supreme Court which in their 5 to 4 decision of Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission ruled that money and free speech are one and the same.

Current reporting to the FEC by US Senate and House candidates is on a quarterly basis.  Reports are due April 15, July 15, Oct 15, and Jan 31.  There is an additional Pre-Primary and Pre-General Election report. The Pre-General Election report covers Oct 1 -13 and is due Oct 21.

Meanwhile amazingly, Presidential campaigns are required to report monthly as are Party organizations and PAC’s.  Monthly reports are due on the 20th of the following month.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, its Congress who set the reporting requirements for Congress to only report quarterly.  And a further delay is that while the House and Presidential campaigns file directly electronically with the FEC,  the Senate adds additional delay in reporting by first requiring that a PAPER copy be filed with the US Senate which then forwards that to the FEC. Yes the word PAPER is correct. Talk about being behind the times.

Meanwhile here in Washington State  reports for candidates are filed with our Public Disclosure Commission monthly, electronically and the deadline is the 10th of the following month.  This includes races for statewide office like Governor which encompasses obviously the same geographical area as a US Senate race.

Two separate bills are before Congress to increase public disclosure that deserve public support. The first is a perennial bill to require Senate candidates to file electronic copies of their reports. This is Russ Feingold’s bill,  the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. He notes it would save taxpayers $250,000.  As Feingold states,

Under the current paper filing system, the FEC’s detailed coding, which allows for more sophisticated searches and analysis, is completed over a week later for Senate reports than for House reports. This means that the final disclosure reports covering contributions made during the first two weeks of October are often not subject to detailed scrutiny before the election. Detailed campaign expenditure information is never available electronically because the FEC does not enter that information into its databases.

Help urge the US Senate to join the electronic computer era. Send an e-mail to your Senators urging they join the digital revolution in reporting campaign contributions. Click on the link to email Washington State’s Senators:

Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Patty Murray
To e-mail Senators in other states go to the US Senate website.

The other legislation that Republicans have blocked to date is the DISCLOSE Bill.  As noted in a citizen co-sponsor website at http://www.discloseact.com/

The DISCLOSE Act legislation will address seven major points:

1. Enhance Disclaimers

Make CEOs and other leaders take responsibility for their ads.

2. Enhance Disclosures

It is time to follow the money.

3. Prevent Foreign Influence

Foreign countries and entities should not be determining the outcome of our elections.

4. Shareholder/Member Disclosure

We should allow shareholders and members to know where money goes.

5. Prevent Government Contractors from Spending

Taxpayer money should not be spent on political ads.

6. Provide the Lowest Unit Rate for Candidates and Parties

Special interests should not drown out the voices of the people.

7. Tighten Coordination Rules

Corporations should not be able to “sponsor” a candidate

Please also urge your Senatore to pass this bill. The House has already done so.

For previous discussion of these issues see also:

US Senators Still Trying to Figure out Computers and Internet

Republicans in US Senate Stop Campaign Disclosure Bill

Republicans in US Senate Stop Campaign Disclosure Bill

The last thing Republicans want is to let the public know  where  campaign contributions spent supporting them are coming from.  Voting on a party line vote, US Senate Republicans voted to oppose disclosing corporate contributions and expenditures  being spent to try to put them back in power.  The measure known as the Disclose Act also included disclosure by unions but corporate contributions through PAC’s and outside interest groups are likely to vastly exceed that of unions.

The New York Times  in its print edition misleadingly writes a headline entitled “Senate Democrats Fail to Advance a Campaign Finance Bill, an Obama Priority.” It should have instead been entitled something like “Senate Republicans Stop Passage of Bill to Require Disclosure of Corporate Contributions”. The vote was 59 for and 39 against on a procedural vote to cut off debate. No Republicans voted to end debate and all the Democrats did in an effort to bring the actual bill up for a vote.

The online edition headline says “Small-Business Bill Advances; Campaign Finance Bill Stalls” which is more accurate in terms of what is in the article but the lead sentence repeats the statement that “Senate Democrats failed Thursday to advance campaign finance legislation that would force businesses, unions and others to disclose how they were spending money in political campaigns and where they were getting it.”  The NY Times does a disservice to the public and its readers by failing to upfront attribute the failure to move the bill to the Republicans and their use of Senate rules to block a vote that clearly has a majority of Senators in support. Clearly the Democrats are behind disclosure.

Republicans continue to block passage of almost all legislation in the Senate in an attempt to brand the Democrats as unable to get things done.  Yet it is the Republicans who are cynically stopping action on bills, even on things they previously supported.  It remains bizarre that there are Americans who somehow think returning Republicans to power is going to make things work better. Ever since Obama got elected the Republican strategy  was to oppose anything the Democrats proposed. They were not concerned about putting Americans back to work, they were only motivated by putting themselves back in power.

Republicans have no new answers, they knee jerk oppose taxes of all kind – witness their support of retaining the Bush tax cuts for millionaires despite the fact that this would increase the deficit  because money would have to be borrowed at taxpayer expense to cover these tax breaks.Witness their continued opposition to financial reform despite the fact that financial deregulation and lack of oversight and accountability contributed heavily to our current recession. Witness their opposition to health care reform despite the fact that the system was broken and private insurance companies were raising premiums much faster than inflation to add to their profits.

Democrats have accomplished a lot despite Republican opposition to most of what they’ve done. If  Republicans controlled the White House or the US Senate, imagine who might have nominated for the US Supreme Court. As Robert Creamer wrote on the Huffington Post in August, Democrats have been fighting for the average American and winning the battle against corporate special interests.

Democrats won the battle with Wall Street and the Republicans to rein in the power of the big Wall Street banks. We won the battle to begin holding insurance companies accountable and prevent them from discriminating against people with “pre-existing conditions.” We won the battle to rescue the economy from the death spiral created by Bush administration policies and the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks.

Democrats and Independents who want to keep our country moving forward to solve our pressing problems need to turn out and vote and support the Democratic ticket.  There is no such thing as not taking a position in an election.  If you don’t vote, you are letting others make a decision for you.  In this election Republicans have said they are more inclined to vote than Democrats by a wide margin.  Not voting and opposing this Republican enthusiasm is the same thing as voting for the Republicans.  Every voter has a vote. Use it. Democrats can win if those who want to keep moving America forward just get out and vote. Here in Washington State for most voters it is just filling out and mailing your ballot. Not a lot to ask considering the possible consequences of not voting.

You can go to the King County Democrats web pages to see a list of endorsed candidates and ballot measures.

See also NPI Advocate post for more information on the Disclose Act.