After Citizens United, which was decided two days after Democrats lost their 60-seat majority in the Senate, there was a push to respond to the Supreme Court ruling with some legislation adding transparency and disclosure to the process. If the Massachusetts race went another way it would have passed; Democrats consistently got 59 votes in the Senate for the DISCLOSE Act. But Republicans wouldn’t budget because they reasoned that the new campaign finance system – actually not a system at all but a recipe for massive spending by corporations and the wealthy – would advantage them. In 2010 they were right.
But in 2012, Republicans, particularly in the Presidential primary, have begun to see the dangers of an anything-goes campaign finance system. The rise of SuperPACs and the way undisclosed money can alter a race has shined a light on Citizens United and its consequences. I don’t know that Republicans have completely come around on the need for some order on the chaos, but polling shows the public certainly has.
So Democrats are going to take another run at it. Reps. Bob Brady and Chris Van Hollen have distributed legislation, known colloquially as DISCLOSE II, that would add disclosure and transparency to the areas of the system that have none. Specifically, their bill would, according to their Dear Colleague letter:
• Enhance disclosure by SuperPACs, corporations and outside groups of campaign funding
• Require SuperPACs, corporations and outside groups to “stand by their ads” (aka they would have to put “I approve this message” on the back end, possibly with the name of the top funder of the SuperPAC or group)
• Require corporations to disclose their campaign expenditures to their shareholders (there’s no mandate on this now, though some corporations voluntarily disclose)
• Require lobbyists to disclose their campaign expenditures
Obviously the silver bullets here have little to do with these band-aids. A public financing system and tight lobbying rules would do much more for the campaign finance system. Over the long term, a Constitutional amendment on banning corporate personhood would reap benefits inside and outside the campaign finance sphere. And something needs to be done about the so-called “legislative subsidy,” the unique dependance in Washington on lobbyists for policy advice and expertise.
But this isn’t a bad start. Brady and Van Hollen write that “We need to restore accountability in our elections. The American people have a right to know the source of the money that is being spent to influence the outcome of our elections. They should be told who is behind the millions of dollars in campaign ads and they should receive this information in a timely fashion.” It’s hard to argue with that. And since we’re seeing this play out in a Republican primary right now, maybe there’s some sympathy on the other side of the aisle on these issues.
Sam Stein has more.