Congress won’t even require campaign donors to identify themselves

July 16, 2012 | By | 14 Replies More

Senator Al Franken is dismayed that Congress, won’t even consider passing the  DISCLOSE Act.  It’s up for a vote again, and Franken is not at all optimistic. What is DISCLOSE?

This bill doesn’t overturn Citizens United. It doesn’t limit how much money individuals or corporations can spend on independent expenditures. All it does is require that this spending be disclosed publicly. It reflects what used to be a bipartisan consensus around the effectiveness of transparency and disclosure in avoiding corruption.

Why do we need to pass the DISCLOSE Act?

Already in 2012, we’ve seen a single individual write multi-million-dollar checks in support of his favorite presidential candidate. We’ve seen corporations spend tens of millions of dollars on attack ads. We could see $1 billion in outside spending before Election Day.

Worse, there is little sunlight to be found in the post-Citizens United political system. Corporations that want to hide their spending can create shell corporations to contribute unlimited money to a group — so that when you look at the outside group’s fundraising records (which are published only occasionally), you’ll see the shell corporation but not the original source of the money.

And that guy who wrote all those seven-figure checks to support his favorite presidential candidate? We only know about that because he announced it himself (adding that some of his future spending would remain secret).

And because none of this spending is transparent, none of these spenders (or the candidates who profit from their spending) can be held accountable. We simply don’t know who is wielding all this financial power in this year’s elections. We just know it isn’t us, the people. That’s a system in need of disinfecting.

There’s a lot of people out there who think that as long as they have the right to vote, democracy is alive and well.   This is dangerous thinking.    It’s like arguing that as long as I can choose to buy one of the two brands of bread at the grocery store, I still retain meaningful choice.   But what if both brands of bread are corrupted with bugs, pesticides, mold and chemical additives?    Would you really waltz out of the store announcing that you had a meaningful choice, just because you were allowed to choose between Brand A and Brand B, where both of them were bad choices?

These huge secret campaign contributions corrupt our candidates.   They are given to buy access and special attention to the donor’s wish list.   If the candidate fails for follow through with the promises that WERE made in order to get these big contributions, the candidate’s OPPONENT will get that money next time.

And by the way, when was the last time that your President, Representative or Senator invited you out to Washington D.C. to discuss the important issues of the day?   Maybe you need to get a job that pays 100 times as much as you are now making, so you can make a huge contribution, which might get you on the political radar.

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Category: Campaign Finance Reform, Corporatocracy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (14)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Mitt Romney in 1994:

    “I also would abolish PAC’s. You probably have one – I don’t like them. I don’t like the influence of Money – whether it’s business, labor or any other group. I do not like that kind of influence. Lobbyists, I want to register, know who they are. I want to make sure gifts are limited. I think we have to really become much more vigilant in seeing the impact on money – and I don’t care how it’s organized – on money in politics.”

    – Mitt Romney (Remarks to Burlington Business Roundtable, Burlington, MA 10/11/94; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUyBm9sjL5E)

  2. Adam Herman says:

    Sheldon Whitehouse insists that this time the bill doesn’t contain any exemptions and has said that if anyone can find one, he’ll support getting rid of the exemption in question.

    Assuming he is sincere and other Democrats are as well, i can support this bill. I didn’t support the previous DISCLOSE because of the different rules for unions as opposed to businesses plus the NRA exemption. This is 1st amendment rights we’re talking about here, you don’t horsetrade on rights. If the underlying policy goal is so vital that rights have to take a back seat, it has to be done equally and apply to all. If the current DISCLOSE Act does do that, then it’s a good bill.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Apparently, the People of the United States need to be protected from knowing the identity of those who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the current campaign. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/disclose-act-senate-campaign-spending_n_1678055.html

  4. Adam Herman says:

    Well, let’s be clear about the motivation for disclosure here: it’s to attack the disclosed and intimidate them from getting involved in politics.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Adam: I suspect that you have stated the motive of some people. I have a far different motive that I believe more faithfully represents the thoughts of people I know. We want to know who the hell is buying our politicians.

  5. Adam Herman says:

    How does this apply to ballot initiatives? You can’t bribe a ballot initiative so presumably it wouldn’t matter who is campaigning for or against one of those.

    And while I can trust your motives, I’ve seen that the President’s team responds to every single third party attack ad with an ad hominem. Much easier to attack the messenger than the message, which shows a lack of maturity on their part.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Adam: I would suggest that most political ads show a lack of “maturity.” They are not likely to convey useful information for improving living conditions of ordinary people. My niece, who lives in Norway, told me that Norway doesn’t allow any political TV ads. None at all, and it’s for this reason.

      You have again raised good tough to answer questions about how to level the playing field while not stifling free speech. I’m confident that we can do better than the current system. It might be that the solution will be piecemeal, starting with candidates for office, and then moving to other types of elections. The solution should take this general form: If any well-monied group is taking a strong monied position in any sort of election, the People have the right to know who that group is, and how much money is flowing through the system. In other comments you’ve raised the issue about groups buying media outlets and thereby sneaking around well-intended restrictions. I don’t have an answer to that yet, and we need one.

      I would also add that the recent Obama ads pummel Romney on a point that Romney raised: His supposed business acumen. OK, Romney, you say that you should be president because you are a superb businessman? What kind of businesses have you run? How have you made your money? I also think the character issue is a fair one: How can you claim to be a true-blue American when you appear to be hiding money in secret accounts that are commonly associated with tax evasion? I would add this: You claim to be a smart guy who plans well. How is it that you didn’t see this type of attack coming and get your finances in order over the past decade in such a way that you would be proud to disclose them? That’s a huge red flag for me. I think it’s also fair to attack Romney for making much of his money like the prototypical 1%: financial services shenanigans rather than investing in real business that will improve the U.S.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Adam,
    The reason for secrecy in the massive political money is to protect the identities of those who seek to attack the rights of the working and middle class America in order to place themselves above the law.

    If D.J. Flint, for example, puts millions into a superPAC promoting several candidates for the Missouri State legislature who just happen to favor deregulation of the sub prime loan industry, where the ad money completely locks out candidates favoring regulation, I think the voters, and even the candidates themselves should know who is buying the office.

    The fact that Flint is the Chairman of a multinational corporation with over a hundred subsidiary involved in predatory loan practices, should count for something.

    The fact that Flint’s company has been caught laundering money for organization such as the Bratva, Al Quaeda, and many other crime syndicates and terrorist groups is something I think the voters should know.

    And the fact that a foreign national is spending lots of money to influence an American election is something the voters should know.

    And consider this, It should occur to most voters that any candidate who wants to hide his biggest campaign contributers is corrupt, and any contributer that kicks in a half mil to a campaign is corrupt.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Niklaus: I agree that there is no good reason to not stand up and identify yourself if you are pumping big money into a candidate or a campaign. It goes against my sense of basic fairness, because big money buys lots of exposure, which makes it LOOK like a lot of people are behind that position, whereas it is often a very small group of wealthy people. In other words the big money is inherently deceptive because it can disguise raw financial power to be a legitimate social movement (or legitimate science, as in the despicable “Clean Coal” ads).

  7. Adam Herman says:

    Matt Bai just published an outstanding article in the NY Times Magazine about the effects of Citizens United in practice. One thing he brought up which I had forgotten about was that corporations don’t donate to Super PACs or run their own political ads. They instead donate their money to “social welfare” groups like Club for Growth. Does DISCLOSE cover social welfare groups? Like the NAACP, Sierra Club, ACLU, Club for Growth, Moveon, etc.?

  8. Adam Herman says:

    I support disclosure, but I do think that with disclosure comes a responsibility for people to not attack the messenger, and it should start with the Presidential campaigns. Republicans claim that disclosure is meant to intimidate, and the Obama campaign confirms that this is indeed the intent every time they respond to a third party ad.

    the NRA, more paranoid than most organizations, is therefore adamant that this is unacceptable. Don’t know what the ACLU thinks, are they in support of DISCLOSE?

  9. Adam Herman says:

    Hmmm. Good point about the harassment of Prop 8 supporters too. Still, there’s a LOT of anger out there among the voters. Even if my heart tells me no to DISCLOSE, the public needs a bone thrown to it. And DISCLOSE, unlike some parts of BCRA, is clearly constitutional.

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