Memo: The DISCLOSE Act and Fair Elections
From: Public Campaign and Common Cause
Subject: The DISCLOSE Act and Fair Elections
Date: April 30, 2010
On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the DISCLOSE Act, legislation aimed at blunting the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The legislation is important, but falls short of solving the problem with big money in politics.
As Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said yesterday, “If we are going to bring about the change the American people voted for, we first need to bring change to the way Washington does business. That’s why I’ve introduced the Fair Elections Now Act, as a compliment to the DISCLOSE Act. This legislation would take the hunt for big money out of our elections and put the American people back into the driver’s seat of political campaigns.”
While the DISCLOSE Act is a welcome step forward to reducing the undue influence of corporations in our elections, the legislation simply takes us back to January 20, 2010, the day before the Citizens United decision was announced. Members of Congress spent a majority of their time raising money before the decision and will continue to do so even with this proposed bill. Congress should move ahead with the Fair Elections Now Act, which would end Congress’ reliance on campaign bundlers and insider lobbyists to fund their campaigns.
THE DISCLOSE ACT
In Citizens United, the Roberts Court eliminated decades of common sense restrictions on corporate and union spending and allowed these wealthy special interests to influence our elections with unrestricted access to their corporate treasury funds.
The DISCLOSE Act is Congress’ response to the decision and consists of a mixture of disclosure measures and restrictions on certain types of independent expenditures. It would increase disclosure of corporate advertising, including a “stand by your ad” provision for CEOs whose companies have funded the independent expenditure. The bill also proposes a ban on independent expenditures by federal contractors, domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations, and federal bailout recipients who have not repaid the government.
However, The DISCLOSE Act does not address the countless hours of fundraising candidates are forced to do to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of campaigning. The fear of unlimited corporate political spending will add fuel to the fire and escalate an already torrid fundraising pace. In addition, members of Congress may face threats of political reprisal for unpopular votes due to the Court’s decision, further undermining an already skeptical public’s confidence in government’s ability to act in their best interest.
MOST COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION: FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics has estimated that the 2010 elections will cost $3.7 billion—a record shattering amount and 30 percent increase from 2006 spending. Making sure this spending is open and transparent is important, but creating a system that makes candidates accountable solely to voters is a requirement.
While the DISCLOSE Act should move forward, the most comprehensive way to address our broken campaign finance system is the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752, H.R. 1826). Sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the legislation would give candidates the option of running for office on a blend of limited public funds and a four-to-one match on donations of $100 or less.
With Fair Elections, candidates rely solely on their grassroots base of support to fund their campaigns—not Wall Street executives or Washington, D.C. lobbyists. Fair Elections empowers grassroots campaigns and lets candidates run highly competitive races without relying on wealthy special interests. Fair Elections candidates vastly expand their donor base and increase their capacity to compete with outside money in a post-Citizens United environment.
Fair Elections has the broad, bipartisan and cross-caucus support of 150 co-sponsors in the House and 16 in the Senate, including Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Since January, top American business leaders, major political donors, prominent faith leaders, and nearly 200,000 people have signed petitions and sent letters to Congress urging for passage of the Fair Elections Now Act. A coalition of organizations representing tens of millions of Americans has endorsed the legislation.
Congress should include the Fair Elections Now Act in any response to the Court's terrible decision.