July 23, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As more and more dark money continues to flow into the American political system following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today took another step forward in the fight to increase disclosure requirements and help the American people find out who exactly is trying to influence their votes. King this morning led a Senate Rules Committee Hearing to consider the DISCLOSE Act, a bill introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would require organizations that spend money to influence elections to disclose their spending as well as their major sources of funding in a timely manner.
“Probably the purest form of free political speech in America is the traditional New England Town Meeting. It’s a place where citizens from all walks of life gather together, usually on a cool Saturday morning in early March, to debate, argue and decide the school budget, whether to buy a new police cruiser, or which roads will be paved in the coming year. I’ve been to these meetings in Maine and heard the spirited debates--and seen some folks go home angry and hurt when their point of view didn’t prevail,” Senator King said in his opening statement. “But everyone speaks up for themselves in Maine, and I’ve never seen someone stand to speak in disguise. We know who’s doing the talking and that, in itself, is valuable information. And so it should be in November – because what is an election but a big Town Meeting, where the people decide the future of their community or their country? And an essential part of the debate, an essential part of how we all make decisions, is knowing who’s doing the talking.”
“The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in elections,” Senator Whitehouse testified today. “Passing the DISCLOSE Act would at least make transparent the anonymous money pouring into elections, and would signal to the American people that Congress is committed to fairness and openness.”
To read Senator King’s complete opening statement as prepared for delivery, click HERE.
The hearing was the second that King has chaired on the subject of campaign finance disclosure, and it focused on the Supreme Court’s recent rulings in the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, in which the majority opinions clearly invited Congress to increase transparency:
“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” - Justice Anthony Kennedy in Citizens United v. FEC
“Disclosure of contributions also reduces the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements, which are justified by ‘a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending,’ Citizens United, supra, at 367, may deter corruption ‘by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity,’ Buckley, supra at 67. Disclosure requirements may burden speech, but they often represent a less restrictive alternative to flat bans on certain types or quantities of speech.” - Chief Justice John Roberts in McCutcheon v. FEC
It also comes at a time when non-disclosed outside spending has reached unprecedented levels. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the amount of money spent by non-disclosing outside groups has skyrocketed in the past few years while the percentage of outside groups that fully disclose their spending has dropped steadily. Alarmingly, the amount of non-disclosed outside money spent at this point in the 2014 election cycle – over $35 million – is almost three times what it was at the same point in 2012.
In response, the DISCLOSE Act would require any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more. Transfer provisions in the bill prevent donors from using shell organizations to hide their activities. For more information on the bill, click HERE.
On April 30th, Senator King chaired a Senate Rules Committee Hearing entitled “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Election and Beyond” which was the first to focus on campaign finance since the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision. Earlier that month, Senator King also introduced the Real Time Transparency Act of 2014, which would require that all campaign contributions of $1000 or more be filed with the FEC within 48-hours.
The witnesses for the majority were: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), author of the DISCLOSE Act; Mr. Daniel Tokaji, Robert M. Duncan/Jones Day Designated Professor of Law at the Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law; Ms. Heather K. Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law, Yale Law School; and Mr. Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Founder of the Center for Competitive Politics.