In deciding Citizens United the Supreme Court intended to allow unprecedented spending along with unprecedented transparency. The Court held that corporations had the right to speak via campaign donations. Yesterday a DISCLOSE Act filibuster led by the GOP left voters in the dark.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promoted at the time of the decision radical transparency of election-related spending, including independent expenditures, through instant disclosures. In a 180 pivot on disclosures the Senate leader stated the disclosure proposal was an attempt to “protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment.”
It’s impossible to miss the connection between the filibuster and the presidential election coming in November. Poll numbers are showing a closer race than some expected. In a race that could be decided by a handful of swing districts across the country an anonymous ad buy could be enough to sway the result of the election. Voters should know who is filling their TVs, mailboxes, and phones in the run up to Election Day.
Under the current scheme, PACs can funnel money into the election through “public welfare” 501(c)(4) organizations that do not have campaign related disclosure rules. The anonymous donors stay hidden in the dark until after the election has been decided.
The balanced DISCLOSE Act would have lifted a curtain of secrecy between cash and voters. The proposals in the act would have compelled disclosure by all parties in an election, not just the Democrats as McConnell stated.
We have the ability to immediately disclose campaign donations coming from unions, independent expenditures, or 501(c)(4) organizations. With self-interested politicians in the drivers seat deciding what will be disclosed in connection to their campaigns, don’t expect much in the way of transparency.
The Court was foolish to assume that politicians would call for disclosure of spending related to their own or their party’s elections. It’s clear that the movement of politicians following the decision has been from voter-interested principles to an all out power grab.