Leahy Joins As A Leading Cosponsor Of New Bill To Shine Light On Anonymous Campaign Spending

Legislation Will Help Correct Problem Created By 2010 Citizens United Decision

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, March 21, 2012) – Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy today joined as a cosponsor of new legislation designed to address the effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United.  The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 will help put an end to secretive campaign spending by strengthening disclosure laws.  Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is the lead sponsor of the bill. 

The bill is cosponsored by another 33 Senators, including Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), who together are members of the Citizens United Task Force.  The bill is also cosponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

“Vermont is a small state.  It is easy to imagine how the wave of corporate money we are seeing spent on elections around the country could transform even local elections in Vermont or in other small states,” said Leahy.  “It would not take more than a tiny fraction of corporate money to outspend all of our local candidates combined.  I am proud to cosponsor the DISCLOSE Act, as we continue to try to fight the effects of corporate influence unleashed by Citizens United.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission 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.

To make sure that organizations and individuals take responsibility for their negative or misleading political advertising, the legislation also includes “stand-by-your-ad” disclaimer requirements that require any organization that puts a political ad on TV or radio to list its top funders in the ads.  The head of the organization also must appear in the ad and state that he or she approves the message, just as candidates must do now.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy chaired the first congressional hearing following the 2010 decision in Citizens United. The decision is just one of a series of narrowly decided cases considered by the Supreme Court.  In many of them, including Citizens, just five Justices, comprising what is considered the conservative bloc of the Court, have ruled for large corporations and against ordinary Americans, in cases that included such basic pocketbook issues as pay inequities for women and others, age discrimination against older workers, and a $2 billion scaling back of the judgment against Exxon Mobil in the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

“The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has subjected the American people to a flood of political ads funded by anonymous donors,” said Whitehouse.  “The American people deserve to know who is really behind these ads.  This legislation will require organizations involved in elections to tell the public where they are getting their money, and what they are spending it on – shining a badly needed light into the activities of these groups.”

“Republicans and Democrats have both touted disclosure in the past and the ideas in this bill have earned broad support,” said Udall. “There’s a lot we need to fix with campaign finance, but at a minimum, the American people at least deserve to know where the deluge of money financing these new shadow campaign operations is coming from.”

“In the age of super PACs, it is more important than ever for citizens to understand who is financing political campaigns and negative attack ads,” said Shaheen.  “Voters must be able to make informed decisions, and this legislation provides rules that will prevent this unregulated influx of money from compromising the transparency of our electoral process.”

“The Supreme Court reversed itself and decades of precedent with its Citizens United ruling. Now, Coloradans and Americans are being bombarded by attack ads, super PACs skirt accountability and the presidency might well be determined by a silent auction,” said Bennet. “The DISCLOSE Act would bring these attack ads, their contributors and these shadowy organizations into the light and help restore Americans’ faith in our election system.”

“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Schumer.  “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”

The other cosponsors of the legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), John Kerry (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

DISCLOSE Act of 2012 Introduction

March 21, 2012


Today, I join with Senator Whitehouse, Senator Schumer and many other Senate Democrats as we renew our efforts to curtail some of the worst abuses now allowed because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.  The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act of 2012 will help to restore transparency in the campaign finance laws gutted by the narrow, conservative, activist majority of the Supreme Court in Citizens United.

Two years ago, with the stroke of a pen, five Supreme Court justices overturned a century of law designed to protect our elections from corporate spending.  They ran roughshod over longstanding precedent to strike down key provisions of our bipartisan campaign finance laws, and ruled that corporations are no longer prohibited from direct spending in political campaigns.  I was troubled at the time and remain troubled today that in that case, the Supreme Court extended to corporations the same First Amendment rights in the political process that are guaranteed by the Constitution to individual Americans.

Corporations are not the same as individual Americans.   Corporations do not have the same rights, the same morals or the same interests.  Corporations cannot vote in our democracy.  They are artificial legal constructs meant to facilitate business.  The Founders understood this.  Americans across the country have long understood this.  A narrow majority on the Supreme Court apparently did not.

When I cosponsored the first DISCLOSE Act after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010, I hoped Republicans would join with Democrats to mitigate the impact of the Citizens United decision.  I hoped that Senate Republicans who had once championed the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance law would work with us to help ensure that corporations could not abuse their newfound constitutional rights.

Regrettably, Senate Republicans filibustered that DISCLOSE Act, preventing the Senate from even debating the measure, let alone having an up-or-down vote in the Senate.  By preventing even debate on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Republicans ensured the ability of wealthy corporations to dominate all mediums of advertising and to drown out the voices of individuals, as we have seen and will continue to see in our elections.

By blocking the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Republicans ensured that the flood of corporate money flowing into campaigns from undisclosed and unaccountable sources since the Citizens United decision would continue.  The risks we feared at the time of the decision, the risks that drove Congress to pass bipartisan laws based on longstanding precedent, have been apparent in the elections since.  The American people have seen the sudden and dramatic effects in the Republican primary elections this year and in the 2010 mid-term elections.  Instead of hearing the voices of voters, we see a barrage of negative advertisements from so-called Super PAC’s.   This comes as no surprise to the many of us in Congress and around the country who worried at the time of the Citizens United decision that it turns the idea of government of, by and for the people on its head.  We worried that the decision created new rights for Wall Street at the expense of the people on Main Street.   We worried that powerful corporate megaphones would drown out the voices and interests of individual Americans.  It is clear those concerns were justified.

By reintroducing the DISCLOSE Act, we continue to try to fight the effects of corporate influence unleashed by Citizens United.  The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is focused on restoring transparency and accountability to campaign finance laws by ensuring that all Americans know who is paying for campaign ads.  This is a critical step toward restoring the ability of American voters to be able to speak, be heard and to hear competing voices, and not be overwhelmed by corporate influence and driven out of the governing process.  I hope that Republicans who have seen the impact of waves of unaccountable corporate campaign spending will not renew their obstruction of this important legislation.  Even Senator McCain, a lead co-author of the McCain-Feingold Act, has conceded that Super PAC’s are “disgraceful.”

Vermont is a small state.  It is easy to imagine the wave of corporate money that has been spent on elections around the country lead to corporate interests flooding the airwaves with election ads, and transforming even local elections there or in other small states.  It would not take more than a tiny fraction of corporate money to outspend all of our local candidates combined.  If a local city council or zoning board is considering an issue of corporate interest, why would those corporate interests not try to drown out the views of Vermont’s hardworking citizens?  I know that the people of Vermont, like all Americans, take seriously their civic duty to choose wisely on Election Day.  Like all Vermonters, I cherish the voters’ role in the democratic process and am a staunch believer in the First Amendment.  Vermont refused to ratify the Constitution until the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791.  The rights of Vermonters and all Americans to speak to each other and to be heard should not be undercut by corporate spending.  I hope all Senators, Republican or Democratic, will support the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 and help us take an important step to ensure the ability of every American to be heard and participate in free and fair elections. 

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