03.29.12

Leahy Speaks At Senate Hearing About Impact Of Citizens United

Leahy Has Warned Of Effects Of Supreme Court Decision Since 2010

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, March 29) – Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy spoke Thursday at a Senate hearing in Washington about his concerns about the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United

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 hardworking 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.  Leahy is a member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which held Thursday’s hearing, and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Last week, Leahy joined as an original 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. 

“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,” said Leahy.  “The rights of Vermonters and all Americans to speak to each other and to be heard should not be undercut by corporate spending.  Yet that is exactly what is happening with waves of corporate money being spent on elections around the country and what will continue to happen unless we start to take action by passing the DISCLOSE Act.”

The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 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.

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

Hearing On The DISCLOSE Act Of 2012

Senate Committee On Rules And Administration

March 29, 2012

 

As Prepared for Delivery

Last week I joined many Senators to reintroduce the DISCLOSE Act, renewing our fight to curtail some of the worst abuses now allowed because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.  This is an important hearing, and I am grateful to Chairman Schumer for holding it.  Our efforts to restore transparency in the campaign finance laws gutted by a narrow, conservative, activist majority of the Supreme Court two years ago cannot wait. 

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, striking down key provisions of our bipartisan campaign finance laws, and ruling that corporations are no longer prohibited from direct spending in political campaigns.  I remain troubled today that 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.  Vermonters and Americans across the country have long understood this.  A narrow majority on the Supreme Court apparently did not.

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.  The rights of Vermonters and all Americans to speak to each other and to be heard should not be undercut by corporate spending.  Yet that is exactly what is happening with waves of corporate money being spent on elections around the country and what will continue to happen unless we start to take action by passing the DISCLOSE Act.

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. 

This ensured that the flood of corporate money flowing into campaigns from undisclosed and unaccountable sources since the Citizens United decision would continue.  The American people have seen the sudden and dramatic effects in the Republican primary elections this year and in the 2010 mid-term elections, with a barrage of negative advertisements from so-called Super PAC’s.  

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 drowned out by powerful corporate megaphones.

Vermont is a small state.  It would not take more than a tiny fraction of the corporate money flooding the airwaves in other states 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?   All Senators, Republican or Democratic, should support the DISCLOSE Act of 2012.  We must ensure the ability of every American to be heard and participate in free and fair elections. 

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