07.27.10

Leahy Urges Bipartisan Support For Debate, Vote On DISCLOSE Act

Bill Would Address Supreme Court's Citizens United Campaign Finance Decision

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, July 27, 2010) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a leading cosponsor of legislation to remedy the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, urged Senators to support a procedural motion allowing for a debate on the legislation.

The Senate Tuesday afternoon will vote on a motion to proceed to the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act (DISCLOSE Act), which would help curtail corporate influence in elections.  Earlier this year, a five Justice majority of the Supreme Court overturned decades of campaign finance law, as well as the Court’s own precedent, to declare government restrictions on corporate independent expenditures on elections to be unconstitutional.  Leahy has been a leading voice in opposition to the Court’s decision, the impact of which could play a serious role in elections across the country in November and beyond. 

Citizens United is the latest example in which a thin majority of the Supreme Court placed its own preferences over the will of hard working Americans,” said Leahy.  “The American people have expressed their concern over this decision, and recognize that without Congressional action, Citizens United threatens to impact the outcome of our elections.  As representatives, we must fulfill our constitutional duty, and work to restore a meaningful role for all Americans in the political process.  A vote to filibuster the motion to proceed to this legislation is a vote to ignore the real world impact this decision will have on our democratic process.”

The DISCLOSE Act would strengthen campaign finance laws to ensure that individual Americans – not corporate entities and other organizations – are still the primary players in the country’s elections.  The House of Representatives passed similar legislation in June.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy earlier this year held a hearing to explore the impact of the Citizens United decision.  The decision, handed down in January, 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.

“Vermont is a state with a rich tradition of involvement in the democratic process,” said Leahy.  “However, it is a small state, and it would not take much for a few corporations to outspend all of our local candidates combined.  It is easy to imagine corporate interests flooding the airwaves with election ads and transforming the nature of Vermont campaigning.  This is simply not what Vermonters expect of their politics.  The DISCLOSE Act is a first step towards ensuring that Vermonters, and all Americans, can remain confident that they will retain a voice in the political process.” 

The Senate vote on the motion to proceed to the DISCLOSE Act is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. today.

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

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Democracy Is Strengthened By Casting Light On Spending In Elections Act

(DISCLOSE Act)

July 27, 2010

Today, the Senate is attempting to fix an important problem created earlier this year by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  In that case, five Supreme Court justices cast aside a century of law and opened the floodgates for corporations to drown out individual voices in our elections.  The broad scope of the Citizens United decision was unnecessary and improper.  At the expense of hardworking Americans, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could become the predominant influence in our elections for years to come. 

Citizens United is the latest example in which a thin majority of the Supreme Court placed its own preferences over the will of hard working Americans.  The landmark McCain-Feingold Act’s campaign finance reforms were the product of lengthy debate in Congress as to the proper role of corporate money in the electoral process.  Those laws strengthened the rights of individual voters, while carefully preserving the integrity of the political process.  However, with one stroke of the pen, five justices cast aside those years of deliberation, and substituted their own preferences over the will of Congress and the American people. 

The American people have expressed their concerns over this decision, and recognize that without Congressional action, Citizens United threatens to impact the outcome of our elections.  As representatives, we must fulfill our constitutional duty, and work to restore a meaningful role for all Americans in the political process.  A vote to filibuster the motion to proceed to this legislation is a vote to ignore the real world impact this decision will have on our democratic process. 

The Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, is a measure I support to moderate the impact of the Citizens United decision.  The DISCLOSE Act will add transparency to the campaign finance laws to help ensure that corporations cannot abuse their newfound constitutional rights.  This legislation will preserve the voices of hardworking Americans in the political process by limiting the ability of foreign corporations to influence American elections, prohibiting corporations receiving taxpayer money from contributing to elections, and increasing disclosure requirements on corporate contributors, among other things.    

It is difficult to overstate the potential for harm embodied in the Citizens United decision.  The DISCLOSE Act is necessary to prevent corruption in our political system, and to protect the credibility of our elections, which is necessary to maintain the trust of the American people.  While some on the other side of the aisle have praised the Citizens United decision as a victory for the First Amendment, what they fail to recognize is that these new rights for corporations come at the expense of the free speech rights of hardworking Americans.  There is no doubt that the ability of wealthy corporations to dominate all mediums of advertising risks drowning out the voices of individuals.    

The American people expect that there will be bipartisan support for any legislation that would prevent corporations from drowning out their own voices in our elections.  In that vein, I hope that the DISCLOSE Act will receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate, and not be the subject of filibusters that have become all too common in this political climate.  

Vermont is a state with a rich tradition of involvement in the democratic process.  However, it is a small state, and it would not take much for a few corporations to outspend all of our local candidates combined.  It is easy to imagine corporate interests flooding the airwaves with election ads and transforming the nature of Vermont campaigning.  This is simply not what Vermonters expect of their politics.  The DISCLOSE Act is a first step towards ensuring that Vermonters, and all Americans, can remain confident that they will retain a voice in the political process. 

The Citizens United decision grants corporations the same constitutional free speech rights as individual Americans.  This is not what the Framers intended in drafting the opening words “We the People of the United States.”  In designing the Constitution, the Founders spoke of and guaranteed fundamental rights to the American people -- not to corporations, which are mentioned nowhere in the Constitution.  The time is now to ensure that our campaign finance laws reflect this important distinction.

The American people want their voices heard in the upcoming election.   I urge Senators on both sides of the aisle to allow us to debate and address this important issue.  I look forward to working with all Senators to pass this important legislation, and to ensure that the DISCLOSE Act is enacted into law.

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