Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), On The Introduction Of The DISCLOSE Act 2014

Today, I join with several Democratic Senators to reintroduce the DISCLOSE Act, renewing – for the third time – our fight to curtail some of the worst abuses resulting from the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.  Republicans mounted filibusters of this commonsense bill when it was first introduced in 2010 and then again when it was reintroduced in 2012.  This was the case even though Republicans claim to support disclosure.

Earlier this month, I chaired a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to repair the damage done by Citizens United and a series of other flawed Supreme Court decisions that have eviscerated our campaign finance laws.  At this hearing, even Floyd Abrams, the noted First Amendment attorney who testified against the proposed amendment argued that he supported greater disclosure.  And yet, Republicans have already filibustered this bill twice and are likely to continue filibustering it.  I am hoping that Republicans have come to their senses after seeing how Citizens United has allowed unlimited, undisclosed money to pollute our elections.

Since that decision, our elections have been defined by corporations and billionaires spending vast amounts of secret money to influence elections.  In the 2012 election cycle, spending from undisclosed sources exceeded $310 million, a massive increase from the $69 million from undisclosed sources in the previous presidential election cycle in 2008.  And this number will only increase.  No one doubts that.

While states like Vermont and Congress continue their heavy lift of passing a constitutional amendment to address the flawed Supreme Court decisions that have gutted our campaign finance laws, the Senate can take more immediate action today.  By passing the DISCLOSE Act, we can restore transparency and accountability to campaign finance laws by ensuring that all Americans know who is paying for campaign ads.  This is a crucial step toward restoring the ability of Vermonters and all American voters to be able to speak, be heard and to hear competing voices, and not be drowned out by powerful corporate interests.

We know disclosure laws can work because they do work for individual Americans donating directly to political campaigns.  When you or I give money directly to a political candidate, our donation is not hidden.  It is publicly disclosed.  Yet those who oppose the DISCLOSE Act are standing up for special rights for corporations and wealthy donors that you and I do not have. 

Recently, the Washington Post documented a trend whereby politically active organizations manipulate and use their tax-exempt status to keep its donor lists private even though these organizations are pouring millions of dollars of undisclosed money into our elections.  The increase of secret money can only harm our political process.  The DISCLOSE Act would fix this problem.  This bill would require any organization spending money on political ads, including 501(c)(4)s and Super PACs, to disclose donors who had given $10,000 or more.  This is a commonsense transparency measure that everyone should be willing to support.

When the race is on for secret money and election campaigns are won or lost by who can collect the largest amount of unaccountable, secret donations, it puts at risk government of, by and for the people.  In a democracy, our ballots should be secret – not massive corporate campaign contributions.  Disclosure of who is paying for election ads should not be kept secret from the public.

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.  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.

I hope that Republicans who have seen the impact of waves of unaccountable corporate campaign spending will join us to take up this important legislation.  I hope Republican Senators will let us vote on the DISCLOSE Act and help us take an important step to ensure the ability of every American to be heard and to be able to meaningfully participate in free and fair elections.   

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