DISCLOSE Act

Putting the "Lame" in Lame Duck

Republicans continue to make the case that they are the ones who serious about fixing the economy, shrinking the deficit and putting Americans back to work. This, as they gear up for endless witch hunts that will be make the Republicans' investigations into the Clinton administration in the 1990's look like a picnic... as they move to oppose extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans in need... as they push to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.

Zach Carter at Campaign for America’s Future put it very succinctly last week when he wrote:

Economic sabotage is the essential Republican strategy for winning the White House in 2012. They will block every effort to actually improve the economy they can, and make a big show out of criticizing any economic aid they can't block.

Incredibly, the GOP is attacking Democratic efforts on the Hill to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, pass the DREAM Act, confirm judicial nominees and pass the DISCLOSE Act as "distractions" from addressing economic concerns, while Republicans do all they can to block real progress on getting Americans back to work.

A report released today shows, conclusively, that the military is ready for gays and lesbians to serve openly. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a matter of basic fairness, our national character and national security. The same goes for the DREAM Act, which the Pentagon has said would strengthen the military in addition to offering a much-needed path to citizenship for hardworking immigrant youth. Confirming judges is essential to the country having a working justice system. Passing DISCLOSE is a matter of making sure American voters wield the power in our democracy and not corporations that hide behind shadowy front groups to buy elections.

These things are not distractions. They are essential to making sure Americans have a country that works... one in which their rights are protected and democracy thrives. Republicans want block these measures for the same reason they want to block economic assistance for Americans in need and policies which would strengthen the economy and create jobs. They know that what's good for America is bad for them politically, and for the next two years, everything we want to do that will be good for America will have to be done over the vigorous opposition of an ultra right-wing Republican Congress.

PFAW

Groundswell of Support for Overturning 'Citizens United' Continues

The latest polling on the Citizens United decision reflects the growing public support for overturning the Roberts Court’s ruling. According to a new Public Policy Polling analysis, 46% of Americans agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections,” while 36% disagreed and one-in-five had not formed an opinion.

A large majority of Americans across party lines disagree with the Citizens United decision, according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Members of both the House and Senate have already introduced constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling and reaffirm Congress’s right to limit corporate spending in elections. As Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the chief sponsor of one amendment in the House, told the Huffington Post:

A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution. The right has used-- has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we're not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.

People For the American Way and Public Citizen joined together this election year to support candidates who pledged to back a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United, and are continuing the fight for both constitutional and legislative remedies by advancing bills such as the DISCLOSE Act. Americans are increasingly speaking out against the Court’s far-reaching pro-corporate bent, and calling on Congress to make sure that corporations don’t dominate the political system and drown out the voices of individuals.

PFAW

Editorial Boards From Across the Country Call on Senate to Pass DISCLOSE Act

Even though Republican obstructionism has upheld passage of the DISCLOSE Act in the US Senate twice before, the need to pass the bill has grown more urgent following the midterm election which experienced an onslaught of campaign ads funded by secret money from shadowy groups. The DISCLOSE Act will ensure that organizations who run ads to influence elections reveal to the public their donors, as under current law organizations can hide the identities of all of their donors, damaging transparency and the public’s right to know. In the last vote, 59 US Senators supported bringing the DISCLOSE Act to the Floor for an up-or-down vote, but the Republican minority blocked the vote from taking place.

Newspaper editorial boards from around the US are speaking out, calling for the Senate to act on the DISCLOSE Act:

Miami Herald:

Regardless of which candidates win, voters lose when they are left in the dark about who is signing the checks to pay for the commercials -- mostly, attack ads -- that dominate political campaigns. Disclosure enables voters to make informed decisions about the message and the candidate. Secrecy leaves them clueless.

The remedy lies in the Disclose Act, which the House has passed and is pending in the Senate. It would expand disclosure requirements to help the public know more about the rivers of money pouring into campaigns. Thus far, it has failed to attract any Republican support, but sponsors say they are willing to drop some nonessential provisions -- prohibiting government contractors from making donations, for example -- to attract at least one or two Republicans.

This bill should be at the top of Congress' agenda in the lame-duck session that begins later this month. It's too late to do anything about this year's elections, but it can remove the shield of secrecy before the next round of races in 2012. A failure to act benefits only those who thrive in political darkness.

Charleston Gazette:

The Supreme Court breakthrough even lets businesses hide their identity as they funnel cash to front committees that buy smear ads. To halt this concealment, Democrats in Congress drafted the Disclose Act, which would force big donors out into the daylight. They still could spend freely to buy elections, but they could no longer hide from the public.

The House passed the Disclose Act, but Democrats in the Senate twice could not overcome Republican opposition. "Not a single Senate Republican and only two in the House have been willing to vote for the Disclose Act," the San Jose Mercury News noted.

The Senate is expected to try again after the election -- before more winning Republican senators take their seats. We hope the bill finally passes. It's disgusting that firms now can spend millions of company money to sway elections, under the silly pretext that such spending is free speech. At least, they shouldn't be allowed to hide while they do it.

Kansas City Star:

One solution being offered is the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections), which passed the U.S. House this summer, but not surprisingly stalled in the Senate.

The act, simply summarized, seeks to force those pumping money into campaigns to take personal responsibility for their actions and not hide behind front organizations.

It must be passed. Specifically, corporations, labor unions and nonprofits would have to disclose their donors, and their leaders would have to appear on their television ads noting "I approve of this message."

Philadelphia Daily News:

The DISCLOSE Act, passed by the House of Representatives last year, would require, among other things, that political donors be publicly identified. The bill has majority support in the U.S. Senate, but twice has been blocked when not one Republican senator would vote to break a filibuster - even senators who have supported campaign-finance reform in the past.

There's one last chance to impose a minimum check on the Wild West environment that campaigns have become: let the disclosure provision of the DISCLOSE Act come to a vote in the "lame duck" session of the Senate that begins next week.
PFAW

Behind The Republican Money Web

Yesterday’s vote does not mean the end for the many Super PACs and shadowy political organizations that have emerged this election season. By raising hundreds of millions of dollars from individuals and corporations, often without having to disclose their sources of funding, these groups are able to maintain their political apparatus and prepare for the 2012 election. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-linked Super PAC, is already crafting its role for the next election. Mike Duncan, the former head of the Republican National Committee and Chair of American Crossroads, told the New York Times, “We’ve planted the flag for permanence, and we believe that we will play a major role for 2012.”

Back in September, Time magazine discussed how pro-GOP groups such as American Crossroads and the American Action Network were working with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the former RNC chief and current head of the Republican Governors Association. Republican notables and fundraisers “first convened at Karl Rove’s home,” and became nicknamed “the Weaver Terrace group, named for the Washington street on which Rove lives.” American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, spent over $38 million combined to attack Democrats, and the American Action Network spent close to $20 million this year.

Now with the election over, Politico reveals that pro-GOP groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (an official Republican Party wing) were intensely coordinating their political efforts. Other Weaver Terrace group members, such as the 60 Plus Association and the American Future Fund, spent tens of millions of dollars against Democrats, but the US Chamber of Commerce and the NRCC made even bigger expenditures, spending $31.7 million and $44.5 million, respectively. As Jeanne Cummings of Politico described how “coordinated attacks” by Weaver Terrace group members “turned political campaigns largely into contests between business-backed, GOP outside groups and the Democratic incumbents.” Pro-GOP outside groups spent $187 million in 2010, more than double their pro-Democratic counterparts, and Cummings reveals how the organizations collaborated in order to maximize their impact:

The groups – including familiar names like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads – shared their target lists and TV-time data to ensure vulnerable Democrats got the full brunt of GOP spending.

Republican groups had never coordinated like this before, participants said, and backed by millions in corporate cash and contributions by secret donors, they were able to wield outsized influence on the results Tuesday night. The joint efforts were designed to spread the damage to as many of the majority Democrats as possible, without wasting money by doubling-up in races where others were already playing.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which could not legally coordinate with the outside groups, even took the extraordinary step of publicly revealing its own ad buy strategy.



The Chamber, which set aside $75 million in undisclosed corporate donations for the political season, is listed by Center for Responsive Politics as the biggest of independent players, investing nearly $33 million in radio, television and direct mail advertising alone.

Directly behind the Chamber on the Center’s outside group ranking is the coalition of groups formed by Rove and Gillespie. They are: American Action Network, which spent $26 million; American Crossroads, which invested $21 million, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which sank $17 million into ads and turnout communications in a plan to obliterate the Democrats’ Senate and House majorities.

Although donors to the Crossroads affiliates are largely unknown, the founders made no secret of the fact that they intended to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling and tap into the vast resources of corporate America to raise more than $50 million help Republicans retake the Congress.

While that sum alone was enough to make Democrats’ nervous, the Crossroads founders also set out a more ambitious goal: To bring together the disparate new and old GOP political players so they could coordinate their efforts and maximize the damage on the political battlefield.

Cummings also shows how this plan worked out over the airways in competitive congressional districts:

In Pennsylvania, the Republican groups called in multiple players to bombard a half-dozen House Democrats, including some facing significantly underfunded Republican opponents. In the quest to oust Democrat Chris Carney, 60 Plus and the Chamber combined to spend about $1 million. The 60 Plus Association teamed up with the Center for Individual Freedom, another group that doesn’t disclose donors, to shell incumbent Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski with more than $600,000 worth of ads.

The close collaboration of pro-corporate groups only increases the need for greater transparency in the political process. Americans this election have seen dozens if not hundreds of ads and received substantial amounts of direct mail and phone calls from groups who reveal little information about themselves and do not have to disclose their sources of funding. Voters deserve the right to know who is working towards the election or defeat certain candidates for office, and overwhelmingly support disclosure laws. As such organizations creating new partnerships and intensifying their coordination, Congress needs to pass the DISCLOSE Act to allow the public to know who is behind these outside groups.

 

 

PFAW

Public Continues to Demand Campaign Disclosure and Spending Caps

A new New York Times/CBS News survey confirms the findings of other polls taken after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United: Americans want greater transparency and stronger reforms in the political system. According to the poll, “nearly 8 in 10 Americans say it is important (including 6 in 10 who say “very important”) to limit the amount of money campaigns can spend.” This includes majorities of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans. In addition, “more than 7 in 10 of the public said spending by groups not affiliated with a candidate should be limited by law, and just 2 in 10 said it shouldn’t.”

Support for campaign transparency is so high that one must wonder if the only Americans who oppose disclosure rules are Republicans in Congress and pro-corporate lobbyists. The Times/CBS poll found that a staggering 92% of Americans believe “it is important for campaigns to be required by law to disclose how much money they have raised, where the money came from and how it was used.” Such findings corroborate the results of a Hart Research poll taken on behalf of People For the American Way, which found that 89% of voters favor “legislation that would require greater disclosure by corporations of their spending to influence elections,” and that a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans wants not only disclosure laws but also “limits on how much corporations can spend to influence the outcome of elections.”

The business community is increasingly calling for substantial campaign finance reform as well, as seen in a survey of business leaders conducted by the Committee for Economic Development. The poll found that 77% of business leaders “believe that corporations should disclose all of their direct and indirect political expenditures, including money provided to third party organizations to be spent on campaign ads.”

Despite the vast support of Americans and even business leaders for more openness and transparency in the political process, Republicans and corporate lobbyists continue to oppose commonsense proposals like the DISCLOSE Act. The obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate voted in lockstep to keep the DISCLOSE Act from passing, and recently the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, deceptively denied the very-existence of active political groups that do not disclose their donors.

Steele later said that “if people are that bothered by” the lack of transparency in Congress, “then the Congress needs to change it.” As People For the American Way’s President Michael B. Keegan pointed out:

The glaring problem with Steele's supposed embrace of transparent elections is that just a couple of months ago, people were "bothered by" hidden corporate spending in elections, the majority in Congress did draft a law to make that spending transparent...but Steele's party united to stop the law in its tracks just before the midterm elections.

Steele's bumbling and disingenuous response was infuriating, but it served as a perfect illustration of why Republicans have done everything they can to allow unfettered, undisclosed corporate influence in our elections. With the system as it is, Steele can watch corporate interest groups spend millions of dollars to help elect Republican candidates, and nobody is held accountable to voters.

The post-Citizens United landscape -- where corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to run ads for and against candidates, but aren't required to disclose that spending -- has been a boon to candidates who push a pro-corporate agenda. Michael Steele knows it. And so does every candidate who is benefiting from the influx of secretive spending. They know it, but they don't have to own up to it.

The Republicans in Congress continue to reject the beliefs of nine-in-ten Americans that support disclosure and campaign finance reform, and want to tie the hands of Congress from making even basic changes to increase transparency in the system.

PFAW

Michael Steele’s ‘Disclosure’ Meltdown

Already under fire for mismanaging the Republican National Committee, Chairman Michael Steele displayed his bizarre and badly-uninformed take on the election yesterday on Meet the Press. Not only is there overwhelming evidence that groups that do not disclose the sources of their funding are participating in the election at unprecedented levels, but the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions have allowed such groups to be more powerful and less transparent. When asked about the flood of money from outside groups in the election, Michael Steele inexplicably responded: “I don’t know what they’re talking about. No one’s produced one shred of evidence that any of that’s happening.”

Even though Republicans twice voted lockstep in the US Senate to filibuster the DISCLOSE Act, which would have made these groups reveal their donors, Steele tried to portray the Democrats as the opponents of disclosure legislation. In a disheartening lack of follow-through Gregory did not challenge Steele on this statement.

Steele ended the segment by calling for transparency and legislative fixes if necessary: “Absolutely, I am all for transparency, I think it is an appropriate part of the system, it instills the trust that people have in the system and it also avoids questions like this because that information is out there…but the law is what the law is right now, and if people are that bothered by it then the Congress needs to change it.”

For so-called “Super PACs” that are required to disclose their donors, like American Crossroads and the First Amendment Alliance, we have ample evidence that corporate and special interest money is flowing in. A recent New York Times report also demonstrated that corporate money is flowing into the US Chamber of Commerce’s electoral spending. But for 501c4 “social welfare” organizations, such as Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, we do not know the identity of the donors.

Gregory pointed out to Steele that by law 501c4 groups “do not have to disclose,” and asked, “is that a problem in our politics when you can put a great deal of money into a campaign without disclosing your agenda or who you are?” Steele then said that Congress should “put up” and “change the law,” but that the lack of disclosure may not be a problem anyway: “we haven’t seen any evidence that it is, why are you saying that it is a problem?”

Polling confirms that the public is “bothered by it.” Numerous polls reveal that the vast majority of Americans disagree with the Citizens United decision, regardless of their political party, and oppose the inundation of special interest money in elections. Will Steele now call upon Republicans in Congress to end their filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act and stop resisting transparency in the system?

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Alexi Giannoulias Makes the Case for Overturning Citizens United

Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulias discussed the need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, which he called “a dangerous decision,” in a debate with rival US Senate candidate Mark Kirk. His Republican opponent, who has a habit of distorting and lying about his record, spoke in favor of greater campaign disclosure laws. However, Kirk voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would have made sure that political organizations disclose their donors and make their funding sources more transparent. Giannoulias, on the other hand, has signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy, which calls on candidates for Congress to overturn Citizens United.

Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, has spent over $3 million in ads attacking Giannoulias, and its sister “Super PAC” American Crossroads has spent over $1 million to smear Giannoulias. Two groups which do not disclose their donors and are backed by corporate entities, the New Prosperity Foundation and the US Chamber of Commerce, spent around a half-million dollars each in ads to help Mark Kirk.

Watch:

 

PFAW

Big Pharma and the Next Congress

In addition to the obvious legal questions involved in the pharmaceutical immunity case of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, this case also has a political component that ties it to the midterm elections. If the Supreme Court interprets the Vaccine Act in a way that benefits injured parties, we can expect the giant pharmaceutical companies to push the next Congress to change the law. That would connect this case politically, if not legally, to Citizens United and the DISCLOSE Act.

As detailed in a recent People For report, powerful corporations, unleashed by the Roberts Court, are taking aim at our democracy and spending millions of dollars under cover of anonymity in order to purchase a pliant Republican congressional majority. Republican members of Congress will surely know who they can thank for their offices, but without the transparency rules included in the DISCLOSE Act, blocked by Republicans in Congress, ordinary Americans will have no way of knowing if the pharmaceutical companies are among the corporate sponsors of the newly elected Republican caucus.

That is one of the many reasons we must pass the DISCLOSE Act.

PFAW

News Corp Helps Chamber, Chamber Helps Republicans

Much like how Sarah Palin advised Christine O’Donnell to “speak through Fox News,” News Corp. is increasingly speaking through pro-corporate groups political groups. Following their $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association, the parent company of Fox News is donating $1 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As detailed in PFAW’s report After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is planning to spend $75 million in targeted races in the 2010 election.

The Chamber’s sizeable political budget comes after the trade association spent $144 million to lobby Congress in order to fight greater business oversight, Wall Street Reform, Health Care Reform, workers’ rights, and the DISCLOSE Act. So far, the Chamber is airing ads in ten high-profile Senate races to buttress pro-corporate candidates, and attack their opponents for supporting progressive legislation such as Health Care Reform. In all ten races, the Chamber is working to elect Republicans, in hopes of intensifying the obstructionist tactics of the Senate Republicans. This $1 million contribution is another sign that Fox News is not just the biggest cheerleader of the Republican agenda in the media, but is also openly financing the election of more Republican candidates.

PFAW

Hung out to dry

Republicans have given us a sneak peek of what they have in store for America if they succeed in taking over Congress on Election Day ... and it's not pretty.

On Tuesday, Republican senators voted in lockstep to block the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM Act... just yesterday, they voted in unity to block the DISCLOSE Act for the second time. Corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of regular voters by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into this year's elections, and every single Republican voted to block a bill that would add some basic fairness by simply requiring disclosure of who is behind political ads. Every. Single. Republican.

The unprecedented obstruction just does not stop. President Obama's judicial nominees have been held up endlessly. In some cases, they've needed to be re-nominated and have multiple Judiciary Committee votes despite being approved by the Committee the first time. Some of these nominees even passed in Committee unanimously, with no Republican opposition, but the "Party of No" has been intent on blocking even the most uncontroversial nominees from the Senate floor. Meanwhile, there are vacancies on the federal courts -- 11 seats of the 23 pending on the nominations calendar -- that have been declared "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Our judicial system is hurting and so is Americans' access to justice.

It's not just the Senate. Yesterday, the House passed legislation to help small businesses, but only because of the Democratic majority -- just like with the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, every single Republican voted "no." This vote came on the very same day that the GOP House Leadership released its "Pledge to America" -- in the rollout, Minority Leader Boehner and his cohorts mentioned "small businesses" no fewer than 18 times. The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

In both the Senate and the House, Republicans have consistently opposed tax relief for small businesses and the middle class, justifying their obstruction with phony, hypocritical arguments about spending. Republicans have tried to block extensions of unemployment benefits and aid for homeowners to prevent foreclosures, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is even blocking a food safety bill that passed in the House with bipartisan support last summer and has overwhelming support from consumer groups. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing to add billions, if not trillions, to the deficit by extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%.

The Republicans have a clear agenda: to serve corporate special interests. They want to take back Congress but it's their policies that sunk our economy in the first place -- policies that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, allow Wall Street greed to go unchecked and punish middle and working-class families. They pretend to be on the side of small businesses because it's politically expedient, but even as they complain that letting the Bush income tax cuts expire for the top 2% hurts small business, the facts tell a different story as more than 98% of tax filers with small business income are not in that top 2% of the income tax. The Republican definition of "small business" is a mega corporation like Bechtel or PricewaterhouseCoopers. The only part of America to which they will ever make good on any "pledge" is Corporate America... and they'll do that at any cost. Perhaps that's why the GOP staffer who headed up the development of the "Pledge to America" was, up until April, a lobbyist for some of the most powerful oil, insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate interests in the country -- including Exxon, AIG, Pfizer and the Chamber of Commerce.

So let's recap. Just this week, Republicans have proven their disdain for soldiers, students, the hurting middle class and even food consumers... Is there anyone they haven't left hung out to dry? Oh yeah... corporate special interests.

We can not put these people in charge again.

UPDATE: Add women to the groups of people Republican senators have hung out to dry just during the last weeks of September.

PFAW

Citizens United Impacts Ohio Senate Race

Senator Sherrod Brown, in this morning's debate over the DISCLOSE Act, noted an article in today's Columbus Dispatch demonstrating the great need for this law:

Before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January, the most Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner could directly contribute to Senate candidate Rob Portman was $4,800.

But because of a decision opening campaigns to corporate contributions, Lindner's American Financial Group was able to give 83 times that amount, $400,000 ... to American Crossroads, a group that former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove helped create to aid GOP candidates. In mid-August, American Crossroads launched a statewide TV ad backing Portman's Senate candidacy.

In this case, a newspaper exposed the corporate spending. But that disclosure to the voters is the exception, not the rule. DISCLOSE would change that - and that's why Senate Republicans are fighting it tooth and nail.

It's worth noting that Portman's Democratic opponent, Lee Fisher, has signed People For the American Way and Public Citizen's Pledge to Protect America's Democracy and supports a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United.

 

 

PFAW

Barbara Boxer: Supporting the DISCLOSE Act and the Voters' Right to Know

The U.S. Senate is currently debating the DISCLOSE Act. Passage of the DISCLOSE Act is essential if we are to mitigate the damage done to American democracy by Citizens United. This deeply flawed opinion has led to the unleashing of extraordinary corporate influence on elections at all levels in our country. In spite of this - or perhaps because of it - Republican obstructionists cynically sidetracked the DISCLOSE bill with a filibuster in July.

Senator Barbara Boxer, speaking in support of the bill, correctly stated that "the people have a right to know" who's spending millions to influence our elections.

Contrast that with her opponent, Carly Fiorina, who was pleased to accept the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber not only opposes DISCLOSE, it is one of the main front groups that well-heeled corporations are using to hide their electoral activities.

It's really simple: The people's right to know vs. a corporation's right to skulk and hide. Kudos to Sen. Boxer for choosing the people.

PFAW

So Much for "Prompt Disclosure"

When the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, the justices in the majority (save Justice Clarence Thomas) took care to note that “prompt disclosure” of political spending would allow citizens to hold candidates, and their funders, accountable. It’s a nice idea…but things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Instead, Public Citizen reported last week, in the first election after Citizens United, groups funneling money to political activities have increasingly been hiding where their money comes from.

Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.

Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Target learned the hard way this summer, shareholders, consumers, and voters aren’t particularly keen on large corporations bankrolling political campaigns. Funneling money through secretive groups allows corporate political spenders to have the best of both worlds: they can fund the campaigns of candidates favorable to them, and never have to be held accountable.

An attempt this summer to patch up the loophole that allows corporations to keep their election spending secret ran up against stiff opposition from corporate lobbyists and a unified filibuster from the GOP. President Obama summed up the result in his weekly radio address Saturday:

What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run – no matter how many elections they try to buy – the power to determine the fate of this country doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It’s up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What’s at stake is not just an election. It’s our democracy itself.

This fall, the Senate will have another chance to bring the DISCLOSE Act to a vote. As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, the vote should be a no-brainer for moderate senators like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine:

The Citizens United decision, paradoxically, supported greater disclosure of donors, but Senate Republicans have filibustered a bill that would eliminate the secrecy shield. Just one vote is preventing passage. That act is coming back for another Senate vote. The two Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, might want to read a recent poll by the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which showed that 80 percent of the state’s voters support public disclosure.

In a poll we commissioned in June, 85% of Americans said that corporations already have too much influence over the political process. Voters want information. Will Congress provide it?
 

PFAW

The DISCLOSE Act's Second Chance

As Congress returns to work this month, the Senate will likely have another chance to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation meant to mitigate the damage of Citizens United by requiring full disclosure of corporate spending in elections.

The House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June. In July, it sank in the Senate, when not a single Republican was willing to break a filibuster on the bill. Moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, despite previous support for clean election legislation, all sided with their party to kill the bill.

In the Washington Post today, E. J. Dionne writes that the support of those three senators is key to the passage of the DISCLOSE Act—though the pressure they face to oppose it is greater than ever:

As moderate Republicans, Snowe and Collins are undoubtedly looking over their right shoulders, fearful that they may go the way of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. This helps explain why they went south during negotiations over the health-care bill.

But repairing Citizens United is not an ideological question, although some cast it that way. Fiscal conservatives should be as worried as anyone about corporations using their newfound power to extract expensive special benefits from the government. Even conservatives who opposed campaign reform in the past have always insisted that they favor disclosure of campaign contributions. Disclosure is now more important than ever.

Snowe, Collins and Brown have made their careers by touting their independence. But that claim doesn't come cheap. This is the issue on which their promissory note is due.

This election cycle has already produced plenty of examples of corporations funneling money through front groups to support or smear candidates. In an ideal world, every member of Congress would stand up to corporate lobbyists and support a bill that would throw light on that murky political strategy. But at the very least, a disclosure bill should have the active support of those who profess to be independent campaign reformers.
 

PFAW

New Groups Taking Advantage of Concealed Election Spending

Can we have the DISCLOSE Act now? USA Today reports that more than a dozen groups have been organized since June to take advantage of the lax election spending rules left by the Citizens United decision earlier this year…and most of them aren’t going to tell us who’s funding them:

In many cases, the public will not know who has funded the ads until long after they have aired.

"This is the new order of political finance," says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. Outside groups can "sling mud with hidden money."

Since June 1, at least 15 organizations have launched these operations to influence congressional races, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

In Mother Jones, Peter Stone explains one reason why corporate interests are jumping through hoops to influence elections without being noticed:

You might wonder: Given that Citizens United allowed companies, say General Motors or Aetna, to get involved in elections directly, why would they need to go through groups like BIPAC or the US Chamber of Commerce? The problem, says Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the FEC, is that the decision is so unpopular many companies may not want to be seen as taking advantage of it. (In the wake of President Obama's attack on the Citizens United ruling in the State of the Union address—he noted that it would allow special interests and "foreign corporations to spend without limits in our elections"—80 percent of Americans told pollsters they disagreed with the ruling.)

Then, there’s also the powerful example of Target, which taught corporations that it’s ok to give money to political causes—as long as you don’t get caught.
 

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Disclosure Laws Under Attack

Even after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rolled back longstanding state and federal laws that attempted to limit corporate influence in democracy, opponents of any type of campaign finance rules have redoubled their efforts to weaken transparency in elections. Two right-wing political organizations and a business group recently sued to block the state of Minnesota from enforcing campaign disclosure and donation laws. They are seeking an injunction to prevent the implementation of the state's rule for corporations to disclose their political activities. In addition, they "seek to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties." Currently, as a result of Citizens United, corporations can fund advocacy groups who can support and oppose certain candidates, but not the candidates themselves. If their lawsuit is successful, corporate financing of campaigns would expand to even greater levels.

Due to the state's current disclosure rules, donations from companies such as Target and BestBuy to the right-wing group MN Forward came to light. Without the DISCLOSE Act, organizations involved in federal elections are already able to conceal their donors, and President Obama recently warned against "a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names." "They don't want you to know which interests are paying for the ads," Obama said; "The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide."

If the plaintiffs in Minnesota (which includes a for-profit business and two conservative non-profits: the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) are successful, not only would corporations be allowed to hide their political financing from the public, but may even be able to directly contribute to the campaigns of candidates for public office.

It is already extremely difficult, especially without the DISCLOSE Act, to discover corporate financing of political groups. As a report by the Washington Post explains:

Long-standing IRS regulations require some groups to reveal their donors, and that is why the agency suddenly finds itself with what some might see as a more crucial watchdog role, stepping in to monitor disclosure in the absence of the FEC. But the IRS rules also have long-standing loopholes and, with limited resources and enforcement tools, the nation's tax collector is not set up to be a campaign regulator.

"The chances of the IRS being able to catch a violation of the tax law around campaigns is virtually nil," said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who directed the agency's tax-exempt organizations division for 10 years. "Certainly if it happens, it's going to be well after the election has already ended."

As the assault on the remaining campaign disclosure laws intensifies, spending in elections is about to climb to new heights. Borrell Associates predicts that the Citizens United decision will lead to $400 million in new ads this election season, and that "political ad spending will reach $4.2 billion this year, double the $2.1 billion the firm estimated was spent in 2008."

But the most serious opponents of the effort to shed light on corporate financing in elections are obstructionists in the Senate: the Republicans who vote lock-step to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from coming up for an up-or-down vote. President Obama's call for the Senate to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act, which already passed the House, reminds us that the fight against the enormous corporate clout in our democracy is not over:

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The Target Story and Disclosure

Target’s misguided donation to a pro-corporate, anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate has (with good reason) caused quite an uproar recently. But the dominant narrative – that Target will serve as a cautionary tale warning other big corporations against getting involved in politics – isn’t quite right.

As an NPR story yesterday made clear, the lesson of the Target story for many like-minded corporations is: don’t get caught.

Target gave to a group that is legally bound to identify its contributors. That's why Target's contribution became known.

Many other groups don't have to disclose a thing. So a company can channel its money — and its message — through a business association or an advocacy group, and outsiders will never know.

"Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly I think a lot of corporate executives are saying this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our tool kit," says Robert Kelner, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington.

The DISCLOSE Act, which was brought down by Republican obstruction earlier this summer, is likely to return to the Senate in September. Its passage would oblige all corporations to be transparent about their political involvement, making the Target story a true cautionary tale.

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Failure to Disclose

While banks and insurance companies are heavily betting on Republicans this election year, we may never know what companies are behind third-party ads pushing for corporate-friendly policies and politicians. Since forty-one Republican senators voted in lock-step to block the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), the bill hasn't yet had an opportunity to receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The DISCLOSE Act, which the House passed in June, would prohibit corporations that are foreign-owned or receive federal dollars from engaging in electoral activity, and would mandate that third party political groups publicize their donors and include disclaimers on advertisements. So far, however, the obstructionists in the Senate have derailed this drive for transparency in politics by blocking a vote on DISCLOSE. Unless the Senate leadership is able to break through this obstructionism when Congress comes back from its August recess,third party groups will have free license to spend handsomely on elections without releasing a single source of their funding.

A recent Fortune article points out why the DISCLOSE Act is needed, as even Goldman Sachs, which says it will not directly contribute to political organizations, "can publicly say it won't fund political ads, and still go right ahead doing it privately." As Tory Newmyer maintains: "[T]rade associations and other non-profit groups can now spend freely on ads attacking or supporting specific candidates. And because those groups don't always have to identify their funders, they provide a safe vehicle for corporations looking to launder their involvement in dicey election contests."

Due to a state law, the business-backed independent expenditure political committee Minnesota Forward was forced to publicly list its donors. However, when advocates found out that companies such as Target and BestBuy were behind a group that supports a gubernatorial candidate with a horrendous record on gay-rights and consumer protection, they encountered severe pushback from customers and advocates.

But while Target and BestBuy got caught, other corporations and affiliated groups learned from their mistakes. Dirk Van Dongen, the head of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, believes that the boycotts of Target won't stop other businesses from becoming involved in electoral activity, "noting that businesses can give anonymously to trade association and other non-profit campaign efforts."

In fact, Target did not promise to stop making political contributions, but would simply send them through a "review board" in the future. David Schultz, a campaign finance specialist at Hamline University, predicts that corporations, "exclusively driven by the Citizens United case," will increase their electoral spending by as much as 50% this year.

Corporate review boards do little to mitigate the impact of the new rules allowing for anonymous political engagement on the part of corporations. As Senator Chuck Schumer rightly maintains:

Allowing corporate and special interests, now because they have so much money, to pour that money into our political system without even disclosure, without even knowing who they are or what they are saying or why they are saying it, they are taking politics away, government away from the average person because of the influence of such large amounts of dollars.

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GOP’s Citizens United Hypocrisy

As we witness the growing influx of corporate spending in elections from Kentucky to Minnesota as a result of the Citizens United ruling, campaigns across the country are bracing for a barrage of corporate expenditures. Senate Republicans claim that by refusing to allow the DISCLOSE Act to come up for a vote, they are defending free speech rights established by the Court. But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute criticizes the Republicans’ dangerously selective view of the Citizens United decision. While the 5-4 decision grants for-profit corporations the same free speech rights as individuals, the Court also ruled 8-1 to affirm the government’s right to enact rigorous campaign disclosure laws:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the undisputed twin titles of No. 1 campaign finance anti-reformer and No. 1 hypocrite, once said he didn't understand why a little disclosure is better than a lot of disclosure. Now the Kentucky Republican is leading his party and outside activists in spurning the clear, 8-1 mandate of the Roberts Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision to encourage robust disclosure, as they call the disclosure they once championed a horrendous burden and even an unconstitutional blockage of free speech.

Even though Senate Republicans defend Citizens United, going so far as to compare it to Brown v. Board of Education, they appear to dismiss the Supreme Court’s approval of disclosure requirements to prevent secretive and misleading campaign practices by corporations. Like candidates running for office, CEOs of corporations should appear in their advertisements and go on record with their political expenditures, and publicly report money used for political purposes. As constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe writes:

[F]ederal legislation should, at a minimum, build on the disclosure and disclaimer requirements that the Court upheld by an 8-1 vote in Citizens United, requirements specifying that electioneering communications funded by anyone other than the candidate must disclose who is “responsible for the content of this advertising” and must display on screen “in a clearly readable manner” for at least four seconds the name and address or website of whoever funded the communication.


 

 

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Guess Who’s Against the DISCLOSE Act?

Citizens United empowered corporate and special interest lobbyists to spend unlimited amounts influencing elections. Not surprisingly, lobbyists hired by powerful interests are now the most vocal opponents of campaign finance reform. Roll Call reports that these lobbyists outdid themselves fighting the DISCLOSE Act:

Lobbying records make it difficult to determine exactly how much corporate interests and watchdog groups have spent trying the influence the bill since it was introduced this spring.

Still, the public disclosures clearly show that since April 1, more than 100 lobbying firms, corporations, unions, watchdog groups and trade associations have registered to influence facets of the DISCLOSE Act, which would bulk up disclosure requirements for companies, trade associations and unions that run televised political ads with unregulated money.

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