Last week, Congressman Chris Van Hollen introduced the DISCLOSE 2012 Act in an effort to bring transparency and accountability to our political system by requiring corporations to disclose their spending on elections. Sound familiar? That’s because the DISCLOSE Act was originally introduced in 2010, and was blocked by Senate Republicans.
The Supreme Court, in its infamous Citizens United decision, put our democracy up for sale by opening the floodgates to unlimited, unregulated and undisclosed corporate spending on political contributions. However, they may have believed that disclosure would be part of the deal: Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the decision, said that “The First Amendment protects political speech and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” In fact, eight of the nine Justices in that decision upheld disclosure requirements, recognizing their critical importance.
In an article published last year in the New Republic, Norman Ornstein recounts how at a time in the not-too-distant past, GOP leaders supported disclosure as well. In the words of Senator Mitch McConnell, “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?” Rep. John Boehner expressed similar sentiments a few years later, saying, “I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
In the post-Citizens United era, the GOP’s tune has changed. Senator McConnell now views disclosure as “a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress,” and rallied his fellow Senate Republicans to block the bill.
Are we headed for a bit of déjà vu with DISCLOSE 2012? Perhaps, but advocates of an open and accountable democracy have the American people – 92% believe that corporations wield undue influence in our elections – on their side. While we work toward a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore the balance of power in our democracy to the people, the DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a step in the right direction. The GOP should get on board.