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Whitehouse Statement for Rules Committee Hearing on DISCLOSE Act

RI Senator is Lead Sponsor of Bill to Shine Light on Campaign Finance

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, legislation to address the worst of the problems caused by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who introduced the legislation last week, submitted the following testimony to the hearing’s official record:

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Chairman Schumer and Ranking Member Alexander – I thank you for holding this hearing on the blight of unlimited, anonymous corporate spending in elections, and on the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which would shine a light on that spending. 

Sen. Schumer, you have demonstrated exemplary leadership and determination on this incredibly important issue.  In the 111th Congress, due in large part to your efforts, the Senate came within one vote of passing your DISCLOSE Act of 2010.  In this Congress, following your lead, Senators Bennet, Franken, Merkley, Shaheen, Tom Udall, and I have worked together on the bill that the Rules Committee is considering today.  With this legislation, every citizen will be able to know who is spending these great sums of money to get their candidates elected.  I am pleased to say that the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which we introduced last week, is already cosponsored by 38 Senators.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and special-interest money in elections, bringing about an era where corporations and other wealthy interests can drown out the voices of individual voters in our political system.  Worse still, much of this spending is anonymous, so the public does not even know who is spending millions to influence elections. 

In the 2010 congressional elections, Citizens United produced a fourfold increase in expenditures from super PACs and other outside groups compared to 2006, with nearly three quarters of political advertising coming from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.  Also in 2010, 501(c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations spent more than $135 million in unlimited, secret contributions, with anonymous spending rising from one percent of outside spending in 2006 to forty-seven percent in 2010. 

We are already seeing ominous signs of the influence of money on the 2012 elections.  As of Monday, super PACs, corporations, 501(c) organizations, and other groups had spent over $92 million, roughly two and a half times as much as in the same period in 2008.  In the two weeks leading up to Super Tuesday, outside PACs that supported the Republican presidential candidates spent three times as much as the candidates themselves. 

Our campaign finance system is broken.  Immediate action is required to fix it. 

The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 does two simple things: 

1. If you are an organization – like a corporation, a super PAC, or a 501(c)(4) group – spending money in an election campaign in support of or opposition to a candidate, you have to tell the public where that money came from, and what you’re spending it on, in a timely manner.

2.  If you are a top executive or a major donor of an organization spending millions of dollars on campaign ads, you have to take responsibility for those ads by having your name on the ad, and in the case of an executive, appearing in the ad yourself. 

These are reasonable provisions that should have wide support from Democrats and Republicans alike. 

The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is a trimmed-down version of the original DISCLOSE Act – Call it “DISCLOSE 2.0.”  It includes only the most basic disclosure requirements from the original DISCLOSE Act, and it has refined them to reduce the burdens on covered organizations as much as possible while still achieving meaningful disclosure. 

For example, we have raised the threshold for donations requiring disclosure from $600 to $10,000.  That may sound like a lot of money, but ninety-three percent of money raised by Super PACs in 2010-2011 that can be traced to specific donors came in contributions of $10,000 or more. This bill targets only the biggest spenders, while leaving smaller donations or dues payments to membership organizations private.

The Act also does not require the disclosure of non-political donations, affiliate transfers, business investments, and other transfers of money that have nothing to do with electioneering. 

At the same time, however, the bill contains strong provisions to prevent the use of dummy organizations or shell corporations to hide the true sources of funding. 

Passing this law would prove to the American people that Congress is committed to fairness, equality, and the fundamental principle of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

I look forward to working with any of my colleagues here in the Senate who feel that the voices of American citizens should be defended, and I appreciate this Committee’s careful consideration of this critical piece of legislation. 

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