March 26, 2015

Republicans Vote to Protect Dark Money in Elections

Washington, DC – With the Senate debating amendments to this year’s budget resolution, Republicans voted against an amendment offered by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and cosponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) aimed at making it more difficult for corporations and billionaires to secretly influence federal elections through unlimited and undisclosed campaign expenditures – so-called “dark money.”  The amendment would have facilitated passage of legislation to promote transparency in political spending and prevent big corporate and wealthy donors from evading campaign finance law by making false statements.  One such bill is the DISCLOSE Act, which Whitehouse reintroduced earlier this year in a continued effort to curb the harmful effects of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

“Instead of siding with the individual voters who elected them, today Republicans again stood with special interests to defend unlimited, secret money in our elections,” said Whitehouse.  “My amendment would have paved the way for laws making it harder for dark money to buy elections and corrupt our political process, and preventing corporate and wealthy individuals from side-stepping campaign finance rules.  I’m disappointed that Republicans missed this opportunity to unwind the disastrous effects of the Citizens United decision.”

“Unlimited spending by corporations and billionaires has compromised voters’ faith in our democracy, and hurt hardworking New Mexico families in the process,” said Udall, a leader on campaign finance reform to stop the influence of special interests on elections.  “Elections should not be bought and paid for by secret donors and special interests. The DISCLOSE Act is a common-sense plan that would promote transparency and help restore the principle of one person, one vote.  But common sense doesn’t always hold in Congress, and today Republicans chose to side with dark money donors over American voters.”

Since Citizens United, there has been a dramatic rise in political spending by so-called “independent” groups with no disclosure requirements.  In the 2014 elections—the most expensive midterm elections in our history, with over $3.6 billion spent—the Washington Post reported that at least 31 percent of all independent spending was spent by groups that are not required to disclose their donors.  And that doesn’t even count spending on so-called “issue ads,” which is not reported.

Loopholes in IRS laws allow outside spending groups, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code and other non-profits, to evade campaign finance rules.  In some cases these groups have even made false statements to the IRS related to their political spending, which is a federal crime.  


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