March 13, 2012

Senate Democrats Form Working Group to Craft New Response to Rise of Super PACs and Unlimited Spending by Outside Groups

Senators Have Already Urged Action By IRS, FEC, FCC—Now Planning Legislative Remedy As Well

Washington, DC – A group of Democratic senators announced today they have joined together to craft a new legislative response to blunt the harmful impacts from the Supreme Court’s decision allowing corporations and anonymous special interests to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.

The task force is led by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and includes Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, formed the group late last year and has joined in their planning efforts.

The group will pursue all available legislative and administrative avenues to shine a light on who is influencing American elections and stem the tide of secretive spending that is already having a corroding and corrupting influence on our political system.

“The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has subjected the American people to a flood of unlimited, anonymous corporate money in our elections. The Rhode Islanders I’ve heard from know that corporations aren’t people and that this is wrong,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “With my colleagues, we are working to put the power over elections back into the hands of the people, so that our government continues to be of, by and for the people, not the giant corporations.”

“The unchecked flow of money into our elections corrodes our democracy and drowns out the voice of the people,” said Senator Tom Udall. “Over the past few months, the unfair influence exerted by Super PACs has become abundantly clear to voters in New Mexico and elsewhere, and they are calling for sensible campaign finance reform. I’m honored to join a group of senators who share my concern and commitment to ensuring that our elections are by the people, not the millionaires, corporations and special interests.”

“Our campaign finance system has gotten far off course, and we must put it back on track,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “I look forward to working with my colleagues as we urge the FEC to protect the transparency of our electoral process.”

“The simple, genius idea of American democracy is that the people are in charge,” said Senator Jeff Merkley. “President Lincoln described our government as ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ Citizens United stands for the opposite. It changes ‘We the People’ to ‘We the Powerful’. It gives the wealthy and well-connected a stadium sound system, drowning out the voice of the people. We must restore the people’s voice and put an end to unlimited, undisclosed spending by corporations.”

“The Supreme Court reversed itself and decades of precedent with its Citizens United ruling. Now, Coloradans and Americans are inundated with attack ads, SuperPACs skirt accountability, and the Presidency might well be determined by a silent auction,” said Senator Michael Bennet. “This group is committed to improving transparency in our campaigns and restoring the faith Americans have in our elections.”

“Americans deserve fair and transparent elections,” said Senator Al Franken. “Making sure that every American knows who is funding the election ads they see and hear is even more important now that the Supreme Court has allowed companies to contribute unlimited amounts of corporate cash to influence elections. I’m proud to join with my colleagues to do whatever we can to make our elections as transparent as possible.”

“We believe that the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “The Supreme Court’s decision has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy. This group will fight back with every tool at its disposal.”

The task force has been established during a presidential election year that has already seen almost $90 million spent by outside groups[i], many of which are able to raise funds anonymously, from corporations, and in unlimited quantities. According to the most recently available data, of the millions raised by so called “Super PACs” associated with the presidential campaigns, over 25% of it comes from just five small donors[ii], illustrating the vastly increased influence the very wealthy now have over elections. The rate of spending will likely only increase as the Republican primary ends, the general election begins in earnest, and congressional races heat up.

Members of the task for have been actively working to reduce the impact of the Citizens United since the decision was issued by the Supreme Court in 2010. Members have sponsored legislation requiring increased disclosure; called for an investigation into whether organizations claiming tax-exempt status are engaging in a substantial amount of campaign activity; asked the FEC and FCC to intervene so voters know who is funding campaign commercials; and introduced a constitutional amendment to grant Congress and the states the authority to regulate the campaign finance system.


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