Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) today led 162 colleagues in both houses of Congress in introducing the DISCLOSE Act, legislation to end the scourge of dark money, shine a bright light of transparency on politics, and make government more accountable to the will of voters.
“A toxic flood of dark money has given billionaires and special interests a powerful way to rig the system secretly in their favor – dark money even enabled these same interests to capture our Supreme Court,” said Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s time to pass the DISCLOSE Act to end the corrupting influence of dark-money spending and make government work better for the American people.”
“Dark money is rotting our political system from the inside out,” said Congressman Cicilline. “Great economic power should not translate into outsized political power, but thanks to the decision in Citizens United and ensuing regulations, that is now the case. We cannot combat the power of corporate special interests in our political system until we get secret corporate spending out of our elections. It’s time to pass the DISCLOSE Act and end the corrupting influence of dark money in our politics. I’m proud to once again join Senator Whitehouse in introducing this bill.”
The DISCLOSE Act is sponsored by all 51 senators who caucus with the Democrats. President Joe Biden called for passage of the DISCLOSE Act in powerful remarks in September, days before Republicans stood in lockstep with their billionaire donors to shut down debate on the DISCLOSE Act and protect dark money. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer first introduced the DISCLOSE Act in the wake of the disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, and Whitehouse has led the introduction of the legislation in every subsequent Congress.
“One of the gravest dangers undermining our democracy is the power of dark money in our elections,” said Leader Schumer. “The DISCLOSE Act would provide the transparency the American people want and need, pulling back the veil on billionaires and giant corporations trying to make sure government works for them. I thank Senator Whitehouse for his tireless leadership on this issue and I look forward to bringing this bill to the Senate floor.”
“Elections should be determined by voters, not by the highest bidder. Americans are sick and tired of corrupt special interests threatening our democracy. The DISCLOSE Act will get dark money out of our elections and put the power back in the hands of the American people. Americans deserve to know who’s trying to influence their vote,” said Stabenow.
“Massive amounts of dark money are flooding our political system – all to advance special interests for big corporations and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of making progress on the major issues Americans care about. The DISCLOSE Act would shine a bright light on these deep-pocketed donors and show us who is paying billions of dollars to influence votes. It’s time to pass this bill so we can take the power in our democracy back from the wealthy and well-connected and return it to the people where it belongs,” said Van Hollen.
“Like so many of my fellow West Virginians and Americans, I’m concerned with the increasingly powerful role dark money is playing in our politics and elections,” said Manchin. “I’m proud to reintroduce the DISCLOSE Act to require greater transparency from groups that spend heavily on elections and nominations and help strengthen transparency surrounding campaign finance. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense legislation to ensure fair, free and transparent elections for every American voter.”
“Billionaires and shadowy groups have been spending vast amounts of secret money to buy control of our politics and courts,” said Warren. “The DISCLOSE Act would shine a bright light on this corruption and the special interests that are holding our democracy hostage.”
“Americans know there is way too much money in our elections, and this spending is less accountable than ever. For our democracy to work, we need strong rules in place to ensure the American people know which special interests are spending money to influence our elections,” said Klobuchar. “The DISCLOSE Act would shine a light on unaccountable secret money and bring much needed transparency to our system of government. At a time when our democracy continues to face threats, it is vitally important that we pass this legislation.”
Special interest influence over elections is a major problem in America. Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court rulings permit super PACs and certain types of tax-exempt groups, such as 501(c)(4) nonprofits, to spend unlimited sums in elections. Many of those groups are not required to disclose their donors, allowing wealthy corporations and individuals to spend unlimited, undisclosed – or “dark” – money without being tied to the television attack ads and other electioneering activity the groups carry out. Even foreign enemies can try to corrupt American democracy through dark-money channels.
The DISCLOSE Act requires organizations spending money in elections – including super PACs and 501(c)(4) dark-money groups – to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle. In addition to election disclosure requirements, the bill requires groups that spend money on ads supporting or opposing judicial nominees to disclose their donors.
A number of prominent good-government organizations cheered the bill’s introduction today.
“Every election cycle, billionaires and corporations pour more dark money into our system to buy power and influence in Washington. And because these dark money investments lead to policy outcomes that favor the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else, Americans are losing faith in the system and in our government. That’s why it’s so vital that we pass the DISCLOSE Act and end this secret spending, so voters know who is trying to influence them. We applaud Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Cicilline for reintroducing this bill and urge the House and the Senate to do whatever it takes to pass it into law,” said Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United//Let America Vote Action Fund.
“Voters have a right to know who is spending to influence their votes and our government. Since my time with the FEC, the amount spent by corporations and other special interests seeking to influence our elections has risen exponentially. Much of that spending has come from interests who intentionally hide their identities from the public. Without knowing who is funding the political ads designed to sway their votes, voters are not able to fully evaluate the messages they see and make an informed decision — information the Supreme Court has said voters are entitled to have. This is why Congress must pass the DISCLOSE Act – a bill that guarantees the First Amendment promise that all Americans are able to fully participate in the electoral process,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center, and a Republican Former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
“All Americans deserve to know who is trying to influence our voices and our votes. However, when corporate special interests and ultra-wealthy donors continue to spend tens of millions of dollars of secret money in politics, we are all left in the dark,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “The DISCLOSE Act would shine a light on secret money in politics to ensure the wealthy and powerful cannot hide their secret agendas, and we commend Senator Whitehouse and Representative Cicilline for introducing this common sense legislation.”
“The DISCLOSE Act is a desperately-needed step to repair the damage caused by the Citizens United decision over the last decade. The bill gives voters the means to understand who is behind campaign advertising by casting light on the true funding sources behind those messages. Public Citizen is thrilled that Senator Whitehouse and Representative Cicilline have continued to champion this critical policy, and all sensible legislators should support it. There is nothing radical about disclosure. This is commonsense, straightforward legislation that would go a long way toward reining in the damage since the Citizens United decision, and we look forward to working to help pass this bill,” said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President of Public Citizen.
“The DISCLOSE Act will help protect our democracy by requiring that nonprofit organizations spending money in federal elections disclose their donors in order to shine the light on contributions that are being given in secret today,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. “Democracy 21 applauds Senator Whitehouse for his relentless and unswerving leadership in the battle to enact the DISCLOSE Act and close the ‘dark money’ loophole in the federal campaign finance disclosure laws. Democracy 21 also applauds Representative Cicilline for his strong leadership in the House fight to enact the DISCLOSE Act.”
“The rich and the powerful pour millions of dollars into our elections and our politics, often while hiding their identities. This onslaught of dark money undermines our democracy, giving outsized and unchecked influence to wealthy corporations and individuals who are often more interested in their bottom line than in the health of our democracy,” said Noah Bookbinder, President of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The DISCLOSE Act would stop dark money in its tracks by requiring all organizations spending money in elections to disclose their major donors each election cycle. The American public has a right to know who is financing their electoral politics and seeking to buy their votes. CREW applauds Sen. Whitehouse for his steadfast leadership on this issue and encourages Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act as expeditiously as possible.”
In the 13 years since Citizens United, spending by corporations, ultra-rich ideologues, and secretive front groups has exploded. Dark money in particular has skyrocketed, despite the Supreme Court, by an 8-to-1 margin in Citizens United, upholding disclosure requirements as a means for citizens and shareholders to hold elected officials and corporate spenders accountable. Since 2010, dark-money groups have poured over $2.6 billion into federal elections. At least $3 out of every $10 in outside spending reported to the Federal Election Commission since Citizens United can be traced to dark-money groups.
The DISCLOSE Act contains a number of other important safeguards against special interest influence. The bill includes measures to prevent foreign governments and their agents from interfering in U.S. elections, including in state and local ballot measures. It includes provisions to crack down on the use of shell corporations to hide the identity of the donor by requiring companies spending money in elections to disclose their true owners. And it contains a “stand by your ad” provision requiring organizations to identify those behind political ads – including disclosing an organization’s top five funders at the end of television ads.
In addition to election disclosure requirements, the DISCLOSE Act requires groups that spend money on ads supporting or opposing judicial nominees to disclose their donors. These provisions are based on the Judicial Ads Act, which Whitehouse sponsored with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to combat dark-money influence over judicial nominations. Due to the rise in dark-money spending in judicial nominating fights, judges can oversee cases involving litigants who spent millions to get them on the bench, creating the potential for serious conflicts of interest that undermine public confidence in the judicial system. The legislation would identify donors who fund advocacy campaigns aimed at confirming their favored nominees.
The DISCLOSE Act will help Americans understand who is behind the massive uptick in dark-money and other special-interest spending. Members of both parties long supported campaign finance disclosure prior to Citizens United. In 2003, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR that spending in elections should be “limited and disclosed” so that “everyone knows who’s supporting everyone else.”
Meaghan McCabe (Whitehouse), (202) 224-2921
Jennifer Bell (Cicilline), (202) 365-0827