June 24, 2014

Sen. Whitehouse Announces DISCLOSE Act Reintroduction

As Prepared for Delivery at Press Conference

Since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, a torrent of dark money has swept through our political system, giving corporations and billionaires the ability to buy and sell election influence in complete anonymity.  Today, more than 50 senators are coming together to change that.  The DISCLOSE Act will require political groups to list publically their big donors, so voters can at least know who is trying to sway their votes.

As many of you know, this legislation is not new.  We tried to get this passed in 2010; Republicans filibustered.  We tried again in 2012; again Republicans filibustered.  I hope this time they will join us.  It wasn’t too long ago that Republicans supported disclosure. 

Sen. Alexander has said, “I support campaign finance reform, but to me that means individual contributions, free speech, and full disclosure.”

“I don’t like it when a large source of money is out there funding ads and is unaccountable,” said Sen. Sessions.  “To the extent we can, I tend to favor disclosure.”

Or as Sen. Cornyn put it, “I think the system needs more transparency, so people can more easily reach their own conclusions.”

Sen. McConnell summed it up nicely:  “Virtually everybody in the Senate is in favor of enhanced disclosure, greater disclosure.  That’s really hardly a controversial subject.”

And he was right—until Citizens United.  Suddenly disclosure is just for Democrats.  Gone is our Republican colleagues’ distaste for secretive election spending. 

Democrats are committed to making sure the voice of every American voter is heard.  We are moving forward, with Tom Udall’s leadership, to pass a Constitutional Amendment to restore Congress’s ability to regulate campaign finance.  The DISCLOSE Act is another important step toward undoing the misguided policies that give billionaires and corporations outsized control over our democracy.

Senator McConnell once wrote: “Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate.”  But now the Minority Leader is comparing that kind of basic accountability to President Nixon’s “enemies list.” 

Republicans who once extolled the principles of openness and accountability in our elections have changed their tune.  They’re now willing to keep the American people in the dark to protect their wealthy benefactors.

Some will even claim that Citizens United has actually led to a better political debate in this country.  Don’t believe them.  The decision is just one example of a Court that, as Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times recently put it, “is too often simply wrong: wrong in the battles it picks, wrong in setting an agenda that mimics a Republican Party platform, wrong in refusing to give the political system breathing room to make fundamental choices of self-governance.”

When the corporate bullhorn drowns out the voice of the average voter, we cannot have a truly free and open exchange of ideas.  One example is climate change.  Before Citizens United, Republicans and Democrats alike introduced proposals to address carbon pollution in the United States.  Since that decision, there hasn’t been one bill introduced by my Republican colleagues.  That’s not the sign of a more robust political debate.  It is a step backwards for our environment and our democracy.    

By introducing this legislation today, we’re giving our Republican colleagues one more chance to show the American people where they stand: with the individual voters they were sent here to represent, or with the billionaires and the corporations seeking to buy our democracy.