March 23, 2021

Sen. Whitehouse Remarks on Dark Money and the DISCLOSE Act

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I pick up where Senator Van Hollen left off because, when he was fighting for the DISCLOSE Act in the House, I was the manager of that bill on the floor here in the Senate.

It would do something very simple. If you are spending more than $10,000 in an election, we ought to know who you are. That is pretty easy. It is not going to rope in lots of small donors. It will get the big interests who are out there trying to control our democracy and hide who they are while they are doing it.

As Senator Van Hollen said, this started with Citizens United–a wretched decision that unleashed unlimited money into our politics, but it said that the unlimited money was going to be transparent. That was its predicate: It is going to be transparent. You won’t have corruption because everybody will be able to see. The ad will say: We are ExxonMobil, and we paid for this message.

Well, of course, the dark money forces, in having achieved that victory at the Supreme Court, went right out and violated that predicate–right out. They have built an entire architecture of deception around their campaign finances since then. It is the 501(c) corporations that don’t have to report their donors. It is the donor- advised trusts that are money identity laundering devices for big donors. It is even as simple as phoney-baloney shell corporations. Sometimes they are stacked up, and the money goes to the phoney-baloney shell corporation. The shell corporation launders it through DonorsTrust, and DonorsTrust gives it to the 501(c), and it dumps it into the super PAC. They all know it is going on. This is orchestrated stuff.

So we have a real battle on our hands. We passed the billion-dollar- in-dark-money threshold a long time ago. When people are spending $1 billion in dark money to influence what goes on in this country, you can bet they are winning. You can bet they are winning. They wouldn’t keep spending money by the billions if they were not winning. So we have to put a stop to this.

The American people are with us. The polling is unbelievable. It is in the nineties. Whether you are a Bernie Bro or a tea partier, you hate the idea that there is big dark money in politics calling the tune for Congress to dance to, but that is the fact. Look at the outcomes.

Look at climate change. There is no dispute about the science. We all know what needs to be done, but one big special interest, the fossil fuel industry, has shut down one political party. My strong bet is, if you looked at all of the dark money funding the Republican Party in Congress, you would find that it is 80 percent the fossil fuel industry. They have become the political wing of the fossil fuel industry, and they specialize in fake climate denial for that reason, and it is going to cost us. The lost decade on climate is going to cost us.

So dark money is not just a plague to the integrity of American democracy; it is a plague that harms our ability to deal with the other problems that are coming our way–wherever there is a big special interest that can play the game of hiding the money and moving it around.

Let me say one last thing.

Dark money? Not really. It is not dark to the candidate who is the beneficiary. When a big dark money donor sets up a shell corporation and gives it a couple of million dollars and then has that shell corporation launder the money through DonorsTrust and then has that money go into a super PAC to be spent for a particular candidate or against his opponent, do you think they don’t find a way to let the candidate know what they did and why? The only people who are not in on the joke are the American people, and we have got to put an end to this.

Democracy behind masks isn’t democracy at all. Let’s get rid of this stuff. The American public will be with us. It will provide health and hygiene to our democracy again, and we will start to see results for the American people in a way that the dark money has prevented.

I thank Senator Merkley for leading us in this enterprise. This is a public service. This is why we came here. This is the democracy that needs defending, and, by God, we are going to defend it.