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Congress Should End Scandal of Secret Money in Federal Elections

July 22, 2014

Congress Should End Scandal of Secret Money in Federal Elections

Senate Rules Committee Holds Hearing Wednesday on Transparency of Money in Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday highlights increasing congressional concern about the influence of secret donors over elections, Public Citizen said today. Lawmakers and regulators should pursue several proposed solutions.

On Wednesday, the Senate Rules & Administration Committee is holding a hearing on the damaging trend of secret money in our elections. The committee will focus on the DISCLOSE Act (S. 2516), sponsored by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) with 51 co-sponsors, and the Real Time Transparency Act (S. 2207), sponsored by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

Lawmakers also may discuss a proposal before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require publicly held companies to disclose political spending, as well as an ongoing IRS effort to clarify what constitutes political activity by a nonprofit. Doing so would help open up the books on secret money in politics.

“Public Citizen is firmly committed to each and every one of these drives to help end the scourge of secret money in elections,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The very concept of stealth financers trying to buy our elections while hiding in the shadows is antithetical to the principles of democracy.”

The DISCLOSE Act would lift the veil of secrecy now shrouding the sources of campaign funds. So-called “dark money” has reached new heights – more than $300 million was spent in the 2012 federal elections – following the unleashing of corporate money in elections by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. The Real Time Transparency Act would mandate immediate online disclosure of major donors to candidates, parties and PACs, which are likely to become bigger players following the end of aggregate contribution limits by the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision this year. Dozens of civic groups have submitted coalition letters in support of both measures.

“Side-by-side with the legislative track are huge campaigns to compel regulatory agencies to open up the books on money being laundered into our elections,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Nearly a million public comments have been submitted to the SEC encouraging the agency to require public corporations to disclose their political spending. And the IRS is now discussing how best to address the practice of groups laundering money from corporations and the wealthy and funneling it into election ads.”

The hearing is at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 23, in Room 301 of the Senate Russell Office Building.

Read the coalition letter in support of the DISCLOSE Act.

Read the coalition letter in support of the Real Time Transparency Act.

Read an op-ed by Holman and Gilbert on the hearing.