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DISCLOSE Act Would End the Scandal of ‘Dark Money’ in Federal Elections

June 24, 2014

DISCLOSE Act Would End the Scandal of ‘Dark Money’ in Federal Elections

Sen. Whitehouse Reintroduces Measure to Shed Light on Funders Behind Campaign Ads

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen strongly supports the DISCLOSE Act of 2014, reintroduced in the Senate today by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and 50 co-sponsors. A companion bill already is pending in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

 “The DISCLOSE Act is a straightforward disclosure measure,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “It does not and cannot offer itself as a fix to all the damage caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But the DISCLOSE Act can provide voters with the means to weigh the merits of campaign messages by casting light on the true funding sources behind those messages.”

 The DISCLOSE Act would require all entities, including nonprofit organizations and super PACs, to disclose all significant donors behind their independent expenditures and electioneering communications, and disclose transfers of campaign money between third party groups. The measure also imposes a “stand-by-your-ad” requirement in which top donors must be listed in the ads.

The legislative proposal would close major loopholes in the current disclosure laws – loopholes that allow corporations seeking to influence elections and pressure lawmakers to funnel money through nondescript outside groups that buy campaign ads secretly on their behalf. Secret donors laundered more than $300 million of this “dark money” into the 2012 federal elections.
 This sum of dark money is likely to be dwarfed as we enter the 2014 and 2016 elections, Holman said. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, super PACs and outside groups already have spent more than three times their outlays at the same point in the last election — $20.6 million at the end of 2013, up from $6.3 million at the same point in 2011. 

 “It is a travesty that secret money is laundered through outside groups then funneled into our elections, but a still worse one that Congress has so far refused to do anything about it,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Poll after poll shows that a vast majority of Americans of all partisan affiliations favor disclosure of money in politics, but in Congress, support for transparency fails along deadlocked party lines.”

 Public Citizen firmly supports swift ratification of the DISCLOSE Act, so an effective transparency regime can be in place for the 2014 elections and beyond. Disclosure can begin mitigating some of the damage done to our political systems by the Citizens United decision. In that 2010 ruling, the court held that corporations can spend unlimited sums on “independent expenditures” – such things as ads, fliers and get-out-the-vote efforts (as opposed to direct campaign contributions).

“It is time for Congress to do its job and make our elections open and fair,” Holman said.