Here We Go Again: Another Legislative Effort to Hide Money in Politics

June 13, 2012 

Here We Go Again: Another Legislative Effort to Hide Money in Politics

Republican Rider Would Block New FCC Transparency Rule

Washington, D.C. – In an effort to stave off another attack against transparency of money in politics, Public Citizen today joined with 17 other civic organizations in urging the Senate Committee on Appropriations not to block a new rule requiring TV stations to post information about political ad spending on the Internet.

The pre-emptive effort by Public Citizen and the other organizations follows on the heels of a rider added to the appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from implementing the new rule. The groups are asking Senate lawmakers to reject any similar amendments.

TV stations already are required by law to keep public records on the sponsors of campaign ads, but only on paper. To access these political files, citizens must go to each TV station and request the files. The FCC approved a new rule, scheduled to take effect in July, that would require the four major networks in the 50 largest TV markets to post this information online. All stations would have to comply by the 2014 election cycle. The rule would save paper and money, streamline the process and provide the public with key information.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) sponsored the House rider to prohibit the FCC from spending any money to implement its new disclosure rule. The rider was approved by a straight party vote in the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, with all Republicans voting “yea” and all Democrats voting against, and will be sent to the House floor in a couple of weeks.

“This is just the latest effort by congressional Republican leaders to keep the public in the dark about who is paying for the tsunami of campaign ads saturating our airwaves,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “The Republican leadership so far has blocked every legislative and regulatory attempt to open up the books on campaign spending since the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that allows unlimited and undisclosed corporate spending in elections.”

   Other transparency measures that have been stalled since the 2010 Citizens United decision include:

  • the DISCLOSE Act, which would provide full disclosure of spending in elections, even by innocuous-sounding third-party groups;
  • the Shareholder Protection Act, which would require companies to inform shareholders and the public about corporate political spending; and
  • a proposed transparency executive order, which would require government contractors to disclose to the public their campaign contributions and expenditures.

Pending before the Senate is another anti-transparency bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would keep secret information about political spending by government contractors. Specifically, the bill would outlaw any special requirement mandating public disclosure by federal contractors of “information relating to political spending, including any payment consisting of a contribution, expenditure, independent expenditure or disbursement for an electioneering communication that is made by the contractor, any of its partners, officers, directors or employees, or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries to a candidate or on behalf of a candidate for election for federal office.”

“The objective seems quite obvious: place blinders on American voters so we don’t have a clue who is trying to buy our elections, our elected officials or government contracts,” said Lisa Gilbert, acting director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “These members of Congress want to reap the windfall of unlimited corporate money paying for their campaigns, and they don’t want you to know about it.”

The groups signing the letter include: Access Humboldt; Americans for Campaign Reform; Campaign Legal Center; Center for Creative Voices in Media; Center for Responsive Politics; Common Cause; Common Frequency; Democracy 21; Free Press, Media Action Center; National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture; Norman Lear Center, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalismat the University of Southern California; OMB Watch; Public Citizen; Sunlight Foundation; Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Florida; United Church of Christ, Office of Communications, Inc.; and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.