Senate Must Pass the DISCLOSE Act

This week the Senate votes on a bill to curb “dark money” political spending

By Semira Mohamed and Rachel Curley

U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee (2010) in essence removed virtually all election spending limits for 501 (c)(4) political organizations that do not disclose their funders, also known as “dark money” groups. In the ten-plus years since the decision, the dark money networks that have emerged pose a threat to the current and future state of American democracy. These networks allow corporations and the ultra-rich to use their wealth to influence elections and judicial nominations without public knowledge.

Luckily, Congress has stepped up with solutions to the problems caused by the Citizens United case. This week, the Senate is voting on the DISCLOSE Act, which seeks to expose dark money networks, including those that hide behind front groups as a way to secretly support disfavored issues and candidates. The bill requires any entity that spends money to influence elections to disclose the source of political contributions that exceed $10,000. Given the huge amounts of contributions dark money networks are able to pour into elections, it has ingratiated them with politicians and thus has ensured our government works in favor of large corporations and the rich. This corporate influence has prevented the passage of legislation popular among the public, including action on issues like health care reform, gun violence prevention reform, expansion of voting rights, and mitigating climate change.

Despite the immense popularity of anti-corruption legislation among American voters, regardless of party affiliation, Republicans continue to block such legislation and are predicted to filibuster the DISCLOSE Act. If Republicans succeed in blocking the DISCLOSE Act, President Biden should immediately issue an Executive Order requiring large federal contractors to disclose their political spending. This would provide much needed transparency around some of the largest corporations spending money in politics. While it’s not a replacement for the DISCLOSE Act, it would be a critical step in restoring our democracy.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the chief sponsor of the bill and an outspoken advocate for increased transparency in elections and government, recently penned an op-ed discussing the institutions and the dark-money networks that funded the January 6th insurrection to overturn the fair and free 2020 presidential election. The op-ed highlights how the DISCLOSE Act meets the urgent need to shine light on the entities spend money to influence our politics.

While increased disclosure is popular with voters, in order to take a stand against the corporate benefactors that contribute heavily to their campaigns, senators must hear from as many constituents as possible that they support this important step in the fight to getting money out of politics. Tell your Senator to vote to pass the DISCLOSE Act this week and restore power in our democracy to the people.