It may have escaped public notice in the excitement over the long-awaited U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but we are facing a looming cloture date in the U.S. Senate on DISCLOSE.
The DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a revision of a failed 2010 measure drafted after the unsettling Citizens United decision recognizing corporations' constitutional right to free speech.
If passed, this revision would force corporations to disclose millions — nay, billions — in political spending.
If passed, we could see which corporations and Super PACs are spending and which candidates are courting the money.
DISCLOSE is not just an acronym. It’s a statement.
It stands for Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.
We have long held — and enforced — laws casting light on securities, ensuring corporate financial ethics in the private sector.
DISCLOSE would cast much the same light on corporate financial ethics in elections.
Why is that important?
Because, according to DISCLOSE co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, a “full one-third of all ‘independent’ spending in the 2010 midterms came from secret sources and their corporate front groups.”
Why is that important?
Because every one of the 435 seats in the U.S. House and 37 of 100 seats in the Senate were filled during that election. That’s a lot of people re-elected to their seats or newly swept into power whose campaigns were funded, in one-third part, by secret money.
The DISCLOSE 2012 Act would not only give the public access to financial information, it would do so quickly, requiring corporations donating $10,000 or more to report expenditures within 24 hours.
It would also require Super PACs to identify — on air — who is paying for third-party commercials, ads that are often more negative than informative.
The act, in 2010 and again in 2012, was introduced by Democrats and has been widely supported by Democrats. It failed in 2010 in a Republican filibuster and there are whispers that, if it even gets past cloture, that could happen again.
To date, this has been an intensely partisan issue. That cannot continue.
This is an issue of courage.
Candidates must have the fortitude to seek election on ideological convictions, not corporate checkbooks.
Corporations and special-interest groups spend a startling amount of money — nearly $4 billion in 2010 — to get candidates who will do their bidding elected as the people’s representatives.
We, as voters, have an absolute right to know who is buying whom and for what. We cannot do that if corporations — now equal to “people” by law — doing the buying are shielded from disclosure requirements.
Actual people, the living individuals who go to the polls to vote, are required to disclose their financial support of candidates down to the penny. To craft different disclosure rules for the “people” that are actually corporations is not right. Not fair. Not transparent.
Our elections — national and local — are increasingly being driven by money, not ideals.
It’s odd, really, that so many candidates fully support transparency and open government while running for office and, once elected, fall prey to the powerful influence of money. We’re not suggesting that it happens to all politicians, but it happens enough to be a pretty recognizable, and disturbing, trend.
Secrecy and government are a destructive partnership. A partnership that can, as it once did in this country, launch a revolution.
Show us the money.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.