Senate Tees Up Vote on DISCLOSE Act to Help Restore Americans’ Faith in Democracy
Bill to root out special interest control of politics and courts will get vote by full Senate this week
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in announcing that the Senate is set to vote later this week on the DISCLOSE Act (S. 4822) to combat the flood of anonymous special interest spending in American politics. The bill would require organizations spending money in federal elections and judicial nominations to disclose their donors, allowing the American people to see who is spending big to influence their votes and gain control over their government.
“For far too long big-money special interests have flooded our elections with secret, dark money to get their way at the expense of everyone else. That’s why we’re fighting to pass the DISCLOSE Act to deliver long overdue transparency to Americans. Voters have a right to know who is spending gobs of money to influence elections — and this week’s vote is an opportunity to bring the American people much-needed sunshine,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“A tsunami of anonymously funded political attacks and misinformation is crushing Americans’ faith in their own government,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I want to thank Leader Schumer for making a vote on the DISCLOSE Act a priority. Every senator will be on the record as either standing with their constituents or shielding the billionaire special interests working to influence government from the shadows.”
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has filed cloture on the bill, setting up a vote by the full Senate on Wednesday or Thursday. The vote comes after a July hearing on the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate Rules Committee. Senator Van Hollen initially authored the DISCLOSE Act in 2010 and has joined in reintroducing it every Congress since. The legislation passed the House of Representatives the year it was introduced but was defeated by a Senate filibuster.
“The plague of dark money has spread unchecked across our democracy like a cancer from the moment the extreme conservative Republican majority on the Supreme Court handed down their opinion in Citizens United,” said Leader Schumer. “Our nation was founded on the principle of one person, one vote, where American voters alone have the power to determine our nation’s leaders. But today, the voices of everyday Americans are being drowned out by a tidal wave of dark money from powerful elites and special interests who seek to hide their identities from the American people. Democrats have championed the DISCLOSE Act to close loopholes in campaign finance laws, end secret contributions, and promote a healthy, transparent democracy. As MAGA Republicans advance laws to further empower the wealthy and powerful, the Senate must act to restore faith in our democratic process and stem the tide of dark money which is drowning out the voices of American voters. Passing the DISCLOSE Act will help ensure the American people have a government that works for them.”
“Elections should be determined by voters, not by the highest bidder. Americans are sick and tired of corrupt special interests threatening our democracy. This week the Senate will vote on the DISCLOSE Act to get dark money out of our elections and put the power back in the hands of the American people. Americans deserve to know who’s trying to influence their vote,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
“Americans know there is way too much money in our elections, and this spending is less accountable than ever. For our democracy to work, we need strong rules in place to ensure the American people know which special interests are spending money to influence our elections,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). “The DISCLOSE Act would shine a light on unaccountable secret money and bring much needed transparency to our system of government. At a time when threats to our democracy are clearer than ever and the public’s confidence in government has been undermined, it is vitally important that we pass this legislation.”
“The disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision handed huge corporations and billionaires a megaphone to drown out the voice of the American people,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “There’s no place in democracy for secret expenditures by special interests to buy our elections. I call upon my colleagues to support this legislation, put the interests of the American people over those of powerful special interests, and stop billionaires from secretly buying our elections.”
“Billionaires and special interests are holding our democracy hostage, anonymously buying control of our politics and courts with extremist politicians and judges,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Government belongs to the people, not the rich and powerful – and the Senate vote on the DISCLOSE Act will force Republicans to show the American people who they truly stand with.”
The DISCLOSE Act is sponsored by all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats. President Joe Biden called for passage of the DISCLOSE Act in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
The DISCLOSE Act requires organizations spending money in elections – including super PACs and 501(c)(4) dark money groups – to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle. In addition to election disclosure requirements, the bill requires groups that spend money on ads supporting or opposing judicial nominees to disclose their donors.
Special interest influence over elections is a major problem in America. Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court rulings permit super PACs and certain types of tax-exempt groups, such as 501(c)(4) nonprofits, to spend unlimited sums in elections. Many of those groups are not required to disclose their donors, allowing wealthy corporations and individuals to spend unlimited, undisclosed – or “dark” – money without being tied to the television attack ads and other electioneering activity the groups carry out. Since Citizens United, spending by corporations, ultra-rich ideologues, and secretive front groups has exploded. Dark money in particular has skyrocketed, despite the Supreme Court, by an 8 to 1 margin in Citizens United, upholding disclosure requirements as a means for citizens and shareholders to hold elected officials and corporate spenders accountable.
The DISCLOSE Act contains a number of other important safeguards against special interest influence. The bill includes measures to prevent foreign governments and their agents from interfering in U.S. elections, including in state and local ballot measures. It includes provisions to crack down on the use of shell corporations to hide the identity of the donor by requiring companies spending money in elections to disclose their true owners. And it contains a “stand by your ad” provision requiring organizations to identify those behind political ads – including disclosing an organization’s top five funders at the end of television ads.
In addition to election disclosure requirements, the DISCLOSE Act requires groups that spend money on ads supporting or opposing judicial nominees to disclose their donors. These provisions are based on the Judicial Ads Act, which Senator Whitehouse sponsored with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to combat dark money influence over judicial nominations. Due to the rise in dark money spending in judicial nominating fights, judges can oversee cases involving litigants who spent millions to get them on the bench, creating the potential for serious conflicts of interest that undermine public confidence in the judicial system. The legislation would identify donors who fund advocacy campaigns aimed at confirming their favored nominees.
The DISCLOSE Act will help Americans understand who is behind the massive uptick in dark-money and other special interest spending in recent years. Dark money political spending went from under $5 million in 2006 to more than $1 billion in 2020. Billionaire political spending increased by a factor of 70, from $17 million for the 2008 election to $1.2 billion for 2020.
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