Skip to main content

Senators Introduce Bill to Toughen Disclosure Rules For Special Interest Campaign Ads

A group of senators Thursday (April 29) introduced the
DISCLOSE Act, a bill to toughen disclosure rules for campaign ads by
corporations, unions and advocacy groups. The bill could potentially reduce the
new flow of campaign dollars to media outlets if those disclosure or other
provisions prove a disincentive.

There are also limits on spending by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign
entities and on companies that take government money--stimulus fund bidders,
perhaps--that could put a crimp in spending.

The bill, which is an acronym for "Democracy Is
Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections," would require
new, more explicit disclaimers on all TV ads funded by special interests, said
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). For example, if a corporation or interest group
has paid the money, we find out who really paid for it is running an ad, the
CEO has to appear at the end of the ad and say he or she approved the message,
just as candidates do.

If it is an advocacy group, the head of the group and the
top funder have to appear and take responsibility, to make sure that light is
shined on shadow groups.

The legislation is a response to the Supreme Court's
decision in the Citizens United case back in September to allow corporations
and unions to directly fund campaign ads. The court had said the prohibition
was an unconstitutional restraint on speech. By some estimates north of a
half-billion new dollars could flow into midterm election ad spending.

"Our bill will shine a light on the flood of spending
unleashed by the Citizens United decision," said Schumer. He said the bill
does not circumvent the court by re-imposing a back-door ban on corporate
spending, but instead closes some loopholes and boosts disclosure, so he says
it will pass constitutional muster. He also said the bill does not pick
political winners and losers.

The bill mandates disclosure of spending amounts and donors.
"You should have to disclose no matter who you are," said Schumer.

The bill would prevent foreign-controlled entities from
spending unlimited amounts through U.S. subsidiaries--Sen. Al Franken
(D-Minn.) introduced a similar bill. The DISCLOSE Act would also prevent
companies with government contracts over $50,000 from unlimited expenditures.
It would ban expenditures by companies that receive government assistance. It
would also expand the lowest unit rate.

The bill will be self-implementing and won't require the FEC
to take any action, said Schumer. He said it needs to become law before the
next election.

The president was quick to praise the move. He had been as
quick back in September that he would work with Congress to come up with a
legislative response to the decision.

"I welcome the introduction of this strong bi-partisan
legislation to control the flood of special interest money into America's
elections. Powerful special interests and their lobbyists should not be able to
drown out the voices of the American people," said the president.
"Yet they work ceaselessly toward that goal: they claim the protection of the
Constitution in extending this power, and they exploit every loophole in the
law to escape limits on their activities. The legislation introduced today
would establish the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related
spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests, so
the American people can follow the money and see clearly which special
interests are funding political campaign activity and trying to buy
representation in our government. I hope that Congress will give this
legislation the swift consideration it deserves, which is especially urgent now
in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Passing the
legislation is a critical step in restoring our government to its rightful
owners: the American people."

Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal
Center said passage of
the bill was imperative: "If Congress fails to take action in the
aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, vital
information about significant campaign expenditures will be hidden from public
view. A vote against the DISCLOSE Act is a vote to keep citizens in the dark
about who is really calling the shots in Washington."

Ditto Public Citizen: "Let's get the DISCLOSE Act passed as
quickly as possible to help open the books on the 2010 elections," said
Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the group.