Posts Tagged ‘DISCLOSE Act’

a photo of Karl Rove on television

Flickr photo by Dutchlad

By Adam Crowther

The U.S. Supreme Court was so determined to treat outside groups fairly in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision that it put these groups on course to supplant the candidates themselves as the dominant voices in our elections.

That is the finding of a newly released Public Citizen report, Outside Money Takes the Inside Track. The report compares spending by outside groups, which were permitted as a result of Citizens United to use unlimited contributions to influence elections, with that of candidates and national parties, which are subject to contribution limits.

Our findings: There is a tectonic shift in how American campaigns are being funded. Outside groups surpassed candidate spending in four of the 10 most expensive U.S. Senate races this year. That had only happened once in the last four election cycles (in 2010, which also postdated Citizens United). Outside groups’ spending this year nearly equaled that of the national parties. In no election cycle since 2004 had outside groups spent as much as a third as the parties (and that was also in 2010). Meanwhile, outside groups spent more money in the 2012 election cycle than the past four cycles combined.

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By Adam Crowther and Taylor Lincoln

Money Tunnel

Flickr photo by Keith Ramsey

Today, Public Citizen released an in-depth fact sheet on the similarities and discrepancies in reporting requirements imposed on unions and corporations for their political spending.

Given all the hand wringing by Republicans over allegations that the rules are tilted in favor of unions, the information will likely surprise you. In fact, unions already are subject to significant public reporting requirements that pertain solely to them, whereas corporations are not.

The sources of about one-fourth of outside spending in all 2012 federal races—and about half of  outside spending in key Senate races—were kept secret. The DISCLOSE Act (S. 3369) would fix most of this. But here too, the solution is being held up by Republican complaints that the measure is stacked against corporations.

The rational invoked by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is a key example of this type of complaint. Even McCain, a longstanding champion of campaign finance reform and a vocal critic of Citizens United v. Federal Election commission (he has called it “the worst decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st century”), has opposed this seemingly common-sense bill.

McCain’s explanation for voting against the bill was that its $10,000 threshold (per two-year election cycle) for disclosure of political contributions represented a “a clever attempt at political gamesmanship” by forcing “some entities to inform the public about the origins of their financial support, while allowing others—most notably those affiliated with organized labor—to fly below the Federal Election Commission’s regulatory radar.”

The $10,000 threshold would unfairly target corporations, McCain argued, because union funds tend to represent a portion of aggregated union dues of far smaller amounts. “What is the final difference between one $10,000 check and 1,000 $10 checks?” McCain asked in a statement accompanying his vote against the bill. “Other than the impact on trees, very little.”

But the difference is very significant, as McCain no doubt is well aware.

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a photo of Karl Rove on television

Flickr photo by Dutchlad

A new study out by Public Citizen today shows the true effect the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling is having on congressional races: floods of unlimited money, little to nothing in the way of accountability.

While roughly $190 million poured into the airwaves from super PACs and nonprofits, we will never know the source for nearly half of it. Dark money nonprofits, able to collect unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, do not have to disclose their donors, and these groups were out in full force on Election Day, dropping $90 million into top Senate races.

Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came in as the top two spenders. Together, these high rollers spent $55,537,862 on pro-GOP advertisements in Senate races. The two next closest groups, Patriot Majority and the League of Conservation Voters, each spent roughly $10 million combined. The study also showed dark money tends to favor the Republican Party. Of the top 20 dark money spenders, 15 supported GOP candidates, while four supported Democrats (one had an unknown ideology). While Republican and Democratic super PACs in these races spent roughly the same amount, pro-GOP dark money groups outspent their Democratic counterparts by more than $60 million.

Public Citizen’s study looked at races in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Of those states, Virginia experienced the highest volume of dark money with $19,868,241 spent, notably $5 million more than what was spent by super PACs. In Nevada, 77.3% of the total money spent by outside groups came from non-disclosing organizations.

“The effect of Citizens United has been to deny the public the opportunity to learn the identity of sponsors behind a large percentage of political ads,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “It is likely that the donors that have been kept secret are those that would be the most controversial, such as corporations seeking favors. Until Congress or agencies mandate disclosure, we will not know the truth. ”

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There is only one thing abundantly clear in the polls right now: There is way too much money in politics. A new poll commissioned by the Corporate"Corporate Reform Coalition" poll "money and politics" Reform Coalition found that nine out of 10 Americans agree there is too much corporate money in elections, and 51 percent strongly agree with that statement. For all you poll junkies out there, you’ll be relieved to know nine out of ten is way outside the margin of error.

The poll found strong evidence that not only do Americans think there’s too much money in politics, they believe this money has a damaging effect on our democracy. A whopping 81 percent believe the secret flow of money in politics is bad for our democracy. And 84 percent believe that corporate political spending drowns out the voices of average Americans. The same percentage believes corporate political spending makes Congress more corrupt. The results clearly show that Americans are ready for a dramatic revamping of the campaign finance system.

On that front, Americans broadly support commonsense reforms that have been stonewalled by this Congress. When it comes to the issue of disclosure, 85 percent of Americans believe prompt disclosure of political spending would help voters, customers and shareholders hold companies accountable for their political spending. Congress had the opportunity to provide that accountability earlier this year by passing the DISCLOSE Act, but the bill met a Republican led-filibuster in the Senate. Congress also has yet to move on the Shareholder Protection Act despite the fact that 73 percent of Republicans and Democrats support requiring corporations to get approval from their shareholders before spending in elections. Shedding light on corporate political spending enjoys the bipartisan support our presidential candidates could only dream of.

 

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Today’s Senate vote on the DISCLOSE Act could help shed light on the billionaires, shadowy outside groups and corporations spending heaps of cash to influence our elections. It could ensure voters fully understand the barrage of campaign advertising assaulting their television screens. It could even force some accountability into a democracy, and marketplace, otherwise plagued by darkness and secrecy.

It could happen…

The legislation would be huge win for voters who overwhelmingly favor campaign finance reform and want to know how corporations and other outside sources are spending money in politics. In fact, voters want more than just sunlight when it comes to corporate political spending. In a study conducted in April, 80 percent of those surveyed said corporations should be required by law to get approval from shareholders before spending money on politics.

Many opponents of disclosure say the threat from corporate spending has been overblown and that Super PACs are raking in tons of cash from individuals, but corporations have accounted for less than 20 percent of donations to these groups. According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “not a single Fortune 100 company contributed a penny to the eight super PACs that supported the Republican primary candidates.

So does that mean voters have it wrong and corporations are sitting this one out?

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