Shining Light on the DISCLOSE Act

Justice Brandeis famously stated that: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” What does this mean for politics? It is a simple statement that a transparent government, a government without back rooms (smoke-filled or not), is best for the people. This is the motto of , an organization dedicated to the making both government and the electoral process open, honest, and public so that corruption has no dark corner to take root in.

Their organization, which I have highlighted before, is one of the main organizations behind the DISCLOSE Act scheduled to be voted on later today. Yesterday, in a lead up to today’s vote, they listed several things you should say to anyone opposed to this bill. As one of just 7000 active participants in their “Public Equals Online” campaign I am in a unique position to provide counter-point to their claims about the DISCLOSE Act.

Why, when the Supreme Court specifically said “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages,” are you opposed to a bill that does that?

I am not opposed to bringing transparency into the electoral process, but at what cost? Should the NRA and the Sierra club both be able to stay in the dark and not provide that same transparency to the electorate? Schumer’s new version still allows the NRA and other organizations from the reporting requirements.

How can you claim that the DISCLOSE Act violates first amendment when disclosure regimes have long been upheld as constitutional? Campaign contributions, candidate, party and PAC expenditures and lobbyists disclosures have long been upheld as the legitimate methods of deterring corruption and the appearance of corruption in the political process.

The DISCLOSE Act violates the 1st Amendment rights of speech by trying to carve out exceptions to that speech by specific industries and types of companies. The DISCLOSE Act explicitly prevents 1st amendment rights of foreign-held companies, companies with government contracts greater than &10 Million, or companies who received TARP monies (understandable regulations) and, oil exploration companies with holdings under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The oil restriction is a blatant blocking of 1st Amendment rights and should be stricken from the bill before it even gets to the floor, sadly it won’t because Members of Congress want to use the Gulf Oil spill for political gain.

What is the basis for claiming the bill treats corporations and unions differently? The House and Senate bill ensure that unions and corporations are subject to the same transparency provisions, including disclosure of contributions to electioneering communications and stand-by-your-ad requirements. Under the Senate bill, both corporations and unions are required to report transfers among affiliates, including dues, greater than $50,000.

The disclosure portion of the bill is great, organizations should have to report the top donors and in fact all donations received by the organization. But because of the very structural organization of corporations, trade associations and unions, this only effects the corporations and trade associations whose member donors and companies would need to be disclosed allowing for union dues members to not be reported. This is a travesty of policy that happens too often. A great concept become politicized and corrupted. Also, the affiliate reporting for unions was just barely added by Schumer and isn’t present in the already passed House version.

How is the public served when a shadow group can conceal everything about itself and still influence elections by pumping unlimited amounts of money into campaign ads? The interests of the messenger can easily be disguised by giving a group an innocuous or even misleading name. At its core, the DISCLOSE Act is designed to lift the curtain off of such groups so that pubic can judge the veracity of a campaign ad and the credibility of the speaker.

The interests of the public aren’t served by shadow organizations pumping money into elections and if that were the only goal I had I would be right in line with the Sunlight Foundation. However I look at the broader picture of the bill and after shinning light on it, I see so many things wrong.

At it’s core this bill is a good idea, and a decent attempt, but so much needs to be surgically removed before it becomes healthy for the public good. Congress should be doing its job and working for the good of the people, not working for their own pet projects and partisan politics.