Voters beware. There is a flood of secret money headed into towns all across America and it looks like there is nothing to stop it from drowning out your voices in elections. But our elected officials can do something to help. They can support full disclosure and tell us where this money is coming from. They can give voters the information they need to cast a vote.
It is so important for the issue of secret money in elections to be placed squarely in front of the public. Many may have already been hearing about this issue in the news but not realize that right now corporations, unions, lobbyists and special interests can spend millions to get the elected officials they want into power, and to do so in complete secrecy.
Several times over the past few years, the U.S. Congress has tried and failed to pass legislation that would put an end to the oversized role of secret money in American elections. The Supreme Court’s opinion two years ago in Citizens United v. FEC and their reaffirmation of these naïve errors in the American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock decision dramatically changed the landscape of modern political campaigns in America. The First Amendment is meant to protect essential freedoms, not as a weapon to destroy American democracy.
Today, the U.S. Senate can put us on the right path. They will take up a bill – the DISCLOSE Act - that, if passed, will restore transparency to U.S. elections by requiring complete disclosure of spending on big-money advertising in candidate elections. But first they must agree to debate on the bill on the merits. A vote for cloture is a vote for meaningful debate on a topic of vital importance to our democracy. The Senate should truly debate this bill rather than succumbing to the hyper-partisanship that too often blocks responsible action by the Senate.
The League supports the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 because we believe that Americans deserve all the information they can get before they vote. This bill builds on disclosure requirements already approved by the Supreme Court. In fact, the Court pointed in the direction of enhanced disclosure in Citizens United when it said that disclosure is important to “providing the electorate with information.”
Secret campaign money has no place in America’s democracy. It undermines the role of the voter and corrupts the election process. Voters have a right to know -- whether it is a corporation, union, trade association, or non-profit advocacy group making unlimited campaign expenditures and influencing elections.
As the nation once again holds its collective breath beneath the flood of secret money this election season, it can hold onto hope that at this moment the U.S. Senate might stand with voters and debate the merits of giving voters the information they need to make up their own minds about the candidates and issues.
The League is deeply committed to reforming our nation’s campaign finance system to ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process. We will continue this fight in Congress, with state legislatures, with the executive branch and, where appropriate, the courts. Voters will not stand by and let our political system be corrupted by unlimited secret money. Tell us where the money is coming from and let the voters decide. The DISCLOSE Act is an important step towards eliminating secret money.