Editorial note: This op-ed was first published on my Huffington Post blog earlier this morning.
Twice this week, the U.S. Senate refused to allow full debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would require complete disclosure of spending on big-money advertising in candidate elections. Huge sums of secret money are flooding into our elections and without full disclosure the voters won't know who is trying to buy influence.
Secret money has no place in elections but we all know it is there, drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. This week, our elected leaders in Washington, the men and women who had the power and opportunity to help, failed to take up the DISCLOSE Act. They decided that they didn't even want to debate this important issue. Rather than talk about how they could help voters understand where all of this secret money is coming from, they decided to kill the bill without any debate.
Why does this matter? Many may have already been hearing about this issue in the news but did not realize that right now corporations, unions, lobbyists and special interests can spend millions to get the elected officials they want into power, and do so in complete secrecy. The fact that the Senate would rather succumb to the hyper-partisanship that too often blocks responsible Congressional action than truly debate this bill is a real loss for voters. Voters deserve to know where all of this money is coming from, and for now, it looks like there will be no help from Capitol Hill.
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. One needs to look no further than the current campaigns to see this playing out.
This week, the U.S. Senate could have put us on the right path if they had taken their duty as elected leaders seriously and debated the DISCLOSE Act on its merits. 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."
Now it is time for the voters to weigh in. Experts are predicting that the money spent in the upcoming 2012 elections will break all historical milestones. Sadly, however, much of the money in this election will be spent in secrecy, leaving voters in the dark and without the information they should have to vote. The DISCLOSE Act is the remedy.
The League and its partners in the voting rights community will continue to push for passage of DISCLOSE because 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 in the very near future, our elected leaders in the U.S. Capitol will stand with the voters and debate and pass the DISCLOSE Act.
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.