Thursday, June 24, 2010

DISCLOSE Act Passes the House, Now on to the Senate

The DISCLOSE Act has passed a major hurdle tonight as the House of Representatives passed the major reforms to campaign finance law with a final vote of 219 to 206 in favor. Unfortunately, however, only two Republicans -- Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Joseph Cao (R-La.) -- had the gonads to cross party lines, which is likely an indication of the party line treatment the bill will get once it reaches the Senate. Of course the irony there is that the legislation was introduced by the Senate and not the House.

On April 29th of last year, democrats launched the DISCLOSE Act, a bill intended to soften the powerful effect of the Citizens United ruling, which relaxed campaign advertising rules for corporations, unions, and other companies. The ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling has been widely covered, so I will not go into detail here, but you should absolutely search the Net for information about the case if you are not familiar with it, as it stands to change everything about the way we are governed, live, work, and vote. The influence of money on politics in this country is astounding already, but the Citizens United ruling removes all boundaries, essentially making it so that there really is no limit to what money can buy.
If the DISCLOSE Act were to be passed by the Senate,

however, tough new disclosure rules for groups that invest in the election process would become law, as President Obama has made it clear that he will sign the bill, if it gets to is desk. One of the best parts about the bill, for me, is that it forces all 501c4 groups to stand by the ads they sponsor during elections. In fact, if I read the bill properly, the CEO of the company or organization will have to be physically present in any campaign advertising that is paid for by said company. The proposed bill would also require political groups meeting a particular set of criteria to reveal who was funding their election activity.

Personally, I think the bill is very much needed, and does not go far enough--though I recognize that its already pushing the envelope given the constraints of the current political forces that exist in Washington. The problem I see here though is that companies will skirt the law by creating fully owned subsidiaries that are not as well known to make the contributions on behalf of the larger corporation. The recipient of the contribution will know who the money is really coming from, but the People will not.

The official DISCLOSE Act website explains that the Citizens United ruling "strengthened corporations' grip on our government and political process with a dangerous ruling, overturning more than 100 years of election law." A broad outline of the proposed legislation show that the goal of the main senators involved is not even to reinstate the restrictions that protected voters from being bought, but rather to ensure transparency and make open disclosure of contributions and advertising funds mandatory. The bill also seeks to ensure that potential conflicts of interests are dealt with preemptively in order to maintain a fair and level political "playing field." There are admittedly some concerns regarding special treatment in the bill for "Democrat-leaning" groups. I hope these special interests do not become a reason to block the bill. Why does this always seem to happen? When was the last time a bill was proposed that was really aimed at providing safety and equality for all Americans, regardless of their political views?

I strongly urge all readers to sign the petition on the DISCLOSE Act website so that our senators do the right thing when the time comes.