Will the DISCLOSE Act Be Signed into Law This Year?

Meredith McGehee
Jun 17, 2010
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The DISCLOSE Act most certainly should be signed into law this year and there are encouraging signs that it will be. Despite the recent hubbub made by special interests from across the political spectrum over the “NRA fix”, the bill remains a strong and necessary piece of legislation that will require accurate and timely disclosure of the big money being spent to influence elections.

The following opinion piece appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog on June 17, 2010 in response to The Big Question: Will the DISCLOSE Act Be Signed Into Law This Year? Should It Be?

The DISCLOSE Act most certainly should be signed into law this year and there are encouraging signs that it will be.

Despite the recent hubbub made by special interests from across the political spectrum over the “NRA fix”, the bill remains a strong and necessary piece of legislation that will require accurate and timely disclosure of the big money being spent to influence elections.

There’s no denying that the optics of the NRA fix are bad:  legislation moving through the House is amended to provide an exemption for a large and powerful interest group, which like it or not, has the power in the House to bring the bill down.  The sausage factory is churning away.

But in the case of the DISCLOSE Act, it is important to look beyond the optics into the merits of the legislation and the impact of the exemption.   The core provisions of the bill – ensuring that money laundered through third party groups is disclosed, closing the gap created by the Citizens United decision in the ban on foreign nationals from influencing U.S, elections, strengthening current rules (which are notoriously weak) governing coordination of activities with candidates and parties and enhancing disclosure of political expenditures made by corporations, unions, 527 organizations, and 501c groups – are too important to be deep-sixed at this point in the process.

Even with the revised NRA fix, large, nationwide grassroots organizations with more than 500,000 members will have to continue to disclose their independent expenditures and to abide by the “stand by your ad” provisions in the bill.  The public will recognize these large organizations’ “brands” and know who is behind the ads and the motivations behind them.

Much of the outrage with the fix is completely overblown, with special interests in Washington covering their eyes and acting they’ve never seen compromises in the legislative process.  The votes simply were not there to pass this vitally important piece of legislation without a compromise.

In a perfect world, the NRA – or any other group – wouldn’t hold the sway they do in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In a perfect world, those politicians and their ideological soul mates who touted their support for disclosure when other, more regulatory approaches were being considered, would stand by their previous words and support disclosure when presented with it.  In a perfect world, candidates wouldn’t have to worry about ethics inquiries into their fundraising practices and links with votes and earmarks because they wouldn’t have to spend too many hours each day hat in hand begging for campaign contributions constantly.

Right now, none of us live in that perfect world.  We live in a world where, after the Supreme Court’s activist Citizens United decision, money to influence elections is going to be flying all over the place, much of it seeking to be spent anonymously to have a greater impact.

The House should pass the DISCLOSE Act, get the bill to the Senate, and make sure Americans have the information they need to make informed decisions next fall.  The chances are looking better that Congress will be siding with what polls showed to be 8 in 10 Americans who disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and the 72% who wanted a legislative response.

Meredith McGehee is policy director of the Campaign Legal Center.

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