U.S. Senate: Returning Maine & Massachusetts Senators Urged to Follow Constituent Lead in Supporting the DISCLOSE Act

CLC Staff
Sep 14, 2010
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Reform groups today urged Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) to support the disclosure provisions in the DISCLOSE Act (S. 3628) to ensure voters are aware of the huge amounts of money that individuals, corporations and unions are spending to run ads attempting to sway the elections.  The groups emphasized the tens of millions of dollars already being spent anonymously to support or attack candidates this election season and cited overwhelming public support for disclosure and a legislative response in the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling inCitizens United v. FEC unleashing massive corporate and union treasury funds into federal elections. 

The DISCLOSE Act would require timely and effective disclosure of these campaign-related expenditures, among other provisions.  Prior to the August recess, the legislation fell one vote short of the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster.  A companion bill (H.R. 5175) to the original Senate bill passed in the House in June.  

The groups signing the letter included the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.

The full text of the letter to Senator Snowe follows below.

September 14, 2010 

Senator Olympia Snowe

154 Senate Russell Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Senator Snowe,

As a result of the Citizens United decision earlier this year, tens of millions of dollars are being spent in the 2010 congressional races without voters having any idea about who is funding these expenditures. This is wrong and unfair to the American people.

Our organizations believe it is essential to enact the disclosure provisions of the DISCLOSE Act in order to provide the American people with campaign finance information for future presidential and congressional elections that they have a right to know.

The organizations include the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.

The absence of essential campaign finance information for the 2010 elections violates a basic rule of American politics for the past 40 years – that voters have a right to know who is behind the money being spent to influence their votes.  This right to know was firmly established by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo(1976) which upheld the constitutionality of campaign finance disclosure laws.

The absence of this campaign finance information, furthermore, contradicts the longstanding consensus in this country that campaign contributions and expenditures should be disclosed to the American people so that voters can “make informed choices in the political marketplace,” in the words of the Supreme Court. 

The consensus for campaign finance disclosure is fully reflected in the views of Maine voters as shown in a poll taken for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections earlier this year. The poll by Critical Insights, a Maine polling firm, taken in April 2010 found:

  • “85% of voters feel it is important to know who paid for the political campaign communications they see or hear,” and
  • “[m]ore than 80% of Maine voters believe that having the names of donors to political organizations available to the public is important because it keeps the process open and transparent.” 

As you know, the DISCLOSE Act passed the House in June 2010 and was one vote short of reaching the Senate floor for consideration in July. Senate sponsors have said that the legislation will be brought up again for consideration this fall.

If this disclosure legislation does not pass in this Congress, it may not be possible to establish new disclosure requirements for the next election. Absent such disclosure requirements, hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions will be spent in the 2012 presidential and congressional races without voters having a clue about who is providing these funds.

Your vote can make the difference in whether the disclosure provisions of the DISCLOSE Act are enacted for future elections or whether the legislation is killed.

According to a Survey USA poll last month, 77 percent of voters, including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents, view corporate campaign spending as an attempt to bribe politicians rather than as an expression of free speech that should not be limited.

Given the Citizens United decision, nothing can be done at this time to prevent these influence-buying expenditures from being made. But we can at least ensure that the American people know what is going on in their elections and who is behind the money being spent to influence their votes. 

If you have concerns regarding the DISCLOSE Act legislation, or have ideas to improve the provisions in the bill, we ask that you work with the bill’s sponsors and with us to resolve any concerns you may have about the legislation. 

We appreciate your leadership and commitment on past campaign finance reform efforts and look forward to negotiating changes in the DISCLOSE Act that will ensure its passage. Voters across Maine and America are very clear; they want to know who is paying to play in our political system, and they have a basic right to know this information.

 

Campaign Legal Center            League of Women Voters

Common Cause                        People For the American Way

Democracy 21                          Public Citizen

                                                U.S. PIRG

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