April 30, 2010

Congressional Democrats have just introduced a new package of legislation – the DISCLOSE Act – to blunt the Supreme Court’s disastrous January ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened American elections at all levels to unlimited corporate spending. The 5-4 ruling gave companies like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil the same right as individual Americans to spend money in elections, but unlike you or me these companies have billions in the bank and billions more at stake in Congress and state legislatures.

Now Democrats are racing to pass legislation before a wave of corporate cash sweeps through the mid-term elections. They have overwhelming public opinion on their side, but the US Chamber of Commerce and other corporate lobbyists are working hard to head them off and time is short.

The newly unveiled DISCLOSE Act is all about forcing election spending out into the open, where it belongs. Thanks to the Roberts Court, giant companies can spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates – without disclosing a dime of it. They can simply pass the money through a front group or PR agency. The legislation would close this glaring loophole, as Sen. Chuck Schumer explained on Thursday:

Our bill will follow the money. In cases where corporations try to mask their activities through shadow groups, we drill down so that ultimate funder of the expenditure is disclosed.

Corporations would be required to disclose political spending to their shareholders, and a broad array of corporations and advocacy groups would be required to disclose previously confidential details about their political spending, including funding sources. Foreign corporations, government contractors, and recipients of government bail-outs would be altogether banned from spending money in elections.

The DISCLOSE Act is a huge first step in restoring genuine democracy in the wake of the Roberts Court's irresponsible activism, but it's just a first step. Only a constitutional amendment or new ruling by a more progressive Supreme Court can truly 'fix' Citizens United.

In the meantime, maybe we should require politicians to wear the logos of their "sponsors." Hey, if it works for NASCAR, why not Congress:


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