In January, the Supreme Court, in a closely divided 5-4 decision, disregarded settled law by ruling that corporations are permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned long-standing law and precedent restricting political expenditures by corporations.
This alarming ruling was a decision that favors corporate America and will have a devastating impact on American elections. Big businesses are now allowed to spend freely on political advertising, specifically advocating the defeat or election of political candidates. As a result, the voices of ordinary Americans are at risk of being drowned out by direct corporate spending on elections – a practice that had been banned for decades. Senate Democrats are committed to promoting and protecting fair and transparent elections to restore public confidence in our electoral system. We are committed to addressing the inherent dangers in the Supreme Court’s misguided decision for our democracy and ensuring that individual Americans continue to have a meaningful voice in Washington.
The Citizens United decision threatens the integrity of our elections and creates new rights for Wall Street. Senate Democrats believe in the critical importance of open and fair elections to uphold our Democratic values. The Supreme Court, ignoring the practical impact of their decision and the realities of today’s elections, determined that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Big businesses will now be able to use their vast sums of corporate money to influence the outcome of elections. The American people have been left without appropriate protections or adequate disclosures about who is spending the money and how much is being spent to influence elections. Special interests, including foreign-controlled interests, should not have the same rights as American citizens.
Democrats are fighting for commonsense solutions to protect American voters while Republicans are standing up for corporate interests. In April, Senator Schumer introduced legislation, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, to mitigate the harmful decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. This legislative response carefully challenges the ability of special interests to pour money into our election process. The legislation currently enjoys the support of 45 co-sponsors who recognize the real-world impact of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The DISCLOSE Act would provide important protections to the American people by:
· Preventing foreign influence in U.S. elections;
· Promoting effective disclosure of campaign-related activity by special interests; and
· Banning “pay-to-play” by preventing government contractors and TARP recipients from spending money on elections.
Ensuring fair and open elections. The DISCLOSE Act would ensure that the public is provided with important information about which special interests and donors are spending large sums of money on elections. Enhanced disclosure would prevent corporations from masking their activities through groups with benign-sounding names like “Citizens United for Apple Pie.”
Ban on campaign spending for certain types of entities. The legislation would extend the existing ban on the involvement of foreign-controlled businesses in U.S. elections. Similarly, government contractors and recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding would not be allowed to try to influence elections.
Enhanced disclosure would allow voters to follow the money. Under the proposed bill, the source of political spending by special interests must be made public to adequately inform the voter of which entities are trying to influence political elections. If a corporation is funding a political advertisement, the CEO will need to appear at the end of the message to say that he or she approved the message, just like our candidates do today. Voters must be provided with this important information to promote transparency and rebuild confidence in our electoral process.
An organization involved in independent expenditures or electioneering communications would also be required to disclose its large donors. These disclosureswould berequired to be posted on public websites and made available to shareholders and members in annual and quarterly reports. Shareholders have a right to know how corporate money is being spent and American citizens should be aware of the possible motives behind various political advertisements.
The DISCLOSE Act is critical for closing campaign loopholes opened by the Citizens United decision. The divided Supreme Court decision unwisely opened the door to unchecked spending by special interests. American elections should not be up for sale to the highest corporate bidder.
Foreign-controlled corporations would be prevented from influencing our elections. The American public must control the outcome of our political process. Foreign-controlled businesses, with increasing influence throughout the world, must not be allowed to manipulate the results of our elections. This legislation would prevent foreign-controlled businesses from spending to influence American elections.
Government contractors would not be allowed to “pay to play.” Government contractors, subject to a threshold amount in government contracts, would be barred from spending freely on campaigns. A business depending on government contracts should not be allowed to use its influence or rely on pre-existing relationships to pressure candidates. This legislation would rein in undue influence by government contractors.
TARP recipients would not be allowed to use taxpayer dollars to influence elections. Corporations that received money through TARP, and have not yet repaid these funds, would not be permitted to spend money to influence elections. Taxpayers should not subsidize the political interests of CEOs that have had to rely on government funding to survive the recent economic downturn.
Senate Democrats are committed to leveling the playing field so that special interests are not allowed to drown out the voices of American voters. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United threatens to distort our elections. The voices of American citizens must not be crowded out by potentially unlimited spending by big business and foreign-controlled corporations. Senate Democrats will work hard toward a commonsense solution to the Supreme Court’s unsustainable decision. We are on the side of the American people, not wealthy CEOs and foreign-controlled corporations intent on corrupting our political process.