VIDEO – At Rules Committee Hearing, Chairwoman Klobuchar Highlights Need to Address Secret Money In Our Elections, Bolster Transparency of Political Spending
KLOBUCHAR: “At a time when threats to our democracy are clearer than ever and the public's confidence in government has been badly undermined, it is vitally important that we know who is attempting to influence our elections”
WASHINGTON - At a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation to increase transparency in political spending by special interests, Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the need to address unaccountable, secret money in our elections and bolster transparency in our political system.
“With the 2022 election cycle now underway, we've already seen huge sums of money being spent and on track for the most expensive midterm elections ever, in large part because of the rise in unaccountable, secret, dark money,” said Klobuchar. “Americans know there is way too much money in our elections. And for our democracy to work, we need strong rules to make sure the American people know who is spending the money on the campaign.”
“Unlimited anonymous spending in our elections doesn't encourage free speech; it actually drowns out the voices of American people who are seeking to participate…The DISCLOSE Act…would shine a light on secret spending in our election and bring much needed transparency to our system of government,” Klobuchar continued. “At a time when threats to our democracy are clearer than ever and the public's confidence in government has been badly undermined, it is vitally important that we know who is attempting to influence our elections.”
The DISCLOSE Act, led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would address secret money in our politics by requiring outside groups that spend money in our elections to disclose their large donors and make it harder for wealthy special interests to hide their contributions and donors. Chairwoman Klobuchar is an original cosponsor of the legislation.
As Chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law, Klobuchar has long led efforts to increase transparency in our campaign finance system. In September 2021, Senator Klobuchar introduced the Freedom to Vote Act – which included the DISCLOSE Act and other provisions to strengthen our campaign finance system – with all 49 of her Democratic colleagues. In May 2021, Klobuchar and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation to ban political campaigns from using pre-checked recurring donation boxes.
In April 2021, Klobuchar and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) urged the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to reverse a Trump administration decision to eliminate disclosure requirements for certain tax-exempt organizations that engage in political activity. In March 2021, Klobuchar also held the first Rules Committee hearing of this Congress on the For the People Act, which included the DISCLOSE Act and other improvements to our campaign finance system. February 2021, Klobuchar led 19 colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to take executive actions to strengthen our democracy, including addressing the unprecedented levels of secret money spent to influence voters.
In June 2020, Klobuchar urged the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to act quickly to require transparency for political advertisements. Previously, in May 2019, Klobuchar introduced the Honest Ads Act – bipartisan legislation with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to improve the transparency of online political advertisements.
Sen. Klobuchar: This hearing could not come at a more important time, as we are seeing an unprecedented flood of money into our elections. Over $14 billion was spent during the 2020 election, the most expensive in our country's history. With the 2022 election cycle now underway, we've already seen huge sums of money being spent and on track for the most expensive midterm elections ever, in large part because of the rise in unaccountable, secret, dark money. This surge of outside money shows no signs of slowing down, and those dollars are less accountable than ever before. One investigation found that more than $1 billion was spent on the 2020 elections by groups that do not disclose their donors at all. Think about that amount of money, no disclosure at all, for $1 billion in 2020. Americans know there is way too much money in our elections. And for our democracy to work, we need strong rules to make sure the American people know who is spending the money on the campaign.
But since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which opened up a lot of outside money, no significant improvements have been made to our disclosure laws or our regulations. Unlimited anonymous spending in our elections doesn't encourage free speech; it actually drowns out the voices of American people who are seeking to participate. That is why we are here to discuss the DISCLOSE Act and we thank Senator Whitehouse, who has championed this legislation since 2012, for joining us. I've been proud to support his bill and work with him in every way possible to get this done.
The DISCLOSE Act would address secret money in our politics by requiring outside groups, no matter what the group is, that spend in our elections to disclose their large donors, those that contribute more than $10,000 to the public. Importantly, the bill also makes it harder for wealthy special interests to hide their contributions or cloak the identity of their donors and cracks down on the use of shell companies to conceal donations from foreign nationals. Together these reforms would shine a light on secret spending in our election and bring much needed transparency to our system of government.
The American people know what's at stake, so it is no surprise that campaign finance disclosure laws have overwhelming support. One poll from 2022 found that in swing states, 91 percent of likely voters, Republican and Democrat, support ending secret money by making political contributions fully transparent. Another poll from 2019 found that across America 83 percent of likely voters support public disclosure of contributions to groups involved in elections. A strong bipartisan majority of Americans support reforms to reduce the influence of money in elections. And as we begin today's discussion, it's important to remember that there's a history, a long, long history of bipartisan support for these measures. In fact, it was a Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the first limits on corporate campaign contributions: the Tillman Act into law in 1907. In 1972, the landmark Federal Election Campaign Act overwhelmingly passed the Senate 88 to 2 and was signed into law by a Republican president. And in 2002, our friends and former colleagues Senators John McCain, who we miss dearly, and Russ Feingold joined together to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was signed into law by George W. Bush.
While the Supreme Court has rolled back key protections aimed at reducing money in politics from these bills time and time again, the Court has held that disclaimer and disclosure requirements are constitutional, as Trevor Potter, former Republican Chair of the Federal Election Commission, confirmed before this committee last year when he testified in favor of these measures. Former Supreme Court Justice Scalia, never one to hide his opinions, was also a staunch supporter of campaign finance disclosure. In the 2010 case Doe v. Reed, he wrote: “For my part, I do not look forward to a society where, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns are anonymously hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the home of the brave.” These are cries from the other side of the aisle, Republicans, for doing something when it comes to disclosure. At a time when threats to our democracy are clearer than ever and the public's confidence in government has been badly undermined, it is vitally important that we know who is attempting to influence our elections.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and having a productive conversation about how to address secret money in our elections. So that we are hearing the voices of the people, not just the powerful.
With that I want to thank the senators for joining us. I'll turn it over to Senator Hagerty and then we will hear from Senator Whitehouse.
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