After Much Delay, the DISCLOSE Act is Introduced

In front of the Supreme Court, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced the introduction of legislation meant to diminish the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The much anticipated bill is titled as expected, the DISCLOSE Act, which stands for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections. Four Democrats signed on as co-sponsors, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Al Franken (D-MN). The bill creates broad new disclosure requirements for corporations, unions, 501(c)(4), (5), (6) and 527 organizations that spend money on independent expenditures or electioneering communications to influence federal elections.

The DISCLOSE Act would prohibit foreign-controlled corporations, and entities with a government contract worth $50,000 or more from making political expenditures. Those who received funding under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and have not paid back the government funds, are also banned from political spending.

The heads of any organization sponsoring a campaign ad, as well as the top funder of the message, would be required to appear on screen to deliver a "stand by your ad" disclaimer. In addition, the top five donors to the group would have to be identified.

Expenditures that cost $10,000 or more made more than 20 days before an election, and expenditures of $1,000 or more made within 20 days before an election, will have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 24 hours.

An organization can establish a separate "Campaign-Related Activity" account to receive and disburse political expenditures. All donations to these accounts of $1,000 or more earmarked for political activities, and all expenditures funded through these accounts, would have to be reported.

They hope the bill will pass Congress by July 4 and be enacted before the midterm election. However, this is a very ambitious schedule. President Obama issued a statement urging Congress to act quickly. "Passing the legislation is a critical step in restoring our government to its rightful owners: the American people."

The bill includes a provision that OMB Watch has been supporting for years, the requirement that Senators file their campaign finance reports electronically to the FEC. Some other highlights of the bill include

  • Federally registered lobbyist must disclose any election spending costing more than $1,000, and the name of candidate or campaign supported or opposed.
  • Expenditures must also be disclosed to shareholders and members of the organization in periodic or annual financial reports.
  • The organization must have information on its website regarding the expenditures within 24 hours of reporting to the FEC.

For more details, an outline of the bill is available at the end of Schumer's press release. And in the House, a similar bill has been introduced by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and joined by Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Robert Brady (D-PA).

Hopefully the final legislation can adequately respond in a way that protects advocacy and can hold up to constitutional challenges. Justifiably, the corrupting influence of money in politics must be addressed.

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