Fact-checking final DISCLOSE push

July 26, 2010   •  By Jeff Patch
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As the end-game for the DISCLOSE Act nears, its supporters are engaging in an all-out effort to obfuscate the worst parts of the bill and characterize its opponents as opposed to basic transparency in politics.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote on the DISCLOSE Act at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday. Democrats do not yet have a Republican vote for the DISCLOSE Act and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged Monday that he’s having trouble holding his own caucus together for the vote.

Sens. Diane Feinstein and Frank Lautenberg have threatened to vote against the bill if a provision exempting the National Rifle Association and other large interest groups remains.

To pressure wavering Democrats and Republicans who have supported past efforts to regulate campaign finance, President Obama delivered brief remarks Monday afternoon from the Rose Garden.

“The DISCLOSE Act would simply require corporate political advertisers to reveal who’s funding their activities,” Obama said. “Nobody’s saying you can’t run the ads. Just make sure that people know who in fact is behind financing these ads.”

Obama’s comments are similar to those from the pro-regulation lobby claiming that the bill is simply about disclosure, and anyone who opposes it opposes basic transparency in politics.

However, rather than a limited effort to add more transparency regulations to campaign spending, this bill would prohibit the political spending of numerous business groups—including companies with government contracts or international investment—while leaving unions untouched. This bill would ban the political spending of many companies—including more than half of the top 50 U.S. corporations—while leaving labor unions, a traditional ally of Democrats—free to spend on politics.

Sen. Schumer tried to make the same point in a Monday conference call with Sen. Ron Wyden and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.

“The Supreme Court made it perfectly clear that disclosure was constitutional and allowed, and the many opponents of the bill who talk about free speech ignore the fact that this bill does not limit free speech. It rather… it requires disclosure,” Schumer said.

We’ve debunked these attempts at obfuscation before, but with a final Senate vote looming, it’s worth doing so again: despite the claims of pro-regulation groups and the Democratic sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act, this bill is not just about disclosure; it’s also about speech prohibitions.

The Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act (S. 3628) retains the same broad speech prohibitions as the House bill. Specifically, Title I (Sections 101 and 102) would prohibit the political speech of companies with government contracts and companies with international investment. There are no similar restrictions for labor unions—even unions who represent the employees of government contractors or unions with significant foreign membership.

As CCP has mentioned, DISCLOSE contained at least four provisions that provided an advantage to labor unions over corporations. Sen. Schumer claims that because one of these provisions was removed, the bill is now “completely balanced” and “treats unions and corporations the same.” This claim is absolutely false and evident to anyone who cares to examine the remaining provisions. Furthermore, the affiliate transfer exemption that Schumer removed was only added at the last minute to the bill by Democrats on the House Rules Committee. It was even criticized by Wertheimer. Removing an unfair union exemption that Democrats added the day before the House vote does not mitigate all the other problems with the DISCLOSE Act.

This latest P.R. campaign to obfuscate the worst parts of the bill by hiding behind rhetoric about transparency is a cynical, political ploy. Republicans like Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown and others who are generally sympathetic to campaign finance regulation have balked at the DISCLOSE Act because it’s a nakedly partisan attempt to rewrite campaign finance law right before the midterm elections.

If there was ever a bill worthy of the Senate’s filibuster, DISCLOSE is it.


Transcript of remarks by the President on the DISCLOSE Act
[according to the White House]

2:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Tomorrow there’s going to be a very important vote in the Senate about how much influence special interests should have over our democracy. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in the Citizens United case, big corporations — even foreign-controlled ones — are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections. They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads — and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who’s actually paying for the ads. Instead, a group can hide behind a name like “Citizens for a Better Future,” even if a more accurate name would be “Companies for Weaker Oversight.” These shadow groups are already forming and building war chests of tens of millions of dollars to influence the fall elections.

Now, imagine the power this will give special interests over politicians. Corporate lobbyists will be able to tell members of Congress if they don’t vote the right way, they will face an onslaught of negative ads in their next campaign. And all too often, no one will actually know who’s really behind those ads.

So the House has already passed a bipartisan bill that would change all this before the next election. The DISCLOSE Act would simply require corporate political advertisers to reveal who’s funding their activities. So when special interests take to the airwaves, whoever is running and funding the ad would have to appear in the advertisement and claim responsibility for it — like a company’s CEO or the organization’s biggest contributor. And foreign-controlled corporations and entities would be restricted from spending money to influence American elections — just as they were in the past.

Now, you’d think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense, particularly since they primarily involve just making sure that folks who are financing these ads are disclosed so that the American people can make up their own minds. Nobody is saying you can’t run the ads — just make sure that people know who in fact is behind financing these ads. And you’d think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue. But of course, this is Washington in 2010. And the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and every maneuver they can to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from even coming up for an up or down vote. Just like they did with unemployment insurance for Americans who’d lost their jobs in this recession. Just like they’re doing by blocking tax credits and lending assistance for small business owners. On issue after issue, we are trying to move America forward, and they keep on trying to take us back.

At a time of such challenge for America, we can’t afford these political games. Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn’t be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret, special interest advertising. The American people’s voices should be heard.

A vote to oppose these reforms is nothing less than a vote to allow corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections. It is damaging to our democracy. It is precisely what led a Republican President named Theodore Roosevelt to tackle this issue a century ago.

Back then, President Roosevelt warned of the dangers of limitless corporate spending in our political system. He actually called it “one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.” And he proposed strict limits on corporate influence in elections not because he was opposed to them expressing their views in the halls of democracy, but he didn’t want everybody else being drowned out.

He said, “Every special interest is entitled to justice, but no one is entitled” — “not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, or a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office,” because he understood those weren’t individual voters — these are amalgams of special interests. They have the right to hire their lobbyists. They have the right to put forward their view. They even have the right to advertise. But the least we should be able to do is know who they are.

So on Tuesday we face the sort of challenge that Teddy Roosevelt talked about over a century ago. We’ve got a similar opportunity to prevent special interests from gaining even more clout in Washington. This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an issue that goes to whether or not we’re going to have a government that works for ordinary Americans; a government of, by and for the people.

That’s why these reforms are so important, and that’s why I urge the Senate to pass the DISCLOSE Act.

Thank you.

2:55 P.M. EDT


Transcript of a conference call on the DISCLOSE Act
[according to a rough CCP transcript]

1:45 P.M. EST

SENATOR SCHUMER: Thank you everybody for getting on. I’m gonna be brief because I’ve got a pretty bad grip and sore throat. But I think that the bill we are voting on tomorrow is one of the most important [inaudible] not just for the next six months, but for the next six decades. To allow corporate money to flow into campaigns without even disclosing, to give people who have enormous power even more power, will further erode our democracy, frustrate the average voter about his or his ability to influence the course of events, and to be a dramatic change from anything we’ve been used to since 1917.

The Supreme Court made it perfectly clear that disclosure was constitutional and allowed, and the many opponents of the bill who talk about free speech ignore the fact that this bill does it does not limit free speech. It rather, it limits, it requires disclosure. And if you’re afraid to disclose what you’re saying and who’s saying it saying, you are indeed not worthy of putting thousands and thousands of ads on the air, particularly because that makes it much more likely that they’re false and there’s no accountability.

I think that his vote will really show the true test of so many of our Republican colleagues as to whether they do believe in a fair process. Even Mitch McConnell has said all along they want disclosure, but now because they might gain temporary advantage because so many of their allies would be able to put million of dollars on television.

That view that disclosure is necessary has sort of gone by the wayside, but I regard this legislation as one of the most important we will be voting on over the next decade, going right to the root of our democracy. The Citizens United case shocked a lot of people. The best antidote we have is the Disclose Act. We have changed it from the House side so that it is completely balanced. It treats unions and corporations the same. We’ve made a number of different changes about union dues, about transfers, that will make this an even handed bill. So anyone who says that’s the reason they are voting against it, hasn’t looked at the bill that we’ve put together. Let me turn it over to my friend and colleague and co-sponsor of this legislation, Ron Wyden.

WYDEN: Senator Schumer, even hoarse, has said it well and let me just make a couple quick comments and we wanna make it possible for you all to talk to Fred Wertheimer as well. It seems to me that American politics is now in exactly the same place that led me to write the bipartisan ‘Stand By Your Ad’ legislation with Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and the reason I wrote that legislation is I had just come from a Senate special election. It was the election with former Senator Gordon Smith, and you saw during that campaign scores and scores of attack ads and neither Senator Smith nor I could figure out where those ads were coming from. So at the end of the election I said somebody has got to step in and generate some transparency and some accountability. I got together with Senator Collins and together on a bipartisan basis we wrote the ‘Stand By Your Ad’ requirement that would call for disclosure for ads run by candidates as part of the McCain-Feingold legislation. And I believe we are in exactly the same situation now as a result of the Supreme Court, you know, decision. You can have scores and scores of advertisements run without the accountability and without the accuracy and frankly without the civility that I think American voters deserve. So, I’m very pleased to be a co-sponsor of this legislation and my sense in terms of the debate that is coming up, is that I think the question ahead isn’t why we should make organizations stand by their political speech, but the question should instead be why don’t these organizations wanna put their name on political speech? In my view, if you believe what you actually say, you oughta have the guts to put your name on it, and that’s what this legislation in its current form will do. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of it. and with Senator Schumer’s leadership, in particular, I think it builds on a bipartisan proposal that Senator Collins and I wrote back in 1996 that has served the country well, and we oughta build on it.

WERTHEIMER: Great… thank you. Fred Wertheimer from Democracy21. This legislation is about the right of voters, voters. So, corporations, labor unions, advocacy groups and trade associations, spending money in their elections to influence their votes, and the donors who are funding those expenditures. this is a basic right of all Americans that the Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed for more than three decades, most recently in the Citizens United decision.

The Supreme Court held in Citizens United by an 8 to 1 vote that disclosure requirements for campaign expenditures do not prevent anyone from speaking and serve governmental interests in providing the electorate with information about the sources of money spent to influence elections so voters can make informed choices in the political marketplace.

For decades, there has been a consensus in this country that we oughta have effective disclosure of campaign expenditures and contributions. That consensus has existed in the face of battles over every other aspect of campaign finance laws. For unjustifiable reasons, that consensus has now disappeared in Congress, when it comes to the disclose act and to informing the public about campaign spending by corporations and labor union in federal elections.

That’s very unfortunate, but it must not be allowed to stand in the ways of the fundamental right of citizens to know what’s going on in their election, elections which are at the essence of our democracy. There are Republican Senators who in the past have not only supported but also provided critical leadership for the passage of important campaign finance laws. Democracy21 and other reform groups have been urging these Republican senators to support cloture on the Disclose Act and to support this essential disclosure legislation. We have also urged that if these Senators have concerns about specific provisions in the bill, they engage in discussions with the supporters of the bill and resolve differences and not sacrifice the right of voters to know about the campaign money being spent to influence their votes. We continue to urge senators to vote for cloture on Tuesday so consideration of the Disclose Act can begin, to support the legislation, and engage in serious discussions about any concerns they have. In closing I would say that Democracy21 and others are not going to walk away from this battle until the public’s right to know about campaign money being spent in their elections is ensured by the passage of the disclose act.

SCHUMER: Thank you. We are ready for your questions.

DOYLE: It’s Ken Doyle with BNA. You’re talking about Republican support for this… Does that mean that you’re confident that all of the Democratic senators are going to vote for cloture tomorrow?

SCHUMER: No, we’re working very hard to get every Democrat to work, to vote for cloture…

MASCARO: It’s Lisa Mascaro at the L.A. Times. I was just wondering if you could just explain the most recent changes that you’ve made to the Senate version of your bill and how that…

SCHUMER: They are somewhat technical, but they create a balance between labor and corporate, and we will get to the specifics, anyone who wants them… to you.

WYDEN: Hey, I wanna particularly commend Senator Schumer for working through these issues because there were questions about it and to me, real credibility, to really be credible in a debate like this, you’ve gotta be as tough on your friends as you are on some of the folks who may be your opponents, and Senator Schumer, in an effort to try to reach out the folks and make that point, that he wants this to be a credible effort, that he wants to be able to go to the country and show [inaudible] all about accountability and transparency, Changes were made that, in my view are going to leave everybody with the sense that there is real credibility here.

WERTHEIMER: It’s Fred Wertheimer. If I could just add, I have spent 40 years working for bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation, and have been involved in the passage of a number of bipartisan campaign finance reform bills. This legislation deserves and is entitled to bipartisan support. I firmly believe that, and we are working as best we can in the atmosphere in Washington to try to make sure that it has bipartisan votes in the Senate.

BOLTON: Senator Schumer, this is Alex Bolton from The Hill newspaper. Do you have any indication that a Republican will, in fact, vote for this legislation and if you have no such indication, why bring it to the floor now?

SCHUMER: Okay, first, we are working very on hard on getting a Republican, and, you know, there are a number of possibilities. You never know ‘til you call a vote. This is a tough vote. There’s a lot of pressure for the people of the Republican side not to vote for it, but I think there are a good number of members who believe that it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll see what happens particularly with the new changes that we put in when we call it for a vote tomorrow. This is too important not to have a vote.

SCHOUTEN: Senator Schumer, it’s Fredreka Schouten at USA Today. The NRA provisions on the House side generated some controversy, they remain the same in the Senate bill?

SCHUMER: Yes, they do.

SCHOUTEN: They do, and so how do you…

SCHUMER: The NRA is still under greater constriction with this legislation than they would be without it. And obviously this legislation is very, it’s strong, it’s tough, but to pass the bill in the House, they needed to make a number of concessions. And, you know, it’s always my view as a legislator, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

SCHOUTEN: Can I ask though, Senators Feinstein and Lautenberg were very concerned about that when it happened on the House side. Can you talk about about the nature of your conversations with them and whether you have any indication that they will support this bill?

SCHUMER: Well, basically, I said to both of them, and I know others in the caucus have as well, just what I told you, that this is because of the problem in the House. Which is better? To have this or have nothing? This is very strong legislation even with the changes the house put in.

UNKNOWN: Sen. Schumer its Trisha at FOX, can you just describe, how is it…to finish your own statement there, how is it stronger even with the carve out?

WYDEN: The new versions folks, this is Ron Wyden, has a requirement that senate candidates file campaign reports electronically with the FEC. Many of you have felt strongly about that in the news media. I certainly have. I am very pleased Senator Schumer’s added it. The new senate bill allows disclosure reports by covered organizations to be either posted on the organization’s website or linked to information on the FEC website. So, I think when you look at this and get a chance to look get down into details, I think you’ll see that this is going to expedite and make more transparent the processes for disclosure, and I think that’s very much in the public interest.

SCHUMER: On the NRA side, ma’am, to answer that part of your question, before this legislation, corporations could send money to the NRA, who could run ads. After this legislation, corporations cannot.

UNKNOWN: Okay, thank you. Oh, also Senator Schumer, apparently Senator Snowe has some, her office is saying she has some concerns about the bill, they’re not saying what they are. Have you have discussions with her, do you know her what concerns are at this point?

SCHUMER: Well I think the general concerns of Senator Snow and others on the Republican side is that is be balanced, it not favor one side’s political allies over the other, and I think the new changes in the bill address those.

1:59 P.M. EST

Jeff Patch

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