The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 is apparently dead, having failed twice this week to gather enough Republican support to move it to the Senate floor for a vote by that body. Given the nature of politics this year, that’s probably no surprise, but it also should not be allowed to become an excuse for not trying again.
DISCLOSE would have required unions and for- and nonprofit corporations to be much more open about their involvement in political campaigns. It would require certain nonprofits to disclose the donors of every contribution of at least $10,000 that is used for political purposes.
Despite the bill’s failure, the matter should not be allowed to die. Most major complaints about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which gave corporations and unions roughly the same rights to political speech as individual citizens, would be solved by the right kind of disclosure bill.
The difficulty comes in creating the right kind of bill. It must require disclosure of donations not only by businesses and individuals, but by unions, and that can be tricky. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Labor keeps much better records of unions’ political activities, both internal and external, than the Federal Election Commission ever dreamed of keeping. That would have to be changed if any disclosure bill were to be fair to all sides.
If history is any indication, meanwhile, restrictions on campaign contributions have a way of being gotten round by anyone really wishing to do so.
A few years back it was so-called “soft” money, which went to parties, not candidates, though candidates controlled how it was spent. It was that money — only 38 percent of which came from individuals — that led to the passage of the McCain-Feingold election reform bill that did away with soft money.
Except that it didn’t go away, not from businesses, not from unions, not even from rich individuals. No, now it goes to super PACs or certain sorts of nonprofits, to be spent by them at will.
Nor is there anything wrong with that, so long as Americans know where that money came from in the first place. We often judge messages by who is delivering them; allowing political contributors to hide behind a shield of secrecy may serve those contributors, but it does a huge disservice to voters who are left with trying to judge messages in an information vacuum.
– Wescom News Service (The Bend Bulletin)