Editorial: Disclosing donors vital to healthy government
Since members of both parties have advocated transparency as a check against unlimited campaign contributions, it’s disappointing to see a party-line vote in the U.S. Senate on the DISCLOSE Act, which calls for the immediate disclosure of contributors’ names when they give $10,000 or more to outside political groups.
On Tuesday, Republicans voted to continue a filibuster, thereby thwarting the bill. In 2010, they opposed the bill because it had some provisions that could’ve favored unions over corporations. This time favoritism has been stripped out, but since Republicans have been the recipients of the lion’s share of secret donations to super PACs, they’ve devised a new argument centered on the infringement of free speech.
(Similarly, in 2006, it was Democrats who were against more transparency for so-called 527 groups, which were special interests that generally favored them more than Republicans.)
The defense of anonymity reminds us of the unsuccessful bid in Washington state to keep the identity of petition signers under wraps. Secrecy advocates said signers will be harassed and intimidated into silence. The courts ultimately rejected that argument, correctly noting that petitions are public documents and that nobody is immune to criticism after exercising free speech.
We’re full-throated defenders of the First Amendment, but it makes no sense that someone who gives $200 directly to a candidate is subject to disclosure, while someone who gives $20,000 to a super PAC can remain anonymous.
The rise of super PACs has dominated the election scene ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal campaign finance limits with its 2010 Citizens United ruling. But even in gutting the McCain-Feingold law, the majority opinion pointed to the importance of disclosure as a counterbalance to unlimited contributions. When McCain-Feingold was debated in Congress, opponents also emphasized disclosure as the antidote. But 14 senators who supported disclosure back then voted against it on Tuesday, according to Politico.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the lead in defending anonymous speech, but in 2003 he said, “Money is essential in politics and not something that we should feel squeamish about, provided the donations are limited and disclosed, (and) everyone knows who’s supporting everyone else.”
We agree with that Sen. McConnell. We don’t agree with the one who claims the DISCLOSE Act is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment because it fosters intimidation. As Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said, getting involved in public affairs requires a certain amount of “civic courage.”
These ubiquitous super PAC ads are so often misleading that it’s imperative for the public to know the identities of the messengers. Money is speech, says the court. So, let’s reveal the speakers.
After all, along with being the land of the free, we’re home of the brave.
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