GOP senators say Dems want to muzzle opponents with Disclose Act

Alexander, along with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), argued the legislation would chill free speech.

Democrats countered that the provisions in the Disclose Act are needed to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which cleared the way for unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions in the form of super-PACs and other outside groups.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said the campaign spending unleashed by Citizens United “corrodes the very essence of our democracy.” 

“The potential for corruption in the post-Citizens United era is all too clear,” Schumer said. “It’s time to get serious about transparency.”

Schumer hinted that a Senate vote on Disclose could come soon, noting he wants to “move the bill to the floor in a relatively short period of time.” 

Democrats first put forward a version of the Disclose Act in 2010. They revived it this year, proposing a slimmed-down version in both the House and Senate. 

The new Disclose Act would require some outside groups to provide the names of donors who contribute more than $10,000. It would also require an “I approve this message” disclaimer in campaign ads, among other provisions.

Senators debated the impact of the “stand by your ad” requirement Thursday.  

Republicans and panelist David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics indicated that the requirement for radio ads could take up to 20 seconds of the ad instead of bill’s suggested seven or eight seconds.

Citing the name of the organization that paid for and produced the ad should be enough, Keating argued. Taking up a large amount of time in the ads with disclaimers would be unfair and unnecessary, he said. 

But Schumer rebuked the argument, citing the ability of companies “like the Sierra Club or Club for Growth” to create shell organizations with names completely opposite of their own. Funneling money through these companies could mislead voters, and there are exemptions for groups whose disclaimers would run that long, he said.

“You could have a false name, for example. Citizens Against Pollution could be funded [by] people who want to remove pollution controls,” Schumer said. “Just having any name on the ad doesn’t tell you anything.”

Several Federal Election Commissioners came for the hearing, along with watchdogs and other groups interested in the legislation.

The hearing also broached the subject of how removing campaign contribution limits altogether would affect the campaign finance system. Alexander said there would be no need for super-PACs if groups and individuals were simply allowed to contribute unlimited money to candidates. 

But Schumer argued that some groups would still use super-PACs and 501(c)(4)s to evade disclosure. Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer agreed, emphasizing the political consequences of unlimited money.

“Former Sen. Russell Long … once said the distinction between a large campaign contribution and a bribe is almost a hairline’s difference,” Wertheimer said.

“So my view is, we go back to a system of buying results in Congress, direct purchases if we go back to a system of unlimited contributions.”