Democratic senators seek to curtail 'harmful impact' of super-PACs

Seven Democratic senators have created a task force aimed at mitigating the impact on elections of a 2010 Supreme Court decision, the senators announced Tuesday.

The senators formed the group last year in response to the high court's ruling in the Federal Election Commission (FEC) v. Citizens United, which allows certain political action groups to accept unlimited  contributions from corporations and unions. The court decision led to the creation of so-called super-PACs, which have the right to make unlimited expenditures for or against political candidates, as long as candidates are not involved in the process.

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The task force will “pursue all available legislative and administrative attitudes” to disclose the donors to super-PACs and other outside groups, the senators said.

“The Supreme Court reversed itself and decades of precedent with its Citizens United ruling. Now, Coloradans and Americans are being inundated with attack ads, SuperPACs skirt accountability and the presidency might well be determined by a silent auction,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said in a statement.

"This group is committed to improving transparency in our campaigns and restoring the faith Americans have in our elections,” he said.

Super-PACs, 501(c)(4) organizations and other outside groups have saturated the campaign field with more than $90 million in ads so far this election cycle, the release said. The deadlocked FEC has failed to regulate the more than 300 super-PACs that have become a staple of the 2012 election cycle since their creation in 2010, the senators said.

The lawmakers said they are working from all angles to require additional disclosure of campaign finances.

Several Democratic senators have written to federal agencies advocating for the Internal Revenue Service, the FEC, and the Federal Communications Commission to require more disclosure or regulation of campaign contributions.

Bennet and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have introduced a constitutional amendment that would give additional campaign finance regulation powers to the states and Congress. In addition, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the Disclose 2012 Act in the House to require more donor information be made public.

“Over the past few months, the unfair influence exerted by Super PACs has become abundantly clear to voters in New Mexico and elsewhere, and they are calling for sensible campaign finance reform,” Udall said in a statement.

"I'm honored to join a group of senators who share my concern and commitment to ensuring that our elections are by the people, not the millionaires, corporations and special interests," he said.
 
The lawmakers' actions jibe with public opinion, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC survey. Almost 7 of 10 registered voters would prefer super-PACs be illegal, the survey found.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) are also on the task force.

The announcement came toward the beginning of Sunshine Week, a week observed by watchdogs and lawmakers to promote government transparency.

“We believe that the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed. The Supreme Court’s decision has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy,” Schumer said in a statement.

"This group will fight back with every tool at its disposal,” Schumer said.

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