The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voices of middle-class Americans. It is putting our government up for sale to the highest bidder. It’s taking away one of the last places all Americans are equal—the ballot box.
Donors who don’t want you to know who they are or what they’re up to are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into political operations that don’t even have to let us know who’s bankrolling their propaganda. According to a study in April, ninety percent of the outside money spent on the 2012 presidential election has been from anonymous sources, putting our elections and our democracy at risk of being dominated by a few secret and wealthy donors..
Which begs the question: Why the secrecy? What are they hiding?
If they’re not up to no good, why do they have to do their work in the dark? If they’re not up to no good, why do they spend eighty-five percent of their money on ads that independent watchdogs say are full of deceptions?
When special interests can buy unfair advantage in our elections, it erodes the basic bargain that supported the growth of a strong middle class for generations: Protecting programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Pell Grants. Rebuilding our economy from the middle class up—not from the top down. Making sure small businesses can compete on a level playing field. And fixing our tax code so that billionaires pay their fair share.
But there is something we can do about. Today the Senate will vote on a bill that would shine a bright light on the secret money streaming into our elections. It’s called the DISCLOSE Act, and it would require any organization that conducts political activity to make public the sources of its funding—in real time—so voters can decide for themselves what to think.
But we can’t do it alone. Passing the DISCLOSE Act will take a groundswell of public support. People will have to make their voices heard in this debate and let it be known that secret money has no place in our democracy.
As citizens, we have the right to know who is trying to influence our votes, and what their motives are. By passing the DISCLOSE Act, we can help take back our democracy and make that right a reality.
Whitehouse serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.