But first, let’s be clear: the problems we face with money in politics fall into two broad categories:
- Big Money / No Limits
- Dark Money / No Accountability
Put the two together, and you have an unprecedented threat to the future of our democracy where Big Money can buy elections and influence government policy with No Accountability.
The first category, Big Money / No Limits, is embedded in Supreme Court decisions, notably Citizens United in 2010, that effectively deemed unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions to be the equivalent of free speech and protected under the First Amendment.
The decision is an affront to common sense, let alone constitutional law: In modern society, money more closely resembles the exercise of raw power, not speech, and thus must be constrained in order to guarantee equality to all, a bedrock principle of our great democracy. Citizens United must be overturned. But, unfortunately, that could takes years if not decades depending on who wins the presentidal election in 2016.
The second category, Dark Money / No Accountability, has evolved because Federal legislation has not kept pace with a rapidly changing legal landscape, resulting in big loopholes. Candidates and their Super PACS are required to report. Corporations and non-profits – such as social welfare agencies and trade associations – are not.
Democrats have proposed legislation – the Disclose Act – that would close these loopholes. In 2010, the legislation passed the House, but failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to override a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Requiring government contractors to disclose their contributions is a much-needed step in the right direction to help shine a light on dark money in politics and introduce a measure of accountability. We hope President Obama announces this initiative tonight as he delivers his final State of the Union message.