Gorsuch is Right: Congress Should “Pass a Law” Requiring Disclosure

Congress and Dark Money

In the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday March 22, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, if he would ask donors to the Judicial Crisis Network to identify themselves.

As reported by the The Hill, Whitehouse said the conservative group is spending an estimated $10 million to support the Gorsuch nomination and previously spent $7 million to oppose the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, who was never given even the courtesy of a hearing before Congress.

“It would be a politics question and I’m not, with all respect senator, going to get involved in politics,” Gorsuch told the Committee in response to Whitehouse. “If you want more disclosure, pass a law,” he said.

Whitehouse is sponsor of “The DISCLOSE Act of 2015,” currently before the Senate Rules Committee, that would require large organizations, including labor unions, corporations and non-profits, to reveal the names of persons giving more than $10,000 during an election cycle. An earlier, identical bill, failed in 2012 to garner the necessary 60 votes to override a filibuster and was defeated in a near party line vote.

On the surface, it sounds as if Gorsuch was being at once clever and evasive. In reality, he was right on the money. As TDV has written in a previous blog, there are two major kinds of money in politics:

  • Big Money / No Limits
  • Dark Money / No Accountability

The Supreme’ Court’s decision in Citizens’ United (and similar cases) opened the flood gates to big money without limits, and that is a big problem that needs to be addressed by overturning Citizens’ United. But that could take years, if not decades, especially with Republicans in control of the White House and several more vacancies potentially coming up over the next several years.

In the meantime, let’s be clear.

As Gorsuch suggested, Congress has the power to require transparency in political donations – to shine a light on “Dark Money” – but it has failed to fully exercise that power.

In short, Federal legislation has not kept pace with a rapidly changing legal landscape, resulting in big loopholes. Currently, candidates and their Super PACS are required to report major contributors. Corporations and non-profits – such as social welfare agencies and trade associations – are not.

After the original DISCLOSE Act was defeated in 2012, and as the Obama Presidency drew to a close in 2016, 155 Democrats asked the President to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political contributions. The Obama Administration debated the issue internally, according to the NY Times, but ultimately failed to act.

Maybe that was because the defense industry, the biggest of the so-called “government contractors,” is an equal opportunity donor to Republicans and Democrats alike, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Whatever the reason, the flood of both big money and dark money into politics is undermining the foundations of our democracy, as previously discussed in TDV’s “A Call to Action.”.

For starters, Democrats should redouble their efforts in Congress to pass The DISCLOSE Act requiring full disclosure of all campaign contributions from whatever source.

It may not pass in the current Congress, but it would help keep the issue, where it belongs, at the forefront of public debate. There is no excuse whatsoever for a lack of accountability in political contributions.

We Have a Right to Know and Congress Has a Duty to Act.

Newsflash to U.S. Chamber of Commerce – Dark Money Subverts Democracy

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“The real goal of the disclosure proponents is to harass, intimidate and silence those with whom they disagree. We continue to believe that one’s political activities should play no role in whether or not you get or keep a federal contract, and we encourage the administration to leave this bad idea right where it is.”

That  from Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, quoted in the NY Times, January 19, on an executive order being considered by President Obama that would require federal contractors to disclose political contributions:

According to an analysis by Center for Responsible Politics at OpenSecrets.org.

 “The hundreds of billions of dollars the federal government spends each year on defense are part of the reason defense aerospace firms make millions of dollars in campaign contributions, a majority of which has gone to Republicans since 1989.”

How sad that it has come to this.  The once reputable U.S. Chamber of Commerce insults the intelligence of the American people by publicly stating that disclosure of campaign contributions by big defense contractors doing business with the federal government amounts to harassment and intimidation.

No, my friends, it simply amounts to transparency and accountability – foundational elements of our democratic system.

Dark Money Subverts Democracy – Americans Have A Right to Know!

For more:

An Appeal to President Obama: Help Shine a Light on Dark Money in Politics at TDV.

Book Review at DemocracyJournal.Org – The Influence Machine: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life by Alyssa Katz.

An Appeal to President Obama: Help Shine a Light on Dark Money in Politics

SunburstLogo1_2x_thumnmailAs President Obama prepares to give his final State of the Union Address, there are things he can do as President to help address the outsized influence money in politics.

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.