Sen. Chuck Grassley and his Republican Senate colleagues all voted against a bill to get dark money out of elections on Thursday.
The most significant aspect of the DISCLOSE Act would require super PACs, corporations, labor organizations, and others to disclose donors who contributed $10,000 or more during the election cycle.
It would do this by amending the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act to require those additional disclosures. The bill needed 3/5 of the US Senate to approve a final vote and 49 Republicans voted against it, so the bill failed.
The bill would also expand existing prohibitions on foreign money, attempts to cover the influence of foreign money, and required reporting on political advertising, including donors who contributed the most money to the organization in the last year.
Those requirements, Democrats argue, would help to get dark money, donations from obscure or anonymous sources, out of politics by increasing transparency.
“There’s much too much money that flows in the shadows to influence our elections,” said President Joe Biden about the DISCLOSE Act two days before Thursday’s vote. “It’s called ‘dark money.’ It’s hidden. Right now, advocacy groups can run ads on issues attacking or supporting a candidate right until Election Day without exposing who’s paying for that ad.”
Since 2010, when the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v FEC that corporations and labor unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns, spending from corporations and the ultrawealthy has increased dramatically, which people warned would happen.
Part of the problem is that members of Congress repeatedly prevent government agencies from regulating the political spending by those newly allowed groups, meaning they don’t have to name their donors the way other groups do.
“Citizens United allowed new types of groups to donate to campaigns, on the grounds that banning them violates their rights of free speech, including 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ organizations and limited-liability corporations (LLCs). But here’s the catch. Since then, Congress has placed budget riders in spending bills to prevent agencies from regulating those groups’ political spending,” the Washington Post reported in 2020.
In the years since the Citizens United decision, it’s made following the money behind donations much harder.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill an attack on free speech and urged his colleagues, which includes Grassley, to vote against it.
While Grassley made no public remarks about why he voted against the DISCLOSURE Act, he did introduce a bill to prevent foreign influence in political lobbying by requiring foreign agents to register as such on Sept. 20. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Gary Peter (D-Michigan).
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant when it comes to the people’s business. We ought to always push for the greatest transparency possible, especially when it involves those trying to influence policy in our country on behalf of a foreign power,” Grassley said in a press release.
But that call for transparency didn’t translate to voting for dark money disclosures.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also opposes the DISCLOSE Act, on the grounds that it doesn’t do enough to protect election integrity and could instead discourage smaller donors. The organization said the original version of the bill was better.
Democrats have made it a mission to reform campaign finance laws to get political spending under control and to reduce the unfairness of undisclosed big donors.
“Ultimately, this comes down to public trust. Dark money erodes public trust,” Biden said. “We need to protect public trust. And I’m determined to do that.”
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