Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Campaign disclosure in real time

Take it from two U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle who have decades of experience in public life: Campaign finance rules have a tremendous impact on the public policy agenda in Congress. Contrary to the popular perception, the prospect of getting — or not getting — a check from an individual or political action committee does not drive the typical decision on Capitol Hill. But decisionmaking is often colored by the prospect of facing $5 million in anonymous attack ads if a member of Congress crosses an economically powerful interest.

This influx of unregulated political cash stemming from the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision spawned a particularly vitriolic political cycle. Groups on both sides dumped some $6 billion into tearing down candidates for public office. The anonymity of much of this spending encourages ads that lower the level of political discourse and makes it harder, not easier, for Americans to make informed decisions. Most of all, this spending ensured that those elected in November would carry that pressure for strict and absolute partisanship back to Washington, hobbling our efforts to govern for another two years.

The resulting political gridlock is preventing progress in a number of areas — apparent in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations — but most significantly on fundamental campaign finance reforms. Our states have already pointed the way toward a solution.

In Alaska, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation — passed by a Republican-dominated lower house and a bipartisan Senate — similar to the U.S. Senate-debated Disclose Act, which enhances disclosure requirements for political spending and limits corporations and political organizations from coordinating with political parties and candidates. The Corporate Reform Coalition has said that "Alaska gets the prize for the most innovative and far-reaching laws adopted since Citizens United."

Oregon campaign finance law has proven that near-immediate disclosure of contributions is not only possible but preferable. In the lead-up to Oregon's elections, campaign committees must report large contributions within one week. Under federal law, which requires only quarterly reports, the influx of money immediately before an election is hidden from the public until months after the votes have been counted.

We propose combining the best elements of the Alaska and Oregon laws to create a federal campaign finance structure that is transparent and holds everyone immediately accountable. To start the discussion, we have posted our blueprint on our respective Senate websites (www.wyden.senate.gov/campaign-finance-reform and www.murkowski.senate.gov). We are seeking suggestions that will streamline the law, close loopholes and achieve a cleaner, more open process.

Under our proposal, any organization engaging in federal political activity of any kind, from candidacy to advocacy, would be required to disclose its donors in real time. The law would apply to every candidate running for office and every billionaire hoping to influence an election. The same rules would apply equally to corporations, nonprofits and every type of organization in between, so long as they are using money to try to influence elections, as well as to labor union political funds and "right to work" organizations.

Along with many Americans, we are uncomfortable with the Citizens United decision. Unlimited corporate and individual spending is corrosive to democracy and undermines the political process. But the case has been decided, and it is our prerogative as legislators to improve on it. What we, and you, can do is shine a bright light on the system the court created to ensure accountability for all who attempt to influence the democratic process. At minimum, the American people deserve to know before they cast their ballots who is behind massive spending, who is funding people and organizations, and what their agendas are.

While the majority of the justices rejected limits on political spending in Citizens United, they still acknowledged disclosure as vital to elections and democracy. Justice Antonin Scalia said as much in the 2010 case Doe vs. Reed when he wrote, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed," and that both campaigning and petitioning anonymously were destructive to a democratic system.

Congress has failed to take up this charge and ensure that the spending sanctioned by Citizens United is not cloaked in secrecy and subterfuge. Thoughtful members of both parties should discuss and agree to a disclosure structure that addresses all potential avenues of access and abuse and treats everyone in the political process equally. In other words, one that is fair to all.

We plan to offer a bipartisan proposal that we hope can serve as a base from which Congress can finally move forward. We hope that you will join us in making that proposal a reality so that the American people are not forced to suffer through another election cycle filled with anonymous sleaze and innuendo.

© 2012 Washington Post

Comments
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18