“Democracy 21 Refutes Attacks by Chamber of Commerce and NRA on Campaign Finance Disclosure; Urges Senators to Vote for Cloture and Pass the DISCLOSE Act of 2012”

The following press release arrived via email:

In a letter sent to all Senators today, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer refuted the attacks made by the Chamber of Commerce and the NRA on campaign finance disclosure.

The letter urges Senators to support S.2219, the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, by voting for cloture on the legislation and for its passage.

The letter to Senators states:

If you have particular concerns about S.2219, we urge you to discuss possible changes in the bill with the sponsor of the legislation, rather than voting to block the Senate from even considering S.2219.

According to the letter:

 

Recently the Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association sent letters to the Senate criticizing S. 2219 and expressing their opposition to the bill.

 

We strongly disagree with their criticisms and their attacks on campaign finance disclosure. Although none of the specific objections stated by either the Chamber or the NRA is valid, it is important to recognize that the real objection of these groups is to any disclosure of   donors whose funds they are using to finance their campaign-related expenditures.

 

The Chamber and the NRA simply do not believe that voters are entitled to know the identities of the significant donors financing their campaign activities.

 

The position of the Chamber and the NRA is in direct contradiction to a fundamental principle of campaign finance laws: citizens have a right to know who is giving and spending money to influence their votes. This principle has governed the campaign finance laws and Supreme Court decisions upholding the constitutionality of disclosure laws for decades.

The letter points out that the DISCLOSE Act is fully consistent with the Citizens United decision and other Supreme Court decisions upholding campaign finance disclosure laws.

The letter states:

 

The Supreme Court in Citizens United, by an 8-1 majority, conclusively rejected claims that disclosure of campaign spending is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

 

The Court concluded that disclaimer and disclosure requirements are constitutional because they serve important governmental interests in “providing the electorate with information about the sources of election-related spending” in order to help citizens “make informed choices in the political marketplace.” The Court specifically noted that it had earlier upheld disclosure laws to address the problem that “independent groups were running election-related advertisements while hiding behind dubious and misleading names.”

The letter also notes:

 

The Citizens United decision carries forward the Supreme Court’s longstanding support for disclosure laws. In the landmark decision of Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Court upheld the constitutionality of campaign finance disclosure laws, stating:

 

[D]isclosure requirements deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity. This exposure may discourage those who would use money for improper purposes either before or after the election.  A public armed with information about a candidate’s most generous supporters is better able to detect any post-election special favors that may be given in return. 79 And, as we recognized in Burroughs v. United States, 290 U.S., at 548, Congress could reasonably conclude that full disclosure during an election campaign tends “to prevent the corrupt use of money to affect elections.”  In enacting these requirements it may have been mindful of Mr. Justice Brandeis’ advice:  “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

The letter points out that the Supreme Court has rejected the argument that disclosure requirements “impermissibly ‘chill’ speech.” According to the letter:

 

The Supreme Court, however, has rejected this general argument and has held that a disclosure provision would only be unconstitutional if a specific organization could establish “a reasonable probability that the group’s members could face threats, harassment, or reprisals if their names were disclosed.”

 

Furthermore, the Supreme Court has said that even where a specific group could show such a “reasonable probability,” the remedy would be to exempt that specific organization from disclosure; not to strike down the disclosure requirements for all groups.

 

Disclosure requirements are not invalid because of some general and theoretical concern about “chilling” speech.

 

Comments and criticism about the campaign finance activities of donors and spenders is precisely the kind of public “accountability” envisioned by campaign finance disclosure laws. The notion that groups may come under public scrutiny and criticisms for their campaign activities does not constitute the kind of “threats, harassment, or reprisals” viewed by the Supreme Court as a sufficient basis to exempt a donor or spender from campaign finance disclosure requirements.

The letter also notes:

 

Contrary to the claims of opponents, S.2219 is not “aimed” at the suppression of corporate speech and does not prevent any organization from speaking.  The disclosure provisions of the legislation apply across-the-board to any group spending more than $10,000 on campaign-related expenditures, regardless of whether these expenditures are made by corporations, labor organizations, conservative groups, progressive groups, pro-Democratic groups or pro-Republican groups.

The letter explains that the $10,000 threshold for disclosure of donors to groups making campaign-related expenditures “is designed to narrowly tailor the disclosure requirements for all groups which are making campaign-related expenditures and which have a major purpose other than to influence elections.”

According to the letter:

 

By requiring disclosure only of substantial donors to such groups, the $10,000 threshold balances the interests that such groups have in privacy for their donors with the public’s interest in knowing the significant donors financing campaign activities.

The letter explains that opponents of the legislation “ignore important provisions of the bill that give organizations and donors the flexibility to limit the disclosure of a donor.” The letter states:

 

For example, the bill permits an organization to set up a separate bank account to raise money for campaign-related expenditures and to make such expenditures only from that account. If an organization elects that option and makes its campaign-related expenditures from the separate account, only the donors of $10,000 or more to that account are required to be disclosed.

 

This allows any donor who is does not want his or her money to be used for campaign-related expenditures to remain undisclosed.

 

Similarly, even if the organization does not set up a separate bank account for campaign-related spending, the legislation permits donors who would otherwise be disclosed to designate that their contributions cannot be used for campaign-related expenditures and thereby to remain undisclosed.

The letter concludes:

 

In short, the Chamber of Commerce and the NRA do not have valid objections to S.2219 – they are simply opposed to citizens knowing the significant donors whose funds they are using to finance campaign-related expenditures.

 

This position is indefensible. It is also in direct conflict with decades of established national policy and with Supreme Court precedents that have repeatedly reaffirmed the importance and constitutionality of campaign finance disclosure requirements.

 

Democracy 21 strongly supports the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 and urges you to vote for cloture on S.2219 and for passage of the legislation.

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