During an Ask Me Anything on Reddit last year, President Barack Obama was asked what he would do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics during his second term”.
Mr. Obama answered:
“Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress – to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
So what happened to the Disclose Act and are there any efforts underway to reverse the tidal wave of dark money that the Supreme Court unleashed with Citizens United?
The Disclose Act died in Congress in 2010. It was originally introduced by Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Charles Schumer (D-New York). The bill required campaigns that make more than $10,000 in campaign-related expenditures to disclose who contributed more than $10,000. The bill was defeated by Republican filibuster.
In 2012, the Disclose Act was revived by Sen. Van Hollen again in what became known as “Disclose Act 2.0”. The new iteration of the Disclose Act included an additional “stand by your ad” provision that required heads of political groups to include the disclaimer “I approve this message” in campaign ads. The bill then never moved beyond introduction and died.
Now, in 2014, 4 years and almost an entire election cycle later, Sen. Van Hollen has again submitted the Disclose Act and it looks like it will never leave committee.
Will anything happen to Citizens United?
It’s unlikely. While everyone recognizes that the power over money to smother speech from commoners is a growing and dangerous problem in the United States, too many are currently benefiting to put an end to it.
Today, Congress held a hearing to discuss S.J.Res. 19. S.J.Res.19 is a proposed amendment to the Constitution that seeks to allow states and Congress to regulate the amount of money that can be contributed or spent in a campaign. However, like the Disclose Act, it is unlikely to pass through Congress.
Currently, fewer than one-ten-thousandth of the population contributes up to as much as 80% of the money put into super-PACs. That’s fewer than 200 people. If something isn’t done to alter the course soon, there is a very real possibility that this will become the new standard in American politics.
Your voice will be too faint to hear.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.