WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (all D-Del.) joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Representative David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and 194 of their Congressional colleagues in introducing the DISCLOSE Act to combat anonymous special interest spending in American politics. The bill would require organizations spending money in federal elections to disclose their donors and major sources of funding, allowing the American people to be more aware of who is attempting to influence public opinion and elections.
“For far too long, dark money has cast its shadow on our elections and our democracy without any accountability or transparency,” said Senator Carper. “We simply cannot allow corporate special interests and foreign actors to take advantage of our campaign laws and influence our elections, while drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. That’s why I’m proud to support the DISCLOSE Act, a series of commonsense reforms that set high standards for disclosure behind political spending and restores trust back into our political system.”
“We’ve seen the dangerous consequences of misinformation fueled by anonymous funding,” said Senator Coons. “Just last month, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol after groups backed by anonymous donors pushed the lie of a stolen election. The DISCLOSE Act would require organizations spending money in our elections to provide more transparency, putting power back in the hands of the American people and helping to combat the disinformation campaigns that have bred distrust in our politics.”
“The DISCLOSE Act is based on a simple principle – that those who wish to influence our political discourse and system must put their name to their actions,” said Representative Blunt Rochester. “I’m proud to join with Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and all of our fellow cosponsors in supporting the DISCLOSE Act to increase transparency in our political process and help restore Americans’ faith in the functioning of our democracy.”
Special interest influence over elections is a major problem in America. Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court rulings permit super PACs and certain types of tax-exempt groups, such as 501(c)(4) nonprofits, to spend unlimited sums in elections. Many of those groups are not required to disclose their donors, allowing corporations and individuals to spend unlimited, undisclosed – or “dark” – money without being tied to the television ads and other electioneering activity the groups carry out. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, election spending has exploded. Dark money in particular has skyrocketed, despite the Supreme Court, by an 8 to 1 margin in Citizens United, upholding disclosure requirements as a means for citizens and shareholders to hold elected officials and corporate spenders accountable.
The DISCLOSE Act requires organizations spending money in elections – including super PACs and 501(c)(4) dark money groups – to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle. The DISCLOSE Act will be vital in helping Americans understand who is behind the massive uptick in dark-money and other special interest spending in recent years. Dark money spending in our elections since Citizens United has now topped $1 billion, and the pace of spending by outside forces (i.e., not the candidates themselves) is accelerating. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, outside spenders—super PACs, dark money groups, and political parties—spent $2.6 billion in federal elections during the 2020 election cycle; that is roughly twice what was spent in the last presidential cycle in 2016.
A version of the DISCLOSE Act is slated for inclusion in Senate Democrats’ For the People Act, a sweeping package of pro-democracy reforms announced in January. The For the People Act will overhaul America’s broken campaign finance system, make it easier to vote, and strengthen ethics laws. The House passed the For the People Act last Congress, but it was never taken up in the Senate.
Introduction of the DISCLOSE Act follows the deadly assault on the Capitol on January 6. In the lead-up to the attack, groups backed by anonymous donors stoked the lie of a stolen election and organized the rally then-President Trump used to spur the riot. In a robocall issued at the behest of an anonymous donor, one such group encouraged “patriots” to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.” Several of the groups are active spenders in federal elections and right-wing political causes.