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Ellen Miller Testimony DISCLOSE 2012 Final

Ellen Miller Testimony DISCLOSE 2012 Final

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Published by Sunlight Foundation
The Sunlight Foundation's written testimony before the Senate Rules Committee in support of the DISCLOSE 2012 Act
The Sunlight Foundation's written testimony before the Senate Rules Committee in support of the DISCLOSE 2012 Act

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Published by: Sunlight Foundation on Mar 27, 2012
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Testimony of Ellen S. Miller, Executive DirectorThe Sunlight FoundationBefore the Senate Committee on Rules and AdministrationHearing on the DISCLOSE Act 2012Mr. Chairman, Senator Alexander, members of the Committee, thank you very much forthe opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation. My name is EllenMiller and I am the co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. The missionof the Sunlight Foundation is to use cutting-edge technology to make government transparentand accountable.Before founding Sunlight, I was deep in the campaign finance trenches. First, as afounder of the Center for Responsive Politics, the
nation’s première money and politics data
crunching organization. Later, I created Public Campaign, a nonprofit that pioneered theconcept of a system of full public financing.Given my background, you can imagine my interest, and horror, as I read the Supreme
Court’s dec
ision in
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
. In the two years since then,my worst fears have been realized. That case and its progeny opened the floodgates forcorporate and union spending in elections.In dismantling 100 years of prohibitions against corporate treasury funds being used toelect candidates, the Court put a great deal of faith in the idea that disclosure will remove thetaint of corruption from the new influx of cash. The majority opinion observed that the Internetis becoming the best way to hold politicians and influencers accountable. But,the Court createdan entirely new spending regime for which no disclosure system is in place.For onlinetransparency to perform the functions ascribed to it by the
Citizens United 
ruling, Congress hasto create new laws that reflect the new reality of expanded independent spending.DISCLOSE2012 creates that system of transparency and as such should receive wide support frommembers on both sides of the aisle. We are pleased that Senate Democrats reintroduced a DISCLOSE Act that goes straightto heart of the problem: the lack of transparency for unlimited, dark money and the influence ithas on our elections and our elected officials. The updated bill removes extraneous andcontroversial provisions that plagued an earlier version of DISCLOSE, instead focusing on whatthe public demands
The Senate’s laser
like focus on disclosure and disclaimer provisions mirrors Sunlight’s
recommendations in our draft Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining PublicAccountability Act, (the SUPERPAC Act) a bill we proposed on the second anniversary of the
Citizens United 
Specifically, the bill’s robust reporting requirements for Super PACs, corporations,
unions and nonprofit organizations that make independent expenditures and electioneeringcommunications will begin to address many of the problems wrought by
Citizens United:
It willshine a light on dark money; it will provide an enforcement mechanism to ensure that noforeign money is influencing our political process; it will allow citizens to determine thecredibility of campaign ads based on the messenger as well as the message; and it will armcitizens with information about campaign funding before they go to the polls, in real time andonline.
The DISCLOSE Act will Address the Problem of Dark Money
Citizens United 
case resulted in two avenues, Super PACs and 501(c) organizations,which allow corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals to funnel money to campaigns,largely undisclosed.Well-heeled donors can use both routes to conceal their identities. Indeed,many super PACs have affiliated 501(c)(4) groups, like the Karl Rove-founded super PACAmerican Crossroads, which spun off a 501(c)(4) named Crossroads GPS or the pro-Obamasuper PAC Priorities USA Action, which has a sister 501(c)(4) organization, Priorities USA.The result is an elaborate political shell game in which a Super PAC can pay for negative,distorting ads by using contributions it received from a non-profit, disclosing only the benign ormisleading name of the organization, but not where the organization received its money. Thesystem also allows a more direct route for dark money to influence the system, as socialwelfare groups may themselves run independent expenditures or electioneeringcommunications
paid for by secret donors.It strains credulity to think that a special interest that funnels six or even seven figurecontributions through a Super PAC or a nonprofit will keep the candidate in the dark about the
contribution. If elected, the candidate will, at the very least, take that donor’s call, vastly
skewing access and influence in favor of the wealthy donor. The DISCLOSE 2012 Act will notchange the ability of those donors to make generous contributions, but it will allow voters togain some insight into who may be influencing their elected officials. Moreover, even if, assome argue, secret contributions are not corrupting because the candidate does not know thesource of the money, the credibility of a campaign ad rests on who is paying for it.
The DISCLOSE Act Will Reduce the Risk of Foreign Money in U.S. Elections
A less noticed but no less serious possibility arising from the shell game unleashed by
Citizens United 
is the real possibility that foreign money can be laundered into our politicalsystem.
As noted above,
Citizens United 
created an environment in which it is perfectly legal fora non-profit corporation to engage in election-related spending on behalf of a hidden interest.Because there are no disclosure rules that apply to the nonprofit, there is nothing to ensurethat the hidden interest funding the organization is not a foreign national, a foreign company ora foreign government.
Bluman v. FEC 
, the Supreme Court recently affirmed that foreign nationals areprohibited from making contributions or expenditures in connection with U.S. elections. As longas we believe that foreign interests should not influence our elections, strong preventativemeasures must be in place to ensure such interests are not provided with a vehicle to assist inthe election efforts of any candi
date. The DISCLOSE Act’s disclosure provisions would uncover
or even prevent the laundering of foreign money into U.S. elections.
The DISCLOSE Act Will Allow Voters to Weigh the Message
In an oft-quoted portion of his decision in
Citizens United 
, Justice Kennedy summarizedthe importance of online disclosure, stating:With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provideshareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations andelected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.Justice Scalia similarly upheld the importance of disclosure writing, in
Doe v. Reed 
:Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civiccourage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not lookforward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaignsanonymously
exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendumhidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism.This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.Both justices embrace the idea that accountability is vital in our democracy, and withoutdisclosure, there can be no accountability. Citizens need to know who the messenger is to fullyunderstand the message and to gain insight into the impact it has on the candidate. An ad

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