Comments  of  the  Sunlight  Foundation  to  the     Wyden/Murkowski  disclosure  proposal.

    The  mission  of  the  Sunlight  Foundation  is  to  use  cutting-­‐edge  technology  to  make   government  transparent  and  accountable.  Since  Citizens  United  was  first  decided,  we   have  been  leading  advocates  of  greater  transparency  around  third  party  spending   on  election  related  activities.      We  very  much  appreciate  your  efforts  at  a  bipartisan   solution  to  the  problem  of  dark  money  in  elections.  Many  of  Sunlight’s  specific   recommendations  to  shine  a  light  on  secret  money  can  be  found  in  the  Stop   Undisclosed  Payments  in  Elections  from  Ruining  Public  Accountability  Act,  (the   SUPERPAC  Act)  model  legislation  we  proposed  on  the  second  anniversary  of  the   Citizens  United  case.  We  urge  you  to  look  to  that  draft  legislation  as  you  begin  to   craft  your  own  bill.    We  have  no  objection  to  your  offices  making  these  comments   public.       In  dismantling  100  years  of  prohibitions  against  corporate  treasury  funds  being   used  to  elect  candidates,  the  Court  in  Citizens  United  put  a  great  deal  of  faith  in  the   idea  that  disclosure  will  remove  the  taint  of  corruption  from  the  new  influx  of  cash.   The  majority  opinion  observed  that  the  Internet  is  becoming  the  best  way  to  hold   politicians  and  influencers  accountable.  But,  the  Court  created  an  entirely  new   spending  regime  for  which  no  disclosure  system  is  in  place.  For  online  transparency   to  perform  the  functions  ascribed  to  it  by  the  Citizens  United  ruling,  Congress  has  to   create  new  laws  that  reflect  the  new  reality  of  expanded  independent  spending.       Turning  to  the  specific  of  the  Wyden/Murkowski  proposal,  we  would  first  note  that,   as  in  all  efforts  at  creating  legislation,  “the  devil  is  in  the  details,”  and  we  cannot  fully   comment  on  a  proposal  until  we  see  legislative  language  and  understand  how  any   proposed  bill  will  work  in  practice.    To  that  end,  the  DISCLOSE  Act  has  been   analyzed  and  vetted  for  many  years  now,  and  we  would  encourage  you  to  work   closely  with  the  drafters  of  that  bill  to  determine  the  consequences  of  each   provision.   They  Wyden/Murkowski  proposal  lays  out  eight  specific  principles  that,  with  only   limited  exception,  the  Sunlight  Foundation  supports.    We  strongly  support  making   spending  information  available  online,  in  real  time.  In  this  era  of  ubiquitous  Internet   use  by  campaigns  and  organizations  alike,  there  will  be  few  if  any  instances  in  which   an  online  filing  requirement  will  pose  a  burden.       The  principles  state  that  “there  is  a  public  interest  in  raising  the  minimum   contribution  that  must  be  disclosed…from  its  current  ‘more  than  $200  level  to  a  new   ‘more  than  $500  level.’”    As  less  than  one-­‐half  of  one  percent  of  the  total  population   gives  $200  or  more,  we  question  whether  it  is  necessary  to  shrink  the  already  tiny   pool  of  disclosure  by  those  who  give  directly  to  candidates.      

We  are  also  concerned  that  the  proposed  registration  that  would  be  required  of  all   organizations  prior  to  making  election-­‐related  expenditures  might  be  overly   burdensome  and  is  constitutionally  suspect.    For  various  reasons,  many   organizations  may  not  plan  in  advance  whether  they  will  participate  in  the  elections   and  the  registration  requirement  you  suggest  may  prevent  them  from  participating   at  all,  chilling  their  speech.         The  Wyden/Murkowski  disclosure  proposal  would  require  the  IRS  and  FEC  to   establish  joint  regulations  and  guidance  on  what  is  and  is  not  “Election  Related   Activity.”    Unfortunately,  neither  agency  has  demonstrated  its  ability  or   commitment  to  crafting  robust  disclosure  regulations.  Requiring  joint  action  by  the   two  would,  we  believe,  result  in  delay  while  risking  a  weakening  of  existing   regulations.    We  agree  that  changes  need  to  be  made  to  both  agencies  to  strengthen   their  ability  to  address  the  problem  of  dark  money,  but  the  promulgation  of  joint   regulations  will  not  remedy  the  current  problems.       You  ask  whether  disclosure  will  result  in  reprisals  by  those  who  choose  to   participate  in  elections  through  outside  groups.    We  do  not  believe  that  is  a   legitimate  risk.  As  Justice  Scalia  said  in  Doe  v.  Reed:   Requiring  people  to  stand  up  in  public  for  their  political  acts  fosters  civic   courage,  without  which  democracy  is  doomed.  For  my  part,  I  do  not  look   forward  to  a  society  which,  thanks  to  the  Supreme  Court,  campaigns   anonymously…  exercises  the  direct  democracy  of  initiative  and  referendum   hidden  from  public  scrutiny  and  protected  from  the  accountability  of  criticism.   This  does  not  resemble  the  Home  of  the  Brave.   Individuals  and  PACs  have  been  disclosing  contributions  to  candidates  for  decades,   without  any  evidence  that  such  disclosures  put  donors  at  risk.  Moreover,  we  would   note  for  those  in  the  media  and  elsewhere  who  have  complained  of  reprisals  in  the   form  of  boycotts  of  products  or  companies,  such  boycotts,  like  election  related   spending,  are  forms  of  free  speech  entitled  to  constitutional  protection.   The  disclosure  and  disclaimer  provisions  contained  in  the  Wyden/Murkowski   proposal  are  an  important  step  toward  ensuring  a  more  informed  electorate  more   accountable  elections.    Please  contact  Lisa  Rosenberg,  Sunlight’s  government  affairs   consultant,  at  or  (202)  360-­‐7895  if  you  have   any  questions.    The  Sunlight  Foundation  applauds  your  effort  and  we  look  forward   to  working  with  your  offices  on  this  important  effort.        

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