Up Front

Killing Public Disclosure in Campaign Finance

Thomas E. Mann

Today’s decision by every Republican senator to use yet another filibuster to kill a campaign finance bill whose substance many, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have in the past championed is only the latest example of the cynical opportunism that has come to characterize the opposition party in Congress.

The bill was a response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United  that overturned decades-old law and precedent to allow corporations and unions to engage in independent spending in political campaigns with funds from their treasuries. The centerpiece of the legislation, which passed the House a month ago, is a transparency requirement that ensures that the source of funding for such independent ads be disclosed to the public. It is built upon Justice Kennedy’s bold assertion in the Citizens United majority opinion that public disclosure will counter any potentially corrupting influence by corporations through the financing of political ads.

To be sure, the bill wasn’t perfect. An exemption for a few large nonprofits like the NRA and a tough pay-to-play prohibition on modest-sized government contractors detracted from its central provision. Republicans were encouraged to negotiate a better bill but they decided once again to just say no. Contrary to what they have said and done in the past, transparency of campaign finance spending is no longer desirable or acceptable. It will chill free speech and violate individual privacy.

Sound familiar? In our new Orwellian world, old Republican ideas—embedded in stimulus packages, health reform, financial regulation and climate change—have become radical, even unconstitutional measures sprung upon the American people by President Obama and the Democratic party. And these outlandish charges have consequences because of the egregious abuse of the Senate filibuster.

Altogether, another sorry performance by one of our two great political parties and a sad day for American democracy.

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