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Franken writes: "Today, unless I'm pleasantly surprised, Republicans will once again block the Senate from considering the DISCLOSE Act. But let me back up."

Portrait, Senator Al Franken. (photo: Jeffrey Thompson/Getty Images)
Portrait, Senator Al Franken. (photo: Jeffrey Thompson/Getty Images)

Putting an End to Secret Campaign Contributions

Sen. Al Franken, Reader Supported News

17 July 12


oday, unless I'm pleasantly surprised, Republicans will once again block the Senate from considering the DISCLOSE Act - a piece of legislation that would bring at least a modicum of transparency to our badly broken campaign finance system.

But let me back up.

Every citizen of a democracy is supposed to have the same say in the decisions our government makes (or, at least, in who gets to make those decisions on our behalf). That's why each of us gets the same number of votes in an election (one). I grew up in Minnesota, where we treasure our tradition of civic engagement - and our record of having the nation's highest voter participation.

Of course, in a country where running for office is incredibly expensive, the ability to spend money to support candidates and causes (both by contributing directly to them and by making "independent expenditures" on their behalf) is another way to have a say.

But while we each have the same number of votes to cast, we don't each have the same amount of money to give. And for decades, we've debated how to best protect our democratic principles despite that disparity.

Reformers (like me) have argued that we should limit how much influence any one person can gain by limiting how much money any one person can spend. The idea being that unlimited money in politics is inherently corrupting.

Opponents of such reform have disagreed vehemently. The idea being that money is speech - and since free speech should be unlimited, so should money.

But until lately, there has always been bipartisan agreement that campaign spending - limited or not - should at least be transparent. Even as they've fought against spending limits designed to clean up our elections, many conservatives have solemnly assured the American people that they understood sunlight to be the best disinfectant. (In Minnesota, for example, we've had a long and bipartisan tradition of transparency in our campaign finance system.)

Then, in Citizens United, the Supreme Court overturned a century of precedent to find that the right to have a say over elections wasn't, in fact, reserved for citizens after all - corporations could enjoy it, too. And in v. FEC, the Court found that even the weak limits we'd established to prevent the powerful from completely dominating our elections were unconstitutional.

Barring a constitutional amendment (which involves, shall we say, formidable hurdles), a change of heart on the part of the current Justices (extremely unlikely, given their recent ruling in the Montana campaign finance case), or a change in the composition of the Court (not really up to us), reformers have lost the argument over spending limits by a final vote of 5 to 4.

In the 2010 election, these "independent expenditures" by outside groups - organizations established under obscure provisions of the tax code with names using words like "Future," "Prosperity," and/or "Freedom" in various permutations - totaled more than $280 million, more than double what they spent in 2008 and more than five times what they spent in 2006. Outside groups spent more than the actual Democratic and Republican party committees.

And already in 2012, we've seen a single individual write multi-million-dollar checks in support of his favorite presidential candidate. We've seen corporations spend tens of millions of dollars on attack ads. We could see $1 billion in outside spending before Election Day.

Worse, there is little sunlight to be found in the post-Citizens United political system. Corporations that want to hide their spending can create shell corporations to contribute unlimited money to a group - so that when you look at the outside group's fundraising records (which are published only occasionally), you'll see the shell corporation but not the original source of the money.

And that guy who wrote all those seven-figure checks to support his favorite presidential candidate? We only know about that because he announced it himself (adding that some of his future spending would remain secret).

And because none of this spending is transparent, none of these spenders (or the candidates who profit from their spending) can be held accountable. We simply don't know who is wielding all this financial power in this year's elections. We just know it isn't us, the people. That's a system in need of disinfecting.

Which brings me back to the DISCLOSE Act. This bill doesn't overturn Citizens United. It doesn't limit how much money individuals or corporations can spend on independent expenditures. All it does is require that this spending be disclosed publicly. It reflects what used to be a bipartisan consensus around the effectiveness of transparency and disclosure in avoiding corruption.

But today - unless, again, I'm pleasantly surprised - all the Republicans in the Senate, including those who have specifically called for more disclosure in our system, will once again block it from proceeding.

In our country, a few have a lot more money than the rest. In our political system, money is power. And that means a few can have a lot more power than the rest. That's bad news for everyone else - and for our democracy itself. And although we've always argued over how best to prevent that from happening, today's vote is yet another sign that some have decided to embrace that shift instead.

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+27 # PABLO DIABLO 2012-07-17 21:58
We're screwed.
+8 # ruttaro 2012-07-18 06:56
Yes we are....unless we are willing to confront those "formidable hurdles" that Senator Franken says regarding a constitutional amendment. It;s not like it hasn't been done before. If this country could pass a constitutional amendment making prohibiting alcohol then we certainly could get one passed making all public elections publicly funded. So what are the hurdles? Let me suggest that it is not a disengaged and distracted electorate. As troubling as that is, most probably don't vote in state wide contests and that is the front line for this battle. We need 2/3rds of state legislatures to pass the amendment and if we don't have that then our corrupt Congress could cynically introduce the amendment knowing full well it will not have the necessary state approval. So we start local and work our way up. We find people to run for state assemblies and senates who pledge to do this. At the same time, we open up a second front with election to Congress of like-minded people. Just need to elect a few who will introduce and sponsor the amendment. Then we make noise; lot's of it and loud! We lobby, we demonstrate, we demand! And we don't stop. The message of one person/one vote and no money in elections that has installed the plutocratic corporatocracy we now have is a message that is simple, clear and just and resonates in the souls of all of us, the marginalized people. Like I said, if we could prohibit alcohol we can prohibit the wealthy from owning our system.
+10 # sweetsali 2012-07-18 00:11
I'd gladly take petitions for a constitutional amendment all over my town...and I'm an old lady with Parkinson's! We need anybody who can still breathe and move to get behind Al (and Bernie Sanders) petition for a constitutional amendment ridding politics of irrational amounts of money without disclosure. I don't care who you are...If you don't want to watch this nation go down in flames, you'll never have a better opportunity to ensure a level playing field for our grandchildren.. .Otherwise we might as well bow to all those well-known advertisers i.e. Exxon, Arco, Bain...C'mon you old hippies...join me and do something besides rocking on that front stoop!
+10 # cvahr2 2012-07-18 00:22
I love this guy. Articulate, intelligent, reasonable and persuasive. Unfortunately I'm afraid he's banging his head against a solid wall of Republican self interest...agai n. Hang in there Al!
+7 # grouchy 2012-07-18 00:44
IF it were to happen (not likely in current conditions) that a law could be passed limiting what each citizen would be able to contribute, just think of the whining to be done by each corporate "person" who would thus be limited to this same basic citizen's amount! I love that thought. It would be sticking the Citizens United crap right up the rear end of the shills that bought it in the first place! JOY!
+7 # angelfish 2012-07-18 01:21
Al, Americans, REAL Americans, agree with you. Money is NOT speech! With God's help we WILL turn it ALL around in November and see to it that the ReTHUGlicans NEVER hold a Majority in the House or Senate again, unless or until they regain their Moral Compass, return from the Dark Side, and begin working for ALL of us, not just the Mega-Wealthy! We will also insure that they are NEVER able again, to appoint another Unprincipled Hack to the SCOTUS! Take heed, fellow Citizens, never, EVER vote ReTHUGlican! The People, UNITED, will NEVER be defeated! God Bless you, Al! Keep fighting the good fight!
+6 # overanddone 2012-07-18 03:37
Citizens who have voted at the same polling place for, in some cases 70plus years, are being made to jump through government imposed hoops to be able to vote. But anyone without a name, a photo ID or any identification whatsoever can buy an election. Sounds Fair.
+4 # angelfish 2012-07-18 08:44
Quoting overanddone:
Citizens who have voted at the same polling place for, in some cases 70plus years, are being made to jump through government imposed hoops to be able to vote. But anyone without a name, a photo ID or any identification whatsoever can buy an election. Sounds Fair.

They're NOT "government imposed hoops" they're ReTHUGlican imposed hoops! There is a BIG difference! WHEN will the Citizenry WAKE UP and realize that what USED to be the RePublican Party has gone over to the Dark Side?
+4 # 2012-07-18 04:42
very well put...all of us need to listen and act when we vote in November. This election, unfortunately, will be about money and not ideas or principles--onl y the values of greed and back to the "Robber Baron" society, while our democratic principles are thrown out the window. We will pay for what we are doing.
+3 # John Locke 2012-07-18 07:33
If a Corporation can not Vote it should be silent!

Money is not speach it is access to speach and there is a difference!

A Corporation is a creature of law and subject to law! it uses money that belongs to the shareholders and the state has a right to control the use of corporate money, Just like the IRS will not allow a 501C 3 charitable corporation to make political statements, any and all corporations should be controlled by state laws! as to the same thing!


If a Corporation can not Vote it should be silent!!!
0 # Billy Bob 2012-07-18 15:29
What if the corporation is Diebold.
+1 # ABen 2012-07-18 10:48
As concerned citizens, we should all be VERY concerned about the effects of Citizens United and the undisclosed barrage of money it has invited into our political system. As conscientious citizens, we should all do whatever we can to oppose this travesty of jurisprudence. The threat posed to our democracy by undisclosed BIG MONEY is far greater than anything our country has faced since WW II. Write letters, sign petitions, contact your elected officials--all of them--relentles sly until this travesty is reversed.
+2 # QDP 2012-07-18 11:03
WE placed our trust in people who not only usurpe this system, but who also bring about changes which inherently involve profit, greed and power. Unless we, the American Voter, rise up and change this current state and federal status, we are doomed to a hegemony of oligarchs. No good comes of this, especially when our watchdog, the free Press isn't free and lays asleep at the foot of these corporations
+1 # 1984 2012-07-18 19:11
1984: If corporations are people, wouldn't that mean they would have a right to vote??? (ARG!!!!!)
+1 # thehodges1 2012-07-19 00:59
Well President IKE saw it coming but he is long forgotten.
I am really sorry for the American People.

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