The Campaign Disclosure Act

The Campaign Disclosure Act

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The Campaign Disclosure Act

Introduction

During election years in United States, political parties spend millions of money through advertisements and other forms of selling their agenda. Much of the money used comes from independent donors such as corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. Although people know that such groups contribute the money, political organizations do not reveal the specific sponsors, leaving people unaware of the motivation behind such donations. This has been the case after the supreme made a ruling on the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling allows such groups to make as much contributions for political campaigns as they can. To respond to this, the DISCLOSE Act was introduced requiring political entities to reveal their donors. However, this has been met by opposition from majority of politicians. If the bill passes, it has the potential to reduce the number of corporations that spend money on political campaigns. The main importance of this bill is preventing a few people and corporations from wielding too much influence over election results, which compromises democracy system.

Historical Background

Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act, which is simply known as DISCLOSE Act was introduced as a bill to Senate on July 21, 2010 by Charles Schumer and in the House of Representatives by Chris Van Hollen on April 29, 2010. The DISCLOSE Act was in response to a ruling made by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that prohibiting corporations and unions from contributing in political campaigns independently was not constitutional. This ruling allowed the corporations and unions among other private entities to make as much contributions to sponsor political campaigns as they could.

Recognizing the potential ability of such entities in influencing election results, the DISCLOSE Act was introduced with the main aim of prohibiting foreign influence in federal elections and increasing of additional disclosure rules on spending in the elections. By allowing the people to know who fund the political campaigns, it would be easier to know whether the candidates are there to serve the citizens or the corporations that fund it. This allows people to find out the motivations behind the campaign advertisements that run on media during the election year. However, the Bill is yet to be passed as many people especially republicans are against it. Many politicians want to maintain the inflow of funds, hence oppose it.

Importance of the Bill

Since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed corporations and other organizations to make independent contributions to political campaigns, the number of donations and spending on campaigning has increased by a big margin. The campaign spending for 2012 was higher compared to 2008 (Magleby & Corrado, 2011). For instance, by July of 2012, these organizations had spent more than $160 million compared to $36 million in 2008. In addition to spending more in the 2012 elections, statistics indicate that those with more funds were the majority winners. For instance, Obama spent raised $715,677,692 and spent $683,546,548 to win the elections while his rival, Mitt Romney raised $446,135,997 and spent $433,281,516 (OpenSecrets.org, 2013). The fact that majority of wins went to those who spent more money in the campaigns even in the other positions indicates that money is an influential factor in elections (Dowling & Miller, 2014).

Therefore, it goes to show that the corporations, unions and non-profit organizations among other independent donors play a crucial role in determining the election results. Much of these funds go to advertising and promoting campaign agendas to win the voters. Although the amount of money spent by campaigners is known, very little is known about how the funds were spent and appropriated. In most cases, big corporations endorse candidates depending on their interests. Some will favour specific candidates for certain policies or promises on government tenders and other benefits that could arise. Without knowing who the real donors are, it would be hard to know their motive for supporting a candidate. This makes it hard for the people to figure out which candidate will be dedicated to serving the people instead of its donors (Baldino & Kreider, 2011).

According to Moyers and Winship (2014), “…the other hand is poking around for loopholes, stuffing millions of secret corporate dollars into non-profit, tax-exempt organizations called 501(c)s that funnel the money into advertising on behalf of candidates or causes”. This happens because the Federal Election Commission does not regard the contributing organizations as political entities, which allows them to remain anonymous and never revealing who is behind the advertisements aired on media. This way, corporations are able to maintain their image because they are not required to reveal their political interests.

The DISCLOSE Act will require political entities to reveal who contributes more than $10,000 to their campaign activities. Many people cite that no corporation donates a lot of money on campaigns without having an agenda to satisfy. Considering they are inclined towards making profits, contributing a few million dollars for political campaigns means that other there are agendas such as seeing the Obama care act removed. Majority of the advertisements placed on media for political campaigns are aimed at attacking certain issues instead of communicating their policies (Dowling & Miller, 2014). For instance, the 2010-midterm elections saw tax-exempt groups outspend the super PACs by about 3-to-2 margin. Most of the money was used to fund advertisements attacking the Democrats while defending the republicans. The Obama Care was one o the most attacked issue.

According to Franken (2012), a U.S Senator, “The DICLOSE Act will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten democratic system.” Lack of light on the motives of such corporations and wealthy groups raises so many questions. It leaves one wondering why a group will contribute so much money in secret. Mostly, when corporations contribute money for social welfare activities such as funding education, they are happy to declare it to the public. The check is signed in front of many people as a way of indicating corporate social responsibility. Conversely, the same organizations do not want to be seen making big contributions for political campaigns, which leave many questions unanswered.

It has become a norm for corporations and other independent groups to use political campaigns to air their issues secretly without letting people know they are involved. By revealing the donors, people would be in a position to know the motives of such groups, hence voting wisely. Furthermore, the politicians find it hard to deal with such donors when they engage in unethical and illegal activities for fear of losing their funds, which would make it hard to win in elections. As discussed earlier, the amount of money one spends in elections has a significant influence on the election results. Therefore, it is likely that politicians will favour donors in order to keep their jobs. This is the same as saying that such groups are running the government. Despite making a small number of players, they have more power in the government than the people do (Clements, 2012).

Any government that is subject to such influence will encounter serious problems in its governance. We seem to have created the political equivalent of secret Swiss bank accounts… In their lust for contributions … candidates and political operatives in both parties seem to be forgetting that they put their own credibility at risk,” (Moyers and Winship, 2014).  This creates loopholes for corruption within the government where politicians cannot rise up against their donors for fear of losing the funding, which is so important for their political campaigns. The fact that people have no idea who funds political campaigns leaves people unaware of the hidden agendas. If there is no wrong with making such contributions, corporations and other, groups should feel free to reveal their actions. This should be the case especially for corporations that are publicly owned so that shareholders have an idea where their money is spent.

Therefore, it is imperative to pass the bill in order to allow people to vote wisely, as well as keep the democratic system in check. The bill will be of great importance in preventing a few players in the country from determining the outcome of election results instead of people. Furthermore, it will prevent corruption that results when politicians cannot go against the hand that funds their campaigns.

Events Warranting the Bill

To understand the importance of passing the act, it is crucial to look at some of issues arising from allowing corporations and other private entities to make independent contributions in political campaigns. One of the current scandals concerns the activities of Internal Revenue Service in trying to figure out which groups applying for exemptions on tax are political in nature. According to Chris Van Hollen in an interview with Haffington post, passing the DISCLOSE Act would have made it quite easier for the Internal Revenue Service to figure out the groups that have political ties, (Blumenthal, 2013).

After the ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that allowed even not for profit organizations to contribute to political campaigns, many groups seeking tax exemption on the claim of being social welfare increased. This allows political groups to hide their donors, which makes it harder for the Internal Revenue Service to figure out which ones are legitimate. Without disclosure rules, the IRS is not in a position to know which groups are truly engaged in social welfare activities from those engaged in political ones (Rudman & Hagel, 2012). The IRS has come under scrutiny for allegedly targeting conservative groups in its efforts to find out which groups are engaged in social welfare. Many politicians have declared that it is not acceptable for IRS to target organizations for their political involvement. However, many are not considering that lack of disclosure rules on political campaigns, which allows them to hide their donors, makes it harder for IRS to do its job with ease.

IRS was found to have used inappropriate criteria in screening conservative groups that sought 501(2) (4) tax exemption. In addition, a report from the IG indicated that IRS failed at catching applications from unqualified organizations that should never use the tax exempt because they mainly engaged in political campaign activities only. Although IRS used inappropriate screening methods, no organization irrespective of its political stance should violate the tax laws. The DISCLOSE Act seeks more transparency on who donates money for political campaigns, as well as how it is used (Rudman & Hagel, 2012). Passing these rules would require all political parties to disclose their donors, the amount each makes and how the money is appropriated. This would allow the IRS to know the organizations that deserve to be exempted from tax and those that do not. For such reasons that can have some effect on government revenue collection through taxation, it is imperative that the bill passes.

Bill Process

Since it was first introduced in 2010, it has met defeat in both houses and has not made any significant progress despite so many people citing its importance. For a bill to become a law, it goes through several processes. The first one is the introduction, when a senator of representative brings a bill to the house. At this stage, it is handed to the house clerk, who issues it with a number and labels it with the sponsors’ name. In the case of the DISCLOSE Act, it was issued with the number H.R. 5175 (S.3628-Senate) and its main sponsors were Chris Van Hollen and Charles Schumer. The house passed the H.R. 5175 with a 219-206 vote while the senate passed the same, (S. 3628) with a 59-39 vote (Russell & Cohn, 2012).

After introduction, the bill was referred to the committee by speaker of the House. The decision to refer the bill to a committee can also be made by the House or Senate. In addition, the bill can be referred to more than one committee, with each given a certain time limit. The committee is supposed to allow government agencies to comment on its merits. At this stage, hearings can be held, subcommittees appointed, findings reported and a final vote by the committee is made. After this, a written report is made to explain their favour for the bill and any reasons for suggesting amendments (Russell & Cohn, 2012).

After it passed the introduction, president Obama expressed his regards to the house of representative for passing the legislation that would see stronger disclosure measures put in place to restrict the funding of political campaigns by organizations and foreign influence. However, he expressed his disappointment after the bill failed. It failed to pass the floor action where it is debated. During the voting, the bill was defeated and died. However, it has since been reintroduced again with the sponsors seeking more support.

Conclusion

In the previous elections, the number of wealthy individuals, corporations, non-profit and union organizations that were determined to see their favourite candidate enter the White House spent a lot of money on political campaigns. This resulted from the ruling on the  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case by Supreme Court that allowed such groups to contribute money for political campaigns without any limit. This has subsequently allowed a few groups to gain tremendous influence on the outcome of election. This is highlighted by the fact that majority of those who won in the 2012 elections spent more money than their opponents did. Furthermore, the number of organizations seeking tax-exempt under 501(2) (4) have increased, with majority citing to be involved in social welfare while the truth is that they engage in political activities. The IRS came under scrutiny for trying to figure out which organizations are not qualified for such exemption. The DISCLOSE Act would have allowed the IRS to find out organizations that do not qualify since their activities would be revealed. Finally, lack of disclosure about who funds the campaigns makes it impossible for voters to find out the real motives of such organizations (Rudman & Hagel, 2012). This goes further to eliminate wise and informed voting, hence compromising democracy. Therefore, it is imperative that the bill passes to prevent such occurrences.

 

 

References:

Baldino, T. J. & Kreider, K. L. (2011). U.S. election campaigns: A documentary and reference guide. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood.

Blumenthal, P. (2013). Chris Van Hollen: IRS Would Have Less Policing to do if Congress Passed Disclosure Laws. Huffington Post, retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/16/chris-van-hollen-irs_n_3286527.html

Clements, J. D. (2012). Corporations are not people: Why they have more rights than you do and what you can do about it. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Dowling, C. M. & Miller, M. G. (2014). Super PAC!: Money, elections, and voters after citizens united. New York, N.Y: Routledge.

Franken, A. (2012). Sen. Franken on Senate Floor: DISCLOSURE Act would Improve Public Dialogue, Help Americans make Better-Informed Election Decisions. Retrieved from http://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=hot_topic&id=2142

Magleby, D. B., & Corrado, A. (2011). Financing the 2008 election: Assessing reform. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.

Moyers, B. & Winship, M. (2014). Presto! The DISCLOSE Act Disappears. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-moyers/presto-the-disclose-act-d_b_1679743.html

OpenSecrets.org. (2013). 2012 Presidential Race. Retrieved from http://www.opensecrets.org/pres12/

Rudman, W. & Hagel, C. (2012). For Political Closure, We Need Disclosure. Retrieved from http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/for-political-closure-we-need-disclosure/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Russell, J. & Cohn, R. (2012). Citizens United V Federal Election Commission. Tbilis Georgia: Tbilisi State University.

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