Sen. Franken's Floor Statement on the DISCLOSE Act
M. President, "[c]learly the American public has a right to know who is paying for ads, and who is attempting to influence elections. Sunshine is what the political system needs."
"We can try to regulate ethical behavior by politicians, but the surest way to cleanse the system is to let the Sun shine in."
"I don't like it when a large source of money is out there funding ads and is unaccountable."
"I think the system needs more transparency, so people can more easily reach their own conclusions."
"I support campaign finance reform, but to me that means individual contributions, free speech and full disclosure."
"Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate."
"The issue is expenditures, expenditures, expenditures; and the issue, the real issue, if we really want to do something about campaign finance reform, is disclosure, disclosure, disclosure."
"Disclosure helps everyone equally to know how their money is spent. [...] Disclosure is what honesty and fairness in politics is all about. Why would anyone fight against disclosure?"
M. President, these are excellent points. And the fact is, they were made by seven different members of this body, all from my friends on the other side of the aisle. They were made either on the floor of this body, or to the press. So let there be no doubt-for a long, long time, disclosure of election spending has been a robustly bipartisan issue.
But suddenly, each of my friends has changed his or her tune. They now oppose legislation, called the DISCLOSE Act, that would force companies, non-profits, and unions to disclose the money that they spend in our elections-both to the Federal Elections Commission and to the American people.
Here's one reason why they may have changed their tune: thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United, corporations today have more power to spend in our elections than they have had in our lifetimes. In that decision, the Roberts Court broke with a century of precedent, overturned two federal laws, reversed two of its own decisions, and nullified 24 state laws-including a 20-year-old Minnesota law. And the Supreme Court did all that to allow corporations to spend as much money as they want, whenever they want, in our elections.
And not just federal elections: state elections, county elections, school board elections.
Here's another reason my friends have changed their tune: those corporations are using their newfound power to disproportionately benefit my friends across the aisle. Since August 1st, Republican interest groups have outspent Democratic interest groups five to one. And these corporations are funneling millions upon millions of dollars into our elections without anyone knowing where that money came from.
It's no accident that they're so eager to influence elections, and to do so anonymously. You know why? Congress has finally stepped in to protect consumers from abuses by big businesses that have been allowed for far too long to write their own rules.
And corporations won't spend money on just any election. They're going to spend it when we, the Congress, try to pass laws that are tough on Wall Street or health insurance companies. They're going to spend it when your city council debates whether to allow a new toxic waste dump from being set up in town. They're going to spend it when anyone tries to pass consumer and environmental laws that protect our families and our homes. And the best part of it is that they don't want anyone to know that they're doing it.
That's why we need the DISCLOSE Act. The DISCLOSE Act will allow Americans to know how and which corporations-and unions-are trying to influence elections. The DISCLOSE Act will make sure that we don't need a permission slip from big business to run our communities.
And let me repeat what it will do. First and foremost, the DISCLOSE Act is about disclosure, hence the "DISCLOSE" Act. It will force CEOs, union heads, and the leaders of advocacy groups-along with their top contributors-to be identified in the ads they pay for. These same groups-corporations, non-profits, and unions-would be required to disclose their top donors to the Federal Election Commission.
If a company has shareholders, they're going to have to disclose their expenditures to those shareholders, in periodic reports and on their websites.
Now, some of my friends across the aisle are saying that the DISCLOSE Act isn't just about disclosure. That it's got some other stuff in there. You know what? They're right. It's got a few other things in there.
What are they? A prohibition on spending by companies receiving taxpayer money in the form of major government contracts-or TARP funds that they have yet to pay back.
What else? A prohibition on expenditures by companies where a foreign individual or company has a controlling share, as it is defined by Delaware and 30 other states of the country. This is a provision that I authored, and that Senator Schumer included in this piece of legislation.
I welcome the opportunity to debate those provisions. I welcome them. So far, some of my friends will not allow that debate to happen, and the American people will continue to suffer for it. So I urge all of my colleagues to allow debate on this important bill.
Before, let me quote again, a prominent friend on the other side of the aisle: "Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate."
Thank you, M. President, and I yield the floor.