Guest Editorials, Opinion

Disclosure of large sums of money to influence elections is imperative

Senate Republicans are bending over backward to block a bill that would tell the public who is giving large sums of money to groups that take out ads telling Americans to vote for or against candidates for federal office. This is a fight Democrats deserve to win.

Sheldon Whitehouse’s Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections — the DISCLOSE Act — would expose the identity of all donors who give $10,000 or more in a year to independent organizations that engage in direct electioneering. Anyone who gives a smaller sum would remain anonymous, as would anyone who specifies when giving to a group their donation not be used for such ads, as would anyone who gives to an entity that engages in issue advocacy but doesn’t tell people to support or oppose candidates.

Republicans trot out a parade of horror stories about donors who might have good cause to shield their identities. Think of the gun-rights true believer in New York who worries that giving to an NRA advocacy wing might land their business on boycott lists, or a wealthy individual in a red state who wants to give to Planned Parenthood Action Fund without inviting protest.

We sympathize, but such individuals motivated by fealty to a cause have many options of where to direct their money. When they handsomely underwrite an enterprise that tells voters to defeat or elect a candidate for the House, Senate or president, or create a group with a nonsense name expressly for the purpose of influencing elections, the right of the public to know who they are — and then guard against pay-to-play influence-peddling — overrides the contributor’s right to stay in the shadows.

The bill is good public policy. Court interpretations of the First Amendment we support say there’s no real way to outright bar most independent spending on elections, but — as even Justice Antonin Scalia understood — that doesn’t mean Congress can’t or shouldn’t demand transparency. Pass the DISCLOSE Act and show the people who’s behind the curtain.

This editorial first appeared in New York Daily News on Friday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.