Last month, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act, legislation aimed at improving transparency in campaign-related spending. Senator Whitehouse’s attention is certainly warranted. Right now, corporations and labor unions can unload their treasuries into independent expenditures. Super PACs and traditional PACs are operating under the same roof. The relevant regulatory body, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), can’t decide if a candidate filming an advertisement specifically for a DNC TV spot qualifies as coordinating with the DNC. In short, campaign finance is a mess. Oddly enough, the revised edition of the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would not change any of that. Yet, by addressing one critical issue, the DISCLOSE Act has the potential to be the most important piece of legislation debated by Congress in 2012.
In 2010, the original DISCLOSE Act was plagued by controversial and politically motivated exemptions. Championed by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the bill eventually passed the House of Representatives, but it failed to attract the single Republican vote necessary to achieve cloture in the Senate. However, Senator Whitehouse’s reboot legislation seems to be more practically constructed. It steers clear of partisan exemptions and avoids a symbolic attempt to reinstate the limits that were struck down by the Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v. FEC.
Instead, the Whitehouse’s revised DISCLOSE Act focuses specifically on instituting disclosure rules and disclaimer requirements to fix holes created in the recent upending of American election law. Most importantly, the law would require organizations that file under 501(c)4 of the tax code to quickly report contributions if they spend money on campaign-related advertisements.