June 19, 2018
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What are they hiding?

You would think that lawmakers of both parties would rush to support a proposed law requiring prompt public disclosure of political campaign contributions by super PACs, labor unions, corporations, environmental lobbies, the National Rifle Association and other big donors. But the 114 co-sponsors of a bill in the House of Representatives for the “Disclose 2012 Act” are all Democrats.

Both parties have come out strongly for transparency and accountability, but where are the Republicans on this bill?

The law, proposed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, would take a powerful first step in controlling the huge flow of campaign money now permitted. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission threw out the limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions and opened the way for the huge super PACs that dominate this year’s campaign spending.

The bill would require corporations, unions, super PACs and outside groups to report campaign spending of $10,000 or more within 24 hours. The leaders would have to stand publicly behind their campaign-related ads, including the ferocious “attack ads.” The bill would also require lobbyists to report their political expenditures.

A broader bill in 2010 lost to a Republican filibuster backed strongly by the United States Chamber of Commerce. Its president and CEO, Thomas J. Donohue, said: “It’s unconstitutional. It’s un-American. And it must be stopped.”

Maine’s two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, joined in the 2010 filibuster, voting against a cloture move that failed by one vote. Sen. Snowe noted in an emailed statement that she is a longtime supporter of full disclosure in campaign advertising. She said the 2010 Disclose Act bill did not apply equally to labor unions and corporations and had provisions that limited free speech. She said: “I understand that some in the Senate are working on a new version of the DISCLOSE Act, and I will thoroughly review the bill when it is introduced.”

Maine’s Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the current bill, calling it “a major step forward on transparency.” But she also favors a constitutional amendment reversing the Citizens United decision.

Maine’s other representative, Mike Michaud, also a Democrat, has not joined in sponsoring the current bill, but he voted for the broader Disclose bill in 2010.

In the 2008 presidential election, about half of $135 million spent by outside groups went unreported, according to the the Hill’s Congress Blog, an online publication. It said that in the 2012 campaign about 40 percent of television advertising — $24 million worth — has been funded by nonprofit groups that never reveal their contributors.

American voters need to know, fully and promptly, who is behind massive political spending by both parties that the Supreme Court has permitted. The proposed Disclose 2012 Act would be a firm step in that direction.

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