Voter-ID Laws Just the Tip of the Iceberg

There's more than one way to disenfranchise voters. What about anonymous corporate campaign donors?

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This secrecy is not compelled by Citizens United. Although the Supreme Court held in that case that corporations and unions cannot be limited in their political giving, nothing in the decision gives corporations the right to give secretly to campaigns. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy talked favorably about the importance of disclosure.

To shed more light on the sources of campaign-ad donations, Senate Democrats have proposed the Disclose Act (pdf), legislation that would require disclosure of the identity of groups spending more than $10,000 on campaign ads and donors contributing more than $10,000. This would allow voters to have information about whether and which corporations or unions are supporting candidates for public office.

But Republicans have reacted bizarrely, suggesting that corporations must be able to give to political campaigns in secret. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has hysterically described the Disclose Act as an attempt by President Obama to “identify and punish political enemies.” Others have described the law as an affront to the First Amendment and “un-American.”

The GOP’s Misguided Defense of Secrecy

Since when did secret campaign money become a core American value for which one of our two major political parties is willing to fight? What could be more American than demanding that voters know which individuals or groups are influencing and controlling elections? What could be better for informed voting than information that allows voters to know which interests stand behind candidates running for office?

McConnell has argued that asking groups running political ads to disclose their donors runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s ruling in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the court held that the NAACP need not disclose its membership lists to state officials who were clearly bent on intimidating local support for the organization during the civil rights movement. But this is an absurd and false comparison. The Supreme Court recognized in McDonnell v. FEC that campaign disclosures are distinct from the membership-list information sought by the state of Alabama in the NAACP case — an aspect of the McDonnell case that was not overturned by the court’s decision in Citizens United.