July 17, 2012

VIDEO: Current Campaign Finance Law Allows Secret Foreign Influence, GOP Senator Brushes Off Concerns

A Chinese, Russian, or Venezuelan corporation can legally influence American elections in secret, simply by setting up a corporation here, then funding a 501(c) group with some innocuous name to run attack ads. The ads could help elect lawmakers who support trade or foreign policy issues favorable to these countries, and the whole process would be perfectly legal and undisclosed under our current campaign finance system.

Shouldn’t Americans at least have a right to know?

Yesterday, every single Republican Senator, even several lawmakers who have called for complete campaign transparency in the past, voted to filibuster the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would force all campaign advocacy groups to disclose equally. The legislation would not limit communications, but simply force 501(c) groups to disclose the same way in which PACs and Super PACs are required. Currently, 501(c) groups — like “American Action Network” — face zero public disclosure, yet are spending hundreds of millions to influence elections this year.

And earlier today, there was another vote on the bill, which met the same result.

Zaid Jilani and I spoke to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) as he prepared to cast his vote against disclosure today. We raised the issue that in the new post-Citizens United campaign system, critics, including Justice John Paul Stevens, have noted that there is a real threat of secret foreign influence. Blunt ignored the problem, telling us it isn’t “serious” and he regards disclosure votes as “messaging” opportunities for his opposition party:

BLUNT: If we had a Disclose Act, we ought to be disclosing the budget, the appropriations bills, and where members stand on things we can do something about.

FANG: Absolutely. One argument that’s made in support of the Disclose Act is that, let’s say a Chinese corporation has a subsidiary here, and it funds a group, you know, Americans for Puppies or whatever, and that group runs ads for lawmakers who support Chinese trade policies. Do you think Americans have a right to know if a Chinese corporation is doing that sort of thing?

BLUNT: Lee, what I told you was, I think this isn’t a serious legislative issue and they know it and that’s why we voted on it twice in two days and when it’s serious I’ll talk about it like it’s serious.

Watch the video above.

As I’ve noted, many Republicans once supported full campaign disclosure. Over a decade ago, GOP senators, including John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Olmypia Snowe (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) gave serious speeches in favor of disclosing outside money.

Now that corporations can spend limitless amounts influencing elections, every single member has flipped his or her position.


UPDATE: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and CREDO Action have announced that over 260,000 people signed the petition to support the DISCLOSE Act by Monday. “Taking back our democracy is a marathon, not a sprint. Although we haven’t yet gotten big corporate donors out of the shadows, this week we flushed many Republican politicians out of the shadows and exposed them back home as the corrupt politicians they are,” said PCCC co-founder Adam Green.