Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor on the DISCLOSE Act, which would bring more transparency and fairness to our elections. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:
When five conservative Justices handed down their opinion in Citizens United twelve years ago, the dissenters warned “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.”
Sadly they turned out to be right. By giving massive corporations the same rights as individual citizens – multibillionaires being able to have their voice shouted out, drowning out the views of citizens – by casting aside decades of campaign finance law, and by paving the way for powerful elites to anonymously pump endless cash into elections, Citizens United has disfigured our democracy almost beyond recognition.
Today, the Senate will vote to begin curing our nation of this cancer when we take the first procedural vote on the DISCLOSE Act. Democrats are ready to move forward.
Republicans today must face the music: either vote to bring transparency and fairness back to our elections—as the vast majority of Americans want—or block this measure and cast their lot with the forces of dark money.
So today is a very important day, and it would not be possible without the work of my friend and colleague, the Senator from Rhode Island, Senator Whitehouse.
More than anyone in this chamber, Senator Whitehouse has labored relentlessly to shine a light on the link between dark money and so many of the ills that plague our politics, from the radicalization of our courts, to the rise of climate deniers, and more. I thank him for his work – our entire caucus does. We stand with him, strongly, fervently in supporting this bill.
The need for the DISCLOSE Act is great. The past decade has been the most expensive in the history of American elections; billions have been raised and spent in super PAC and dark money. Because of Citizens United, a person’s ability to affect the democratic process has largely become a function of their net worth, in gross violation, gross violation, of what the framers intended when they believed in one person, one vote.
The DISCLOSE Act will remedy these ills with a very simple notion, that sunlight is the greatest of disinfectants. It would require super PACs and other dark money groups to report anyone contributing $10,000 or more during an election cycle. The same goes for any group spending money in support or in opposition to judicial nominees.
In other words, it would apply familiar forms of transparency that traditional campaigns and candidates already face when accepting political contributions.
I urge my colleagues to vote yes, all of us should vote yes. Every single one of us should vote yes because so many of the ills in our democracy are rooted in the primacy of dark money. We must rid ourselves of this foulness before it’s too late and our democracy could well become beyond saving.
Over the past few days, the Republican Leader has come to the floor and repeated the same timeworn, misleading arguments he’s used for years when trying to discredit campaign finance reform. I mean, part of his arguments just get to the point of absurdity.
Without a shred of irony, the Republican Leader, for instance, has claimed that the DISCLOSE Act is equivalent to “threatening the privacy” of individuals who want to make political contributions.
I would ask the Republican Leader: what about the privacy rights of tens of millions of women across the country? Those rights are now largely gone because radical Justices who were put on the court because of dark money in the first place. Does the Republican Leader really think that the supposed privacy of the billionaire donor class trumps the rights of women who’ve suffered the consequences of dark money spending?
He would also have us think that transparency requirements would add a burden to average Americans who want nothing more than simply exercise their political opinions.
That is bunkum: those with the power to cut ten thousand dollar checks, or million dollar checks, can tilt the tide of an entire election with a single donation. These are individuals with outsized influence that average Americans simply don’t have. And when the Supreme Court extended the First Amendment to absurd lengths in Citizens United, they went way beyond what the Founding Fathers would have intended and what the vast, overwhelming majority of Americans believe.
At a bare minimum, the public has a right to know—simply to know—who is behind these massive donations, because at the end of the day it is their rights that are on the line.
All these arguments are really just done to obscure the issue. It’s hard to believe that multi-billionaires will be intimidated if they have to disclose their attempts to influence elections. It’s just incredible that someone could argue that. But all these arguments are made for one purpose, by the Republican Leader and others, in my judgment, and that is to obscure what’s really at issue: the Republican Party for years has been built on a foundation of dark money. It is how they have hijacked our courts. It is how they have promoted groups that push for voter suppression. It is how they have killed climate policies for years, before Democrats finally pushed through our climate investments earlier this year.
In a healthy democracy, American voters alone should have the power to determine the nation’s leaders, without fear that their voices will be drowned out by powerful elites or special interests. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, well-connected or otherwise should not matter. We should all be equal in our exercise of the franchise. That doesn’t happen now, we all know that. The American people know it, over 80% despise dark money.
The DISCLOSE Act will help us restore that norm back into our politics, by instilling transparency that we desperately need. Americans are tired of the corrosive power of dark money in our politics. They know something has been deeply amiss for a long time, and that we need reforms to bring democracy back into balance.
So I urge my colleagues to support this measure. I urge my Republican colleagues to work with us to break the stranglehold that dark money has in our elections. This bill would be a very important and much-needed start.
Democracy cannot prosper without transparency. I strongly support passing this legislation so we can safeguard our electoral process and keep the dream of our founders alive in this century.