Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Sen. Kaufman Reiterates Support for the DISCLOSE Act

September 22, 2010

I rise to voice my support for the DISCLOSE Act.

The DISCLOSE Act has to do with the Citizens United case, where the Supreme Court went out of its way to overturn nearly 100 years of statutes and settled precedent that had established the authority of the Congress to limit the corrupting influence of corporate money in Federal elections. It is a truly astounding decision, and it broke with all precedent for 100 years.

The Court ruled--and this takes a little bit, and you have to suspend your mind to get this right--that corporations are absolutely free to spend shareholder money with the intent to promote the election or defeat of a candidate for political office. The corporations have freedom of speech. This is astounding.

Beyond ignoring precedent, the Court's reckless, immodest, and activist opinion failed to distinguish between the rights of purpose-built political advocacy corporations and profit-driven, large corporations to direct resources to influence elections. They came in and ruled that any corporation can spend corporate money on whatever races they want. By issuing the broadest possible opinion, the majority admitted of no differences between Citizens United and any major multinational corporation.

But this decision left important questions unresolved. Who determines what candidates the major multinational corporation supports or opposes? Think about it. Here are corporations run by managers. We all know the problems with boards of directors, and we have seen what has gone on in the last years with decisions by corporations. But they never said who in the corporation gets to make the decision. Can a manager of the corporation or a CEO say I am going to throw $40 million or $50 million into the political pot or should he have to go to shareholders to get it?

That is a gigantic amount of money in politics, but it is a mere pittance to a large corporation. Who determines what candidates the major multinational corporation supports or opposes? The boards of directors? The CEO? The employees? All these groups and individuals serve the corporation for the benefit of the shareholders.

How will the shareholders of these corporations learn who makes these decisions within the corporation? Even so, how are we to determine what speech the shareholders favor? How do you do that? You are running a corporation and you get up one morning and decide you are going to go against candidate X or Y. Have you asked your shareholders what to do with their money or whether they want to be against or for candidate X or Y? How is that decision made? Do we care if the shareholders are U.S. citizens or citizens of an economic, political, or military rival of the United States? The way this thing rules is that a corporation that is under the control of an economic, political, and military rival of ours anywhere in the world can now be involved in our campaigns. That is something we have never done before.

As it stands now, Citizens United allows corporate interests to prevail over the rights of American citizens--that is it, pure and simple--because they have so much in assets. A speaker in California said that money is the mother's milk of politics. Most Americans know that and they decry it. With this decision, it allows corporate interests to prevail over American citizens and overwhelms the contributions and the voices of shareholders and individuals, and it ultimately makes elected officials even more beholden to corporations.

I tell you what, I don't have to do a survey to find out that most Americans don't want elected officials more beholden to corporations, and I am a corporate guy. There is nothing wrong with corporations. But the American people don't want corporations having more control over elected officials.

Boardroom executives must not be permitted to raid the corporate coffers to promote personal political beliefs or to curry personal favor with elected politicians. That result is bad for corporations, bad for shareholders, and bad for government. We must ensure that the corporation speaks with the voice of its shareholders, and that those who would utilize the corporate forum to magnify their political influence do not do so for improper personal gain or to impose the will of a foreign power on American citizens.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has left us without the tools to directly affect any of these compelling public interests. The DISCLOSE Act cannot entirely undo the activism of the Roberts Court and shut off the spigot of corrupting corporate funds because they say it is unconstitutional. The Congress cannot overcome a constitutional violation that was made by the Supreme Court. That is fundamental to our system. But it will serve as a bulwark against the flood of corporate money and help resolve the open questions created by the Court in Citizens United.

The act will shine a spotlight on corporate spending and prevent corporations from speaking anonymously by increasing disclosure and strengthening transparency in Federal campaigns.

Transparency--if you came to the floor since Buckley v. Valeo, in 1974, the first campaign finance ruling, you would have found my colleagues, led by their majority leader, speaking passionately about transparency, transparency, transparency. Now we have a bill where no one knows who is spending the money, and there is no movement on the other side. In fact, there is a filibuster against this bill, which would allow transparency. That is the main thing to do. It can't change the rules because the Supreme Court says it is then constitutional. We are trying to deal with transparency, something that has been a hallmark--if you take a debate over the last 30 years on financing of elections and put all of those papers up on a wall, and you throw a dart, the chance that you would hit a Member on the other side of the aisle talking about transparency is pretty high.

So you have to ask: Why would they be opposed to shining a spotlight on corporate spending and prevent corporations from anonymously increasing disclosure and increasing transparency in Federal campaigns?

Not only does the act require the corporation, organization, and special interest groups to stand by their political advertising like a candidate running for office--when we had McCain-Feingold, I think most Americans liked this. If you were going to put up an ad, you would say: I am Ted Kaufman and I approve this ad. There were a lot of jokes about it, but you knew who paid for the ad. But they don't want to do this with corporate money. I can go to a big corporation and start a committee to save the world, and I can pour $35 million into it and spend it around the country, and I never have to disclose that it is me.

Under this act, CEOs would be required to identify themselves in their advertisements just like political candidates, and corporations and organizations will be required to disclose their political expenditures.

All we are asking is, if a corporation spends $35 million on a political race, they have to disclose that, like elected officials and everybody else has to do now. The other thing we say is, if a corporation is going to spend money in a race, the person in charge--the CEO--has to say what every elected official and Federal officeholder has had to say in recent years, since McCain-Feingold--that ``I am Joe Brown and I support this ad.'' Disclosure is exactly what our friends on the other side of the aisle were supporting.

Directors of public companies may still be able to hijack shareholder money to promote their own narrow interests. But thanks to the DISCLOSE Act, shareholders will be able to determine when they have done so.

The act will prevent foreign-controlled corporations from secretly manipulating elections by funneling money to front groups to fund last-minute attack ads and other anonymous election advertisements. But they can also be 6 months in advance. Last minute is because you don't want them to know you did an ad. They can do it 6 months before the election, and nobody knows who did the ad.

If we fail to respond to the threat that the Citizens United decision poses to our democracy, then I fear the public confidence in its government will continue to erode, precisely when bold congressional action is needed. It is not bad enough that the Congress has an incredibly low approval rating. You vote for someone because you think they are X, and all the time they are being supported by corporation Y. Our ability to meet the Nation's pressing needs depends on our ability to earn and maintain the public's trust. That is what we have all learned and know.

How do you maintain public trust? To not get involved in this bait and switch, where there is an organization saying one thing and it is doing something else. Earning that trust--the trust of the American people--will be all the more difficult in a world in which corporate money is allowed to drown out the voice of individuals and corrupt the political process. This is basic to our society and what we believe in. The American people deserve much better. I think it is important that we pass the DISCLOSE Act.

Print this Page E-mail this Page