Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie Attacks DISCLOSE Act as Crossroads GPS, the Brainchild of Gillespie and Republican  Operative Karl Rove, Spends Tens of Millions of Dollars in Secret Contributions in 2010 Elections

Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

In an op-ed article that appeared today in The Washington Post, former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie attacked the DISCLOSE Act as "a new campaign finance reform bill that would force the disclosure of donors but carefully adjust the disclosure thresholds to exempt labor unions,"and characterized it as a "transparently political effort."

Gillespie made his attack on the effort to obtain disclosure of donors funding campaign expenditures at the same time that Crossroads GPS, the brainchild of Gillespie and Republican operative Karl Rove, is spending tens of millions of dollars in secret contributions to influence the 2010 congressional races.

The DISCLOSE Act which Mr. Gillespie attacks as a "transparently political effort" is supported by nonpartisan reform groups such as the League of Women Voters, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21.

Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, for example, which asked for an IRS investigation of the pro-Republican group, Crossroads GPS, last week to determine if it was violating its tax status, previously sought FEC investigations of two pro-Democratic groups in the 2004 presidential campaign. Our FEC complaint resulted in findings that the two pro-Democratic groups had illegally spent over $150 million to support Democratic candidates in the 2004 election and in the payment by the two groups of  civil penalties of more than $1.3 million.

The disclosure thresholds in the DISCLOSE Act, which Mr. Gillespie attacks in his op-ed, are fair and appropriate, and based on similar disclosure thresholds enacted in past laws, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed in 2002 and signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The DISCLOSE Act would carry forward a forty-year old principle of campaign finance laws that campaign contributions and expenditures should be disclosed to the public.

Until now there has been a consensus in the country in support of the disclosure of campaign finance contributions being used to pay for expenditures to influence elections.

The Supreme Court by an 8 to 1 vote confirmed that consensus in the otherwise disastrous Citizens United decision. In that decision, the Court upheld the constitutionality and appropriateness of requiring disclosure of contributions and expenditures for precisely the kind of campaign activities being conducted in the 2010 congressional races by tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups like Crossroads GPS.

The Supreme Court said in Citizens United, "that such disclosure requirements do not prevent anyone from speaking," and serve governmental interests in "providing the electorate with information" about money spent to influence elections so they can "make informed choices in the political marketplace."

In this Congress, however, congressional Republicans abandoned their longstanding support for campaign finance disclosure requirements.

In 2000, legislation to require 527 groups to disclose their campaign contributions and expenditures received the votes of 48 out of 54 Republican Senators. But in this Congress not one Republican Senator has been willing to vote to allow the DISCLOSE Act to be considered by the Senate.

As a result, the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House in June, remains one vote short of the 60 votes necessary to be acted on by the Senate. The battle to enact the DISCLOSE act will continue in the post-election session of this Congress.

Efforts to negotiate changes in the DISCLOSE Act to respond to any problems that Republican Senators have with the legislation have been flatly rejected, to date, even by Republican Senators who have been longtime supporters of campaign finance disclosure laws.

Mr. Gillespie in his article gives no indication that he would support any kind of disclosure law that would require the organization he and Rove conceived, Crossroads GPS, to disclose the contributors secretly funding the organization’s campaign activities. This is not surprising given the fact that his organization advertises on its website, "Crossroads GPS‘s policy is to not provide the names of its donors to the general public."

The recent news reports that the Chamber of Commerce receives foreign contributions points out an important reason why it is essential to enact the DISCLOSE Act.

Currently, any tax-exempt organization can both accept foreign money and make expenditures to influence elections. Absent disclosure, there is no way for the public to know whether a tax-exempt group making campaign expenditures has received foreign money that it may be using for campaign expenditures.

Furthermore, as The Washington Post points out in an editorial today:

The real threat from the chamber’s campaign activities is from secret domestic cash. The chamber expects to spend $50 million this election cycle, but where is the money coming from? Pharmaceutical companies? Oil companies? Banks?

The Post editorial concludes:

The Disclose Act would require that these groups reveal the funders of campaign ads; it would do so without intruding on the privacy of contributors to other efforts unrelated to campaigns. The 2010 flood of secret money can’t be turned off. It’s essential to act in time for 2012.

When Congress returns for its post-election session, it should enact the DISCLOSE Act to ensure  that voters in future elections know who is providing the money being spent on campaign expenditures to influence their votes.

Voters have a basic right to know this information as the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the Citizens United decision.