The DISCLOSE Act is sponsored in the House by Representative Van Hollen and in the Senate by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and has been introduced in each of the past two Congresses.
In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court, while striking down the ban on corporate expenditures in federal elections, upheld, by an 8 to 1 vote, disclosure requirements for groups making independent expenditures in federal elections. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today.”
But five years later, an “effective disclosure” system still does not exist. Since Citizens United, outside groups have spent more than $500 million in secret contributions to influence presidential and congressional elections.
The DISCLOSE Act would close the loopholes that have allowed dark money to flood into our elections. The Act requires groups that spend a total of $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures to file a disclosure report with the FEC within 24 hours and to file a new report each time they spend an additional $10,000 or more.
The reports must list the names of donors and amounts given of $10,000 or more to the organization. The spending group, however, has the alternative of setting up a separate bank account to make all of its campaign-related expenditures and only disclosing donors of $10,000 or more to that account. In these circumstances, the organization must make all of its campaign expenditures from the separate bank account.
The campaign-related expenditures covered by the disclosure provisions include public communications that contain express advocacy or the functional equivalent of express advocacy, and that contain “electioneering communications.”
“Electioneering communications” are defined to include any broadcast ad which refers to a federal candidate and is broadcast any time after January 1 of the election year for congressional candidates up to the November general election, and any time after the 120 days prior to the first presidential primary for presidential candidates up to the November general election.
The legislation includes provisions to prevent non-disclosing groups from evading the new disclosure requirements by transferring funds to other groups to spend on campaign-related activities.