Business and personal cards, that is. Once again, the word “disclose” is in the air. A federal appeals court recently ruled that big spending political groups must disclose their donors, despite Federal Election Commission fudging on the issue.(1) New light is also being focused on the much ignored second part of the Supreme Court’s naïve and devastating Citizens United decision—which clearly states that full disclosure of donor identity is required.(2) And according to YES! Magazine, as of Spring, 2012, ten states have already passed DISCLOSE bills, with a new one being debated in the California legislature right now (AB 1648).(3) So it’s time for the rest of us to be heard again too.
Of course, as we all know, the Supreme Court cannot actually make laws or federal regulations (except by destroying them). Their having reaffirmed the requirement for disclosure might seem just pitiful, given what’s going on in political advertising now. However, if even a conservative majority of the Court felt the need to explicitly uphold disclosure in political ads, maybe there’s some hope. Perhaps some other brave campaign finance veterans besides Senator McCain will back a new Senate DISCLOSE bill. According to a May 20th, 2012 New York Times house editorial, McCain has shown interest in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D, RI) new DISCLOSE bill, which requires “timely public disclosure of donors writing checks of $10,000 and more.” The bill also includes “‘stand by your ad’ identifications from the five biggest donors.”(4) Even though it has little chance to pass in this poisonous pre-election period, the attempt to create a new DISCLOSE bill would spotlight the issue anew.
As for other approaches to the Citizens United problem, no matter what the Supreme Court decides about the state of Montana’s right to outright ban corporate political contributions, the closely related issue of federal disclosure should remain up. Though the effort to get a constitutional amendment about who really has the right to free speech is vital, it is a long term project.(5) A vigorous “disclose” campaign now could call even greater attention to the pressing need for such an amendment.
So let’s all say “cards on the table” again, as loudly as we can! We Americans must stop gambling with our country’s future. Let’s call the “cardsharks’” bluff!
l. The New York Times, 4.02.2012, “A Judge Turns on the Light.”
The FEC had ruled that only money that was explicitly contributed for political purposes had to be disclosed, creating a general “donations” loophole that became a superhighway, for deceptive, so-called “issue ads” that actually mentioned candidate names. Although it is probable that the federal court ruling will be appealed, it is also likely that it will be upheld.
2. The New York Times, 5.20.12, mentioned the court’s opinion on disclosure in its house editorial, “Bring Back the Real Maverick.”
3. Spring 2012, p. 38.
4. See note 2 above.
5. Let’s also say “Corporations are things people made up,” and “Free speech is for honest people.” Getting the “not” out of our slogans will make them more effective.
‘Stand by your ad’ is nice, but we need to highlight the dishonesty aspect more than that, in my view.