As the presidential campaign and bombardment of attacks ads that come with it kick into high gear, the issue of campaign finance is at the forefront, specifically the debate surrounding disclosure of donors to nonprofit organizations that get involved in political campaigns. Under current law, the names of those who donate a certain amount of money to candidates or parties must be released. The DISCLOSE Act would extend these standards to organizations, even those registered as nonprofits, that choose to fund TV commercials or other campaign materials. Republican lawmakers have stopped the legislation from becoming law, some arguing less disclosure is needed, not more.
At a speech at conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that the anonymity of those who donate to political organizations is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. "And that's why it is critically important for all conservatives—and indeed all Americans—to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so." He suggested that the Obama administration bullies those who donate to organizations critical of his presidency, citing an IRS investigation of the nonprofit status of some Tea Party-affiliated groups.
Wednesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen rebutted McConnell's claims in a speech at the National Press Club. "[O]ur democracy is strengthened when all of us participate openly in the political process, and that when people are deciding to use money to try and influence voters' decisions in an election, voters have a right to know who's financing those, and there's a very important public interest and public good advanced by those disclosure requirements." He countered McConnell's argument that disclosure suppresses freedom of speech: "Disclosure doesn't prevent any individual or corporation or union from running a single political advertisement."
Should there be less disclosure in campaign finance? Here's the Debate Club's take:
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen
Sheila Krumholz Executive Director at the Center for Responsive Politics.
David N. Bossie President of Citizens United and Citizens United Productions
David Keating President of Center for Competitive Politics