On July 4, 1776, fifty-six delegates from the thirteen colonies stood up against a tyrannical British king and for the proposition that Americans would govern themselves through a finely balanced democratic process of voting.
We are both the beneficiaries and stewards of the legacy of those courageous delegates. Today, their work is at risk. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and the hundreds of millions of dollars it has unleashed into our elections, is as serious a threat to the underpinnings of our democracy as anything I have seen.
In its aftermath, select donors (or a handful of power brokers) can ensure that the candidates they sponsor are indebted to them – and them alone. By rejecting reasonable transparency requirements for those who want to influence elections, we put the electoral process up for silent auction. It's shameful. Democracy should never be for sale.
Almost 240 years later, it’s time for another Declaration of Independence. It is time to reassert the essential principle that all people have equal access to their government, which is accountable solely to them, regardless of their wealth or station. I know enough history to know that Jefferson, Jay, and Madison would never have envisioned or approved of the actions of the shadowy Super-PACs.
That is why I have joined over 140 of my colleagues in urging the leadership of the House of Representatives to bring the DISCLOSE Act up for a vote. The DISCLOSE Act would greatly improve the transparency of our elections by requiring independent groups to disclose the names of contributors who give more than $10,000 for use in political campaigns. It would force corporations, unions, and interest groups to disclose their campaign expenditures to their shareholders and members and stand by their political advertisements.
Unfortunately, the House leadership continues to refuse an up or down vote on this commonsense law, and Republicans in the Senate recently blocked the Senate version – even though the bill received 51 votes. For whatever reason, the GOP seems bent on keeping moneyed donors in the shadows. That’s too bad. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It may be true today that more money will line up behind Republican candidates. But that won’t always be true.
Of course, even if the DISCLOSE Act becomes law, corporations, wealthy individuals, unions, and interest groups will still be able to drive our democratic processes through limitless contributions. The truth is that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not solve the problems created by Citizens United.
With this in mind, I have co-sponsored two resolutions of Constitutional Amendment to reverse the effects of the Citizens United decision: House Joint Resolutions 78 and 111. And I am pledging to work, inside or outside of Congress, to see one or both of them passed and ratified. It will be a long and arduous process. With any luck, perhaps the Supreme Court will choose to reverse Citizens United. But until then, our democracy is at risk.