WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken joined a group of his fellow Senate Democrats in announcing legislation on Wednesday to force so-called super PACs to disclose more information about their donors.
Current Federal Election Commission rules require super PACs to disclose anyone who gives more than $200, but there are loopholes allowing outside organizations to donate to them with their financiers hidden.
The Senate bill, called the “Disclose Act,” requires corporations and unions to file reports with the FEC whenever they spend $1,000 on a race and file the names of donors who give $10,000 or more. The bill also requires organizations list their top funders in television or radio ads they purchase, and the head of the organization would be required to appear in the ad and approve the message, just as candidates do.
Super PACs are political action committees allowed to raise and spend as much money as they can, but they are barred from coordinating with individual campaigns. They were created following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010, and opponents say the lack of donation limitations and weak disclosure laws have made Super PACs a corrupting force in elections.
The Disclose Act sponsors, led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Charles Schumer of New York, said enhanced disclosure laws such as this are allowed under the ruling. A version of the bill fell one vote short of passing the Senate in 2010, but the current version is cleaned up and simplified, sponsors said.
“If I get a contribution for $200 from a contributor, I disclose it and I have to do it in a timely way,” Franken said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “For every Sheldon Adelson [who has openly donated at least $16 million to a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC], there are hundreds if not thousands of corporations and large individual donors who are not disclosing.”
Since 2012 is the first presidential election since the Citizens United decision, it’s the first big opportunity for super PACs and their backers to flex their muscles. The three leading remaining Republican presidential candidates have at least one super PAC backing their campaigns, and President Obama gave his blessing to one of his own last month. Several others are focusing on congressional races or organizing efforts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics: “386 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of $139,197,784 and total independent expenditures of $79,452,775 in the 2012 cycle.”
Thirty-four Senators — all Democrats, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar — have sponsored the bill, but bill sponsors contend they can secure support from Republican members.
“I think if we can channel the public’s impatience with what they’re seeing out there, and the public’s concern about what’s happening to this great American democracy, we can find people who will come across the aisle with us,” Whitehouse said.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry