July 16, 2012
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the DISCLOSE Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The end of democracy… will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”
Campaign finance reforms protected against the kind of corruption Jefferson foresaw by limiting political spending by corporations.
Then the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision, rolling back a century of work to make elections transparent and credible.
The result of Citizens United has been a flood of corporate, special-interest campaign spending by shadowy front groups with questionable motives.
Not since the days of Teddy Roosevelt – a Republican who put a stop to unlimited corporate donations – has America seen this kind of out-of-control spending to influence elections.
Democrats – and a majority of Americans – believe the Supreme Court got it very wrong on Citizens United.
Anonymous spending by so-called non-profits – often backed by huge corporate donors or a few wealthy individuals – used to make up 1 percent of election spending. After the landmark decision, it rose to a whopping 44 percent of spending.
There's no question the Citizens United decision opened the door for big corporations and foreign entities to secretly spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections, undermining the fairness and integrity of the process.
Let’s look at the state of Nevada. Through the first part of this year, more money has been spent per capita on TV ads in Nevada than in any other battleground state in the country.
Most of the ads have been funded by anonymous groups flush with cash from big oil, Wall Street, foreign gaming interests and other industries seeking greater influence in Washington.
Voters in Nevada and across the country deserve to know who paid for these ads.
We’ve proven that it’s possible to remove the veil of secrecy from outside money, and make the process more transparent.
We can require large political donors to disclose their identities, so voters can judge their motivations for themselves.
Requiring large donors to disclose their identities isn’t a new concept.
In fact, Senator McConnell and many of his Republican colleagues once supported it.
The legislation before the Senate today – the DISCLOSE Act – would require disclosure of donations in excess of $10,000 if they will be used for campaign purposes.
The bill treats all political entities equally – whether they are unions, corporations, business associations or SuperPACs.
And, contrary to Republican claims, this legislation wouldn’t require organizations to turn over membership rosters or lists of grassroots donors.
Rather, it would prevent corporations and wealthy individuals from using front groups to shield their donations from disclosure.
Yet my Republican colleagues – with rare exception – have lined up against this common-sense legislation.
Their newfound opposition to transparency makes one wonder who they’re trying to protect.
Perhaps Republicans want to shield the handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election?
These donors have something in common with their nominee. Like Mitt Romney, they believe they play by their own set of rules.
Mitt Romney has refused to release his tax returns.
From the one and only return we’ve seen, we know Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than many middle class families.
We know he has a Swiss bank account.
And we know he takes advantage of tax shelters in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
But we can only guess what new secrets would be revealed if we could examine a dozen years of tax returns.
Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney set the standard for presidential elections. He released 12 years of tax returns, so Americans could evaluate his record for themselves.
Even nominees for cabinet posts are required to release three years of tax returns, and declare financial holdings worth more than $1,000.
Romney’s refusal to be open and honest would disqualify him from being a cabinet secretary.
And his penchant for secrecy makes Americans wonder, what is he hiding?
Thomas Jefferson famously argued that democracy depends on an informed electorate.
If that’s true, and I believe it is, it stands to reason that disclosure can only strengthen our democracy.
But don’t take my word for it. As my friend, Mitch McConnell said: “Disclosure is the best disinfectant.”