DISCLOSE actions: Brown wants to give voice back to Americans in elections

Ohio citizens should have a louder voice in elections than corporate America, a U.S. senator says, and to help ensure middle-class Americans are heard the legislator is reintroducing the DISCLOSE Act.

“While Ohioans proved they couldn’t be bought, we need to address an electoral system that gives corporate special interest groups a louder voice in our democratic process than middle-class citizens,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday during a weekly media teleconference. “That is why I am calling for three common sense measures to curb the influence of special interest money in our democracy.”

Brown, who is a co-sponsor of the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, is calling for full disclosure of campaign activity — specifically the paying for or the sponsoring of advertisements or informational flyers in the mail — to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by special interest groups.

Brown, who noted $40 million from Super PACS was spent on advertisements to try and defeat him in his U.S. Senate re-election campaign against Republican Josh Mandel, said he has bipartisan support and noted U.S. Sen. John McCain has spoken against the millions spent to influence voters with attack ads from special interest groups and lobbyists.

The three main tenets of the act would require disclosure of campaign-related activity by special interests as well as banning “pay-to-play” by preventing government contractors and government bailout recipients from spending money on elections.

The second requirement would require the shareholders of a corporation, many who are middle class Americans whose pensions and 401(k)s are tied to companies, to vote to approve political expenditures in advance of any spending.

“Stockholders should be able to decide if corporate funds should be spent on political campaign ads or to be spent on creating jobs and paying out dividends,” Brown said.

He noted these non-profit groups should not be able to evade taxes by benefiting from tax-exempt status. He also said he believes it is wrong they are not required to register with the FEC or reveal their donors.

The third leg of the measure is the IRS should be able to investigate groups that file for non-profit status as “social welfare” organizations, “groups that serve no other purpose but to influence our elections.” He said they “should not be granted non-profit status, especially during these times of mounting fiscal challenges.”

Brown explained the bill does not overturn the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations the same rights as individuals in donating money toward an election. He said it does not limit the amount they can give, it only provides full disclosure so people are aware of who is making the donation and sponsoring the ad.

“The billionaires who are spending millions to influence our elections see their Super PAC contribution as an investment,” Brown said. “Lots of very wealthy people have publicly said they are looking for state tax repeal, they are looking for weaker environmental laws if they are in the oil business, they are looking for tax cuts. They see this as an investment for their own financial benefit.

“In no uncertain terms, Citizens United poisons our political process in far too many ways and that is why I am urging my colleagues to support the DISCLOSE Act,” he said. “As the Senate comes back to session this week, voters will hear pledges from newly sworn in officials, pledging to work across the aisle in a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation. There is no better place to start than the DISCLOSE Act where we can tamp down on spending, spending from the shadows at this election and we have a responsibility to stop corporations from trying to buy our country.”