Once again, the politicians in Washington have gone to bat for secretive fat cats.It happened earlier this week – you may have missed the story – when Senate Republicans voted twice to bury the principle of full disclosure. A proposed law, the long-gestating DISCLOSE Act, would have required that large anonymous donors be openly identified, so that the American people could at least find out who’s bankrolling the Super PACs. The bill’s principle was quite simple: sunlight is better than secrecy; voters should be empowered with knowledge rather than kept in the dark.But, alas, the dark money continues to pile up. According to “very conservative” projections from the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS (big surprise), and the Koch brothers front group, Americans for Prosperity (big surprise), have already spent $127 million in secret cash during the ’12 cycle. Sunlight staffer Lee Durtman writes that his estimate “likely represents just the tip of a dark money iceberg that’s on a collision course with the all-American ideal that democracies should be transparent and that everyone’s vote should count equally.”Which kind of explains why the Senate Republicans, who once championed the principle of disclosure (Mitch McConnell, 1997: “Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so that voters can judge for themselves”) have now decided that principle is a luxury that they literally cannot afford. Not when all that dark money is being lavished on their behalf.So it was inevitable that Senate Democrats would bring up the sunlight bill, and that the Republicans – in another episode of government-by-filibuster – would unite to block it. And how predictable it was to see John McCain, formerly so mavericky about campaign reform, vote twice in sync with his party brethren to keep the public in the dark.But in the midst of this funeral dirge for full disclosure, there was one fascinating episode on Tuesday afternoon. It featured Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. I caught her floor speech on C-Span. I yield the floor to her:”(Large anonymous donations to Super PACs) are corrosive to democracy. And at a very minimum, the American people deserve to know who is really behind the organizations, who’s funding them, and what their real agendas are. If you were to ask the average American on the street, ‘Do you think it’s reasonable that there be full disclosure of where the campaign dollars are coming from,’ I think the average American would say yes….”I don’t think anybody assumed that what (the Citizens United ruling) would lead to is the ability of an individual to give millions of dollars to influence an election – and yet not be subject to a level of disclosure that is fair….I want us to have reforms when it comes to disclosure. (Americans tell their elected leaders) ‘We want to know that you’re open and transparent.'”For the life of me, I can’t fathom why it is appropriate that the name, the address, and the occupation of the individual (donating directly to an official campaign) must be disclosed – that’s what is required by law – but, somehow or other, there is (an exemption) for someone who gives a million dollars, 15 million dollars, to a (Super PAC), and that they can do it in secrecy. I don’t think that makes sense, and it doesn’t make sense to anyone out on the street.”Amazing, a Senate Republican, standing up for common sense! But then came the inevitable caveat:”(Disclosure reform) is not going to be happening here….This is an issue we can’t resolve today, let’s accept the fact, we gotta move forward.”In translation, here’s what she said: Even though I admit that protecting anonymous fat cats is corrosive to democracy, I have to vote in lockstep with my Republican colleagues who endorse further corrosion. I do want disclosure reform to happen, but since it’s not going to be happening here, I’ll vote with the folks who don’t want it to happen.So Murkowski joined with the rest of the Republicans in a procedural move that barred the bill from advancing. Senate parliamentary politics at its finest. Heck, that GOP crowd is even farther to the right than the Supreme Court, which contended in Citizens United that full disclosure would help citizens “make informed choices in the political marketplace.”It was at least refreshing, albeit briefly, to hear a Senate Republican say what she really believed; it’s just sad that she felt compelled to vote against what she really believed. My guess is that other Senate Republicans would love to come out of the closet in favor of disclosure, but resist doing so for reasons of party loyalty. And how tragic this is for democracy, which thrives best in the sunlight.
Speaking of secrecy, we have new polling feedback on Mitt Romney’s refusal to release multiple years of his tax returns. According to USA Today/Gallup, Americans want him to open up – by a margin of 17 percentage points, 54 to 37. Among swing-voting independents, 53 percent feel that way. Even 30 percent of Republicans feel that way.
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