by LISA ROSENBERG, Sunlight Foundation
As we wrote yesterday, the Senate will vote on the DISCLOSE Act on Monday. In a series of blog posts we explain “What You Should Know About the DISCLOSE Act.” This morning we answer the question, “How does the DISCLOSE Act shine a light on Super PACs and dark money?”
As a reminder, in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court overturned a century of law and decided that unlimited sums of money from corporations (and by extension, labor unions) could be used in elections as long as the expenditures were “independent” of candidates’ campaigns. Super PACs, officially known as independent expenditure only committees, and 501(c) nonprofit organizations, also known as “social welfare” organizations, are the two main vehicles that have been funneling hundreds of millions of dollars of undisclosed “dark money” into the 2012 elections.
Dark money is poisonous to our democracy because it fully undermines the theory of an informed and educated electorate. It is “dark” because its sources are hidden from the public. There are virtually no disclosure rules that apply to 501(c) organizations and, in the case of Super PACs, the limited disclosure that applies is often not timely enough to be meaningful to voters. Additionally, because donations to Super PACS can be laundered through shell 501(c) organizations, the actual donors may never be disclosed.
Because of dark money, voters have no idea what interests are represented behind the electioneering ads they see. It is hard for voters to determine the credibility of a message if we don’t know who is speaking. [MORE]