Shaheen & Hassan Introduce Legislation to Crack Down on “Dark Money” in Elections

April 17, 2019

**Legislation Would Require Organizations that Spend Money to Influence Elections to Disclose Source of Funds and Guard Against Foreign Election Interference**

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) recently reintroduced the DISCLOSE Act with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), legislation that would require organizations spending money in federal elections to disclose their donors and help guard against hidden foreign influence in our democracy.

“Since the Supreme Court’s deeply flawed decision that equated the Constitutional rights of United States citizens with the special interests of powerful corporations, American democracy has been flooded with dark money,” said Senator Shaheen. “The injection of dark money into our elections has opened the door for big corporations to drown out the voices of everyday Americans, and empowered malicious actors abroad with the ability to exploit the secretive campaign finance process. This legislation will bring much-needed transparency to our elections by requiring organizations to publicly report their political spending, and it’s a measure that should be brought up for a vote as soon as possible.”

“The DISCLOSE Act would increase the transparency of our elections by requiring organizations to disclose who is behind the unlimited dark money that has overwhelmed the voices of everyday Americans,” Senator Hassan said. “We must fix our broken campaign system and put an end to the outsized control that corporate special interests and the powerful few have over our political system.”

The DISCLOSE Act requires organizations spending money in elections – including super PACs and certain nonprofit groups – to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle. The bill also includes provisions to prevent political operatives from using layers of front groups to hide donor identities. The legislation would crack down on the use of shell corporations to hide the identity of donors by requiring companies spending money in elections to disclose their true owners, so election officials and the public know who is behind the spending. The DISCLOSE Act also contains a “stand by your ad” provision requiring organizations to identify those behind political ads – including disclosing an organization’s top five funders at the end of television ads. Forty-five Senate Democrats are cosponsoring the legislation.

Election spending has exploded in the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Citizens United and subsequent Supreme Court rulings permit super PACs and certain types of tax-exempt groups to spend unlimited sums in elections.  Many of those groups are not required to disclose their donors, allowing wealthy corporations and individuals to spend unlimited, undisclosed – or “dark” – money without being tied to the television attack ads and other electioneering activity the groups carry out.

The result is unprecedented levels of dark money spending.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2018 election was the most expensive midterm by a large margin, with total spending surpassing $5.7 billion.  The 2020 presidential contest is expected to be the costliest ever. 

Unlimited special interest spending in elections has eroded Americans’ faith in government.  In a recent survey by The Democracy Project, participants listed money in politics as their top concern about our democracy.  Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they agree that “the laws enacted by our national government these days mostly reflect what powerful special interests and their lobbyists want.”

Senator Shaheen has long supported Congressional action to crack down on dark money in politics. She has also led efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its election interference, and was the first legislator to call for hearings on Russia’s attack on our democracy.