Spending in election cycles by corporations and the ultra-rich through so-called black money groups has skyrocketed since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United v FEC, which allowed incorporated entities and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting or attacking candidates. Democrats have unsuccessfully opposed the decision for more than a decade, saying the ability of corporations and billionaires to advocate for or against candidates anonymously through such groups has given them outsized influence over the American politics. Republicans have championed the right of corporations to make political donations, though some have called for greater transparency in campaign finance.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) noted that when the Supreme Court issued its decision in United Citizensthe dissenting justices had warned that the decision “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the country”.
“Unfortunately, they turned out to be right,” Schumer said. “By giving big business the same rights as individual citizens, multi-billionaires being able to have their voices heard… drowning out the opinions of citizens, and setting aside decades of campaign finance law and paving the way for powerful elites to pump almost endless money, United Citizens has disfigured our democracy almost beyond recognition.
“Now the choice before the Senate is simple. Will MPs vote today to cure our democracy of the cancer of black money, or will they stand in the way and let this disease metastasize out of control? Schumer added. “Members have to pick a side. Which side are you on? On the side of American voters and “one person, one vote” or on the side of super PACs and the billionaire donor class who rig the game in their favor? »
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.), the bill’s sponsor, likened these black money groups to “a dark octopus of corruption and deceit” that had infiltrated democracy. And while federal law prohibits super PACs from coordinating with political campaigns on spending and content, Whitehouse added, “you can bet” the candidates — and lawmakers — are getting wind of this information anyway. .
“This is the kind of fun and phony games that black money allows to creep into our democracy,” Whitehouse said.
During a committee hearing on the bill in July, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the measure “unconstitutional” and accused Democrats of crafting it “to target and harass discourse that the left does not like”.
Earlier this week, President Biden called on Republicans to join Democrats in supporting the disclosure law. In remarks at the White House, Biden invoked the late Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), saying his “friend” supported campaign finance reforms as a matter of fundamental fairness. He pointed out that currently advocacy groups can run ads up until Election Day without revealing who paid for the ad, and that even foreign entities that are not allowed to contribute to political campaigns can use loopholes in black money to try to influence the elections.
“And at its best, our democracy serves all people equally, regardless of wealth or privilege,” Biden said then. “But here’s the thing: there’s way – too much – money flowing in the shadows to influence our elections… Black money has become so mainstream in our politics, I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant .”
Biden said dark money groups were a problem for Republicans and Democrats, but said that so far Republicans in Congress have not supported passing new campaign finance laws to solve the problem.
“Ultimately it comes down to public trust. Black money erodes public trust,” Biden said. “We have to protect the public trust. And I am determined to do so.
John Wagner and Azi Paybarah contributed to this report.