Greater disclosure of SuperPAC’s donors is needed

This article originally appeared in The Hill: Greater disclosure of SuperPAC’s donors is needed 

As The Hill reported yesterday, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain appears to be back in the game on campaign finance reform, and he couldn’t have come at a better time.

McCain, who thought he had tamped down the issue with his landmark 2002 law banning soft money, is talking with several Democrats, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the author of the latest bill aimed at SuperPAC transparency. His presence in this important conversation will hopefully help shed more light on the increasingly important issue of public access to information on SuperPAC donors.  As a respected member of Congress, McCain’s presence will also increase the activity of lobbyists who are already keeping close tabs on SuperPAC transparency legislation circulating both chambers.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission—a ruling that completely changed the political influence landscape going forward. Allowing organizations to give unlimited amounts of money to Political Action Committees (PACs)—ultimately helping a candidate into office—feels a lot like secret influence peddling which is something that we can all agree is not a good thing. 

We are currently watching the ramifications of this decision in the current election cycle, and as predicted, the SuperPACs prefer to channel money through outlets that do not require disclosure to the FEC.  The floodgates are open and anonymous corporate, union and individual donations are pouring in. A report from The First Street Research Group showed that FEC filings show more than 430 SuperPACs registered this election cycle.  In addition, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that SuperPACs spent over $100M so far in this election cycle on advertising.  SuperPAC’s are heavily influencing this election cycle, yet the donors remain anonymous.   

Some may argue that forcing SuperPACs to disclose their donors will stifle the freedom of speech for businesses.  But, corporations, unions and individuals are free to give unlimited amounts to SuperPAC’s, forcing SuperPAC’s to disclose donors won’t change that.  Media companies may pine about the potential of lost advertising spends.  But greater disclosure of Super PAC donors will help the American public make better decisions.  As a member of the political intelligence industry who believes transparency is the essence of making democracy work, I believe that the greater access to information on SuperPAC donors will help citizens make more informed decisions. In an age where transparency in Washington is not just desired but expected, forcing SuperPAC’s to disclose their donors is a step in the right direction and addition of yet another important factor in the constantly expanding definition of political intelligence.

Stephen Stesney is a political intelligence industry expert for the First Street Research Group.  The First Street Research Group reviews, investigates and analyzes the data of First Street to publish exclusive reports and analysis focused on the political intelligence industry.


This article originally appeared in The Hill: Greater disclosure of SuperPAC’s donors is needed


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