House Democrats passed a bill today called the "Disclose Act," designed to increase transparency for corporations and other interest groups who make contributions to political campaigns. The bill passed 219 to 206 with only two Republicans voting in favor of the measure. The name comes from a very Washingtonian acronym, "Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act." However, not all organizations are subject to the new law, including the NRA and AARP.
The Disclose Act was passed in part because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that limits on political spending by corporations were unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of speech. Under the Disclose Act, the heads of the corporations, companies, unions, or nonprofit organizations are required to appear in person in any advertisements that the organization sponsors and say that they personally endorse the message. As ABC News reports, it would also require them to reveal the names of the top five donors who helped foot the advertising bill.
President Obama straddled the line on the issue, saying that he was pleased that the legislature is moving on the issue, though he was disappointed that the bill includes exemptions: "[the Act will] control the flood of special interest money into our elections" and "give the American public the right to see exactly who is spending money in an attempt to influence campaigns for public office....I would have preferred that it include no exemptions...But it mandates unprecedented transparency in campaign spending, and it ensures that corporations who spend money on American elections are accountable first and foremost to the American people."
As an in house lawyer, it is important to keep an eye on this issue. Now might be a good time to set up a Google alert under the term "Disclose Act." At this point, it seems unlikely that it will make it through the Senate considering the extremely full plate it is already facing. However, if this or a similar bill is passed by the Senate, it will be crucial as an in house lawyer to make sure your organization complies with the law. This will also mean that you must work in conjunction with your advertising agency and to keep PR and image issues in mind when determining who will appear in your advertisements and what they will say.
- House Passes DISCLOSE Act - With Exemptions (CBS)
- Campaign 'Disclose' Act Passes House, With Loopholes (ABC)
- Democrats Holster 'Disclose' Bill Facing NRA, Accusations of Double Standard (ABC)
- The Disclose* Act (Chicago Tribune)