US Republicans block bill seeking to end ‘dark money’ in politics

Senate fails to advance Biden-backed campaign finance bill that would require political groups to disclose big donors.

US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Republican senator who voted against the so-called Disclose Act says bill would limit Americans' right to free speech and promote 'cancel culture' [File: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Washington, DC – US Senate Republicans have blocked a bill that aimed to combat “dark money” in United States elections by making it mandatory for political organisations to disclose big donors.

The so-called Disclose Act, which was endorsed by President Joe Biden earlier this week, failed to get the support of any Republicans in a procedural vote on Thursday.

With only 49 legislators voting in favour in the 100-member Senate, the bill did not clear the 60-vote threshold needed to bring it to a final vote.

“We all want transparent & fair elections. But these goals aren’t served by limiting Americans’ First Amendment rights – which is what the DISCLOSE Act would do,” Republican Senator Bill Hagerty wrote on Twitter. “Because this legislation promotes intimidation and cancel culture, rather than free speech, I voted against it.”

Democrats had argued the bill was needed to increase transparency in the electoral process amid increased spending by political groups of various ideological leanings.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, on Thursday lambasted special interest groups that seek to influence US politics with “unlimited money” while hiding their identities.

“Is that group of people the ones we want controlling our country? I don’t think so,” Whitehouse said in a speech on the Senate floor. “How about regular voters, how about regular people — farmers and doctors and business owners, nurses?”

Under US law, political action committees — commonly referred to as PACs — and individuals can contribute only limited funds directly to political candidates.

But in a 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution give entities the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to oppose or support candidates indirectly.

Additionally, some political advocacy groups do not have to disclose their donors. Others obscure funding through shell organisations that make it difficult, if not impossible, to trace the money back to the original donors.

“Our current campaign finance system allows anonymous special interests to hide in the shadows when spending unlimited sums of money to influence our elections, leaving Americans skeptical about whether their elected representatives are actually working for them,” the White House said in a statement before the vote on Thursday.

“Under our current system, it is too easy for foreign money to influence our elections.”

Biden also delivered remarks in support of the bill on Tuesday, saying that dark money “erodes public trust” in the government.

Biden acknowledged that boundless political spending is an issue for both major parties, but he said Democrats in Congress “support more openness and accountability”, while Republicans have rejected calls for campaign finance reform.

“Dark money has become so common in our politics. I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Biden said.

Source: Al Jazeera