Senators Take Another Swing at Dark Money Disclosure

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/arcticwarrior/6428092287/">Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson</a>/Flickr

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Late last year, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) penned a Washington Post op-ed taking aim at Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that helped open the floodgates for political nonprofits spending cash in the dark to influence elections. “At minimum, the American people deserve to know before they cast their ballots who is behind massive spending, who is funding people and organizations, and what their agendas are,” the senators wrote.

Now Murkowski and Wyden have followed up by introducing a bill that would require any group that spends at least $10,000 on an election to disclose all of its donors who donated $1,000 or more. Currently, tax-exempt 501(c) groups that engage in political spending have no legal obligation to reveal their donors. (That’s not the case with super-PACs, as the AP erroneously reported, although many super-PACs skirt disclosure by accepting donations funneled through affiliated nonprofits.) Super-PACs and dark-money groups spent more than $1 billion during the 2012 election.

Murkowski first hinted she supported shining more sunlight on dark-money groups last summer when the Senate was debating the DISCLOSE Act, which is similar to her new bill. (She voted against DISCLOSE for not being strong or bipartisan enough.) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filibustered DISCLOSE twice, deriding it as “nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” His continued opposition to campaign finance reform means that the Wyden-Murkowski bill will also face a GOP filibuster.

If it managed to defy McConnell’s opposition and pass the Republican-led House, the Wyden-Murkowski bill would also enact some smaller campaign finance reforms: It would require Senate candidates to file disclosure reports directly with the Federal Election Commission so they can be posted online more quickly and replace the FEC’s quarterly reports with a real-time reporting system. And while it would require greater transparency for big donors, it would ease requirements for small donors by lifting the disclosure threshold for gifts to candidates from $200 to $1,000.

More MotherJones reporting on Dark Money

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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