Washington, DC — Republicans in the US Senate have blocked a bill that aimed to combat “dark money” in elections in the United States by requiring political organizations to disclose large amounts of donors.
The so-called Disclosure Act, which was approved by President Joe Biden earlier this week, was not supported by Republicans in a procedural vote on Thursday.
With only 49 lawmakers in the 100-member Senate voting in favour, the bill did not exceed the 60-vote threshold required for the final vote.
“We all want transparent and fair elections. However, these goals are not served by restricting Americans’ rights in the First Amendment — which the DISCLOSE Act would do,” Republican Senator Bill Hagerty wrote on Twitter. “Since this legislation promotes intimidation and annuls culture rather than free speech, I voted against it.”
The Democrats had argued that the bill was needed to increase transparency in the election process as spending by factions of various ideological leanings had increased.
The bill’s main sponsor, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, on Thursday harassed stakeholders who are trying to influence US politics with “unlimited money” while concealing their identities.
“Is this group of people the one we want to control our country? I don’t think so,” Whitehouse said in a Senate speech. “What about regular voters, how about normal people — farmers and doctors and business owners, nurses?
Under US law, political action committees — commonly referred to as PACs — and individuals can donate only limited funds directly to political candidates.
However, in a 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that free speech protection guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution gives companies the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to indirectly oppose or support candidates.
In addition, some political stakeholders are not required to disclose their donors. Others disguise funding from shell organizations, which make it difficult, if not impossible, to trace the money back to the original donors.
“Our current campaign financing system allows anonymous special interests to hide in the shadows as they spend unlimited sums of money to influence our elections, making Americans skeptical as to whether their elected representatives are actually working for them,” the White House said in a statement ahead of the vote on Thursday
“In our current system, it is too easy for foreign money to influence our elections.”
BREAKING: Republicans in the Senate have just released the #DISCLOSE Act to combat the flood of anonymous special interest spending in our elections — meaning they don’t want the American people to see who is trying to influence our elections and gain control of our government.
— Senate Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryDems) September 22, 2022
Biden also spoke out in support of the bill on Tuesday, saying that dark money “undermines public trust in the government.”
Biden acknowledged that limitless political spending is an issue for both major parties, but said Democrats in Congress “support more openness and accountability,” while Republicans have rejected calls for campaign financing reform.
“Dark money has become so common in our politics. I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Biden said.