Op-eds and Articles

The Easiest Fix for Dark Money: Disclose Less Often

By / 7.16.2014

“Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with nowadays.” —Will Rogers

Super PACs are unquestionably a scandal: The lightly regulated committees mean wealthy donors can funnel unlimited amounts of money into elections anonymously. But one of the remedies being proposed—early and frequent disclosure of super-PAC donors and expenses—would very likely make things worse.

Senate Democrats have proposed a bill, the DISCLOSE Act, that would require super PACs to publicly file lists of their donors and spending every 90 days during an election cycle. This sounds good—who is against transparency?—but it ignores the real-word dynamics of fundraising. In fact, ill-conceived disclosure requirements have already stimulated a campaign-spending arms race and made U.S. elections more expensive.

Let’s be clear: Transparency is vital to our democracy. Americans are rightly concerned about the cascade of “dark money” into U.S. elections. The question is not whether to disclose, but when and how. What the last decade shows is that early and frequent reporting of donations creates a perverse incentive to start the money chase earlier—and to raise more cash to pay for perpetual fundraising.

The most productive reform that could pass the House and Senate right now would be to mandate less frequent disclosure. Counterintuitively, it would great reduce the influence of money on the political system. It would condense the campaign season and allow members, candidates, and donors the freedom not to raise money and not to give money.

In Citizen United and more recently in April’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court has affirmed its belief that political money is free speech and the influence of money in politics does not cross the threshold of bribery. The Court’s view is a reaction to the flawed 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, otherwise known as McCain-Feingold. The well-intentioned but poorly written campaign-reform law suffocated the party committees and created new, less-regulated vehicles for money like super PACs.

Continue reading at the Atlantic.