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Misleading Rhetoric on the DISCLOSE Act

Congressman Hank Johnson on 'corporate miscreants.'

6:59 PM, Jun 25, 2010 • By PEYTON R. MILLER
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In a 219-206 vote yesterday, the House passed a campaign finance measure known as the DISCLOSE Act in answer to the Supreme Court’s January Citizens United decision.  The bill, according to Politico, would "require corporations, labor unions, trade associations, and advocacy groups to publicly declare their role in TV ads or mass mailings during the closing months of a political campaign, including where the money is coming from to pay for such activities.  Foreign-controlled corporations and big-government contractors would also be barred from paying for such political activities."  Thirty-six Democrats bucked their leadership to vote against the bill, and just two Republicans supported it.

Misleading Rhetoric on the DISCLOSE Act

Among the bill’s supporters was Hank Johnson, Cynthia McKinney’s successor from Atlanta who worried in a recent congressional hearing that an overabundance of Navy servicemen stationed on Guam would cause the island to “tip over and capsize.”

In a floor speech prior to yesterday’s vote, Congressman Johnson claimed Republicans were opposed to “restricting campaign donations in American campaigns, both local, state, and federal” because “Republicans favor big business, and big business favors Republicans.”  He specifically indicted BP and Goldman Sachs as “corporate miscreants” who would ensure “more Republicans getting elected.”

What Johnson doesn’t acknowledge is that Goldman Sachs, which the Center for Responsive Politics lists as one of the top ten “heavy hitters” in terms of its influence over the political process through campaign contributions, overwhelmingly favors Democratic candidates.  CRS reports that in the 2008 election cycle, Goldman Sachs collectively contributed $4.5 million to Democratic candidates, compared to just $1.5 million to Republicans, and the corporation’s giving already favors Democrats by a ratio of 3 to 2 in the 2010 cycle. Furthermore, Obama was the biggest recipient of BP contributions over the past 20 years.

The congressman’s statement more broadly suggests that Republicans oppose any attempt to limit corporate influence on politics because they are in bed with big business; corporations, he believes, have an overwhelming interest in seeing Republicans elected.  But if that’s the case, it’s not evident from campaign spending by business interests, which favored Democrats by eight percentage points during the 2008 election cycle.  Business spending favored Republicans in the previous four cycles, but not by anywhere near the decisive margin Johnson’s rhetoric implies.

Business doesn’t necessarily favor Republicans, but labor unions unequivocally favor Democrats.  Unions contributed almost $75 million to candidates in the 2008 cycle, 93 percent of which went to Democrats, and spent a grand total of $450 million during the 2008 campaign.  They have already contributed over $33 million to Democrats during the current cycle, and constitute 11 of CRS’s top 20 political heavy hitters.

This is relevant since a Democratic amendment inserted into the DISCLOSE Act Wednesday night by Rep. Robert Brady, a key proponent of labor unions, would effectively exempt labor unions from most provisions of the bill by exempting electioneering financed by regular dues of less than $50,000.  Upset about a loophole Democrats from pro-gun states had carved out for the NRA, the liberal Sierra Club, Humane Society, and AARP were also exempted from the requirements.

Why wouldn't Congressman Johnson insist on the same disclosure requirements for these exempted groups?  Because they would ensure more Democrats getting elected in American campaigns, both local, state, and federal.

Peyton R. Miller is the editor of the Harvard Salient and a Student Free Press Association intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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