The Obama and Romney campaigns have been slugging away at each other this week about transparency and disclosure. And yet Tuesday, the Disclose Act, which would have allowed you to better know the people behind superpacs was smothered in the Senate by filibuster without earning a single Republican vote. Huffington Post reporter Dan Froomkin explains to Brooke what happened.
[PRESIDENT OBAMA, SINGING]:
I’m so in love with you.
[CROWD CHEERING/END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s President Obama, impressively on key. This week, the Romney campaign sampled that footage in an attack ad, saying that Obama’s love is directed at his well-heeled Washington cronies and fundraisers. It was Romney’s retaliation for Obama’s attack ad last week.
[MITT ROMNEY SINGING]:
America, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain…
[SINGING/UP & UNDER]]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - accusing the warbling Republican of outsourcing jobs in his private sector days.
For purple mountains majesty’s
Above the fruited plains
[ROMNEY CONTINUES/UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week we start with money, who’s got it, who’s spending it and how much they should be required to reveal about it. Romney’s camp charged that the President was rewarding his fundraisers with jobs and stimulus money, but how are we to know that Romney’s backers are not similarly advantaged? Here’s how. Romney’s adviser, Ed Gillespie said in a conference call with reporters, quote, “Governor Romney’s contributors are made public. They’re disclosed, and we’re going to continue to do that.” unquote.
So, who’s more transparent? This week the candidates are making that the big question. And yet, Tuesday, the Disclose Act, which would have allowed you to better know the people behind super PACS, was smothered in the Senate by filibuster, without earning a single Republican vote. The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin has been following the Disclose Act. Dan, welcome to the show.
DAN FROOMKIN: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I know maybe it’s wrong to ask this of a Huffington Post reporter, which is –
-you know, an avowedly liberal organization, but help me parse Ed Gillespie’s statement. Gillespie must be pointing to some opacity in Obama’s campaign that Romney doesn’t have.
DAN FROOMKIN: The thing that has been very confusing to reporters covering politics these days is that sometimes people will say things that are just not true.
And reporters have a hard time figuring out what to do with that. Both campaigns, by law, must disclose the donations that go directly to their campaigns. Neither is obliged to disclose what we call bundlers, which is people who are responsible for bundling all of these contributions. President Obama’s campaign does disclose those bundlers, which is why a Romney ad can point out who his bundlers are.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
DAN FROOMKIN: [LAUGHS] Mitt Romney does not, however, disclose his bundlers. So in that sense, Romney’s campaign is absolutely less transparent than Obama’s. Republicans have traditionally actually favored disclosure. They have said, don’t put limits on campaign spending but just disclose everything. If everybody knows where the money is coming from there can be no corruption.
That was absolutely the Republican Party line, and it was up until basically a couple of years ago, when the Republican Party’s political prospects were very much tied towards the enormous amounts of money that corporations were willing to give them, as long as nobody knew that they were giving it.
And that’s why Republicans have en masse refused to allow this Disclose Act to go through. And you have Mitch McConnell saying with a straight face that the reason he’s against disclosure is because it stifles the First Amendment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the ACLU, not frequently in bed with Republicans, has also opposed it because it extends the period that issue advocates would have to be disclosed. Let me quote from the ACLU’s letter: “Organizations would face two unsatisfactory choices, protect the privacy of their donors by refraining from issue advocacy or give up the privacy of their donors and place at risk the opportunity for additional donations by those supporters.”
DAN FROOMKIN: But the point is that, that nobody in this country, not people, not corporations, not people corporations has a right to anonymous political speech. That has never been established by anybody. The only exception to that has been in cases like the NAACP in the fifties where, if the members of the NAACP had been exposed, they would have been actually subject to enormous personal risk.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. The ACLU cites that case of the NAACP v. Alabama, and I quote, “The lessons of that time must not be lost simply because today’s causes are different from those of the civil rights era.”
DAN FROOMKIN: I simply cannot respond to the ACLU letter because I have not seen it. I can tell you that Karl Rove has been making the argument, likening his billionaire corporate donors to members of the NAACP, and I think frankly, that’s – that argument is obscene. If you were outed as a member of the NAACP in the fifties, you could have gotten killed. This is a protection intended for the powerless, not for the already extraordinarily powerful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, the weird thing is, is that this flood of anonymous political money has been the result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that affirmed that money is speech, but in that decision the Court also suggested that Congress pass a law requiring more disclosure of donors.
DAN FROOMKIN: Precisely. Congress has specific categories for groups that are involved in politics, and all of those groups must disclose their donors. What’s happening here is nonprofit groups organized under, in one case, a section of the IRS code for what’s supposed to be social welfare organizations – that’s what Crossroads GPS, you know, Karl Rove’s group is – or it’s supposed to be trade associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce, they are being used instead as conduits for vast amounts of money into campaign ads. Those are just loopholes that need to be fixed. And that’s what the Disclose Act was trying to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Freedom of information is, is pretty crucial to our program. It’s rare that it gets [LAUGHS] to the top of the political agenda.
DAN FROOMKIN: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that this is gonna have any legs?
DAN FROOMKIN: What’s possible is that as we get closer to the election, especially in the swing states, which will be completely inundated by vicious attack ads that are paid for primarily with secret money, the public will get a little ticked off. And I think the Democratic strategy is probably to take the anger against attack ads, which comes up every election, and actually direct it a little bit more at the Republicans when, of course, you know, both parties are responsible.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: People say that they hate attack ads, but –
DAN FROOMKIN: Mm-hmm. They work. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks very much.
DAN FROOMKIN: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dan Froomkin is the senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post.