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Forever Blue Blog

Third time’s the charm? The DISCLOSE Act and Congressional Republicans’ shifting support of campaign finance reform

Posted by Taylor Anderson. CDM Finance Director on July 31, 2014

Image Source: Google Images

In 2010, The United States Supreme Court ruled in the infamous Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case, finding that a previous ban on independent expenditures on elections by corporations, associations and unions was unconstitutional. This decision opened the gates for these groups to spend unlimited funds on “direct advocacy for or against candidates.”

Since the Citizens United ruling, the United States has experienced the most expensive presidential election in its history (2012). At this point in the 2014 midterm elections, outside spending on political campaigns is already more than 25 times greater than spending at the same point in the 2006 midterm elections.  Many have argued that the ruling was misguided and is harmful to the United States’ democracy. Senator Elizabeth Warren put it bluntly, saying, “The Supreme Court has determined that billionaires should have a louder voice in elections than everyone else. The Supreme Court is wrong.”

The DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened By Casting Light On Spending In Elections) Act was first introduced in 2010 by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Senator Charles Shumer (D-New York) as a response to the Citizens United ruling. Designed to shed light on who is making large political donations, two versions of the DISCLOSE Act have been defeated by Congressional Republicans (in 2010 and again in 2012). Democrats recently introduced the 2014 version of the bill; it is cosponsored by 50 Senate Democrats, but not a single Republican.

Though reversing Citizens United will likely require a constitutional amendment (something that seems unlikely at this time given the partisan climate in Washington) the DISCLOSE Act is designed to shed light on the donors behind the dramatic increase in spending that has occurred in elections since the ruling. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) who authored the bill said in a recent press conference, “The DISCLOSE Act will require political groups to list publicly their big donors so voters can at least know who is trying to sway their votes, an important citizen right in a democracy, as the Supreme Court has recognized.” A press release from Senator Whitehouse explains, “The DISCLOSE Act requires any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more.  Transfer provisions in the bill prevent donors from using shell organizations to hide their activities.”

Republicans have argued that requiring donor identities to be available to the public infringes on free speech, while Democrats argue that disclosure of donor identities will reduce government corruption and will allow voters to be more informed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been one of the DISCLOSE Act’s biggest opponents, arguing that the act is a cheap attempt by Democrats to quash freedom of speech and “waste [the Senate’s] time.” Because Senator McConnell equates spending with speech and asserts that donor identity disclosure could lead to intimidation of donors into reducing their spending, he contends that the DISCLOSE Act infringes on free speech.

But Senator McConnell was singing a different tune before the 2010 Citizens United ruling. During a 2003 NPR interview, Senator McConnell said, “Money is essential in politics, and not something that we should feel squeamish about, provided the donations are limited and disclosed, everyone knows who’s supporting everyone else.” And in a speech on the Senate Floor in 2000, Senator McConnell said, “Virtually everybody in the Senate is in favor of enhanced disclosure, greater disclosure. That’s really hardly a controversial subject.”

This dramatic change of position has me questioning Senator McConnell’s motives. Did the Citizens United ruling lead to an epiphany for Senator McConnell? Perhaps he realized, after years of advocating for disclosure, that political spending and speech can be equated and that disclosure of donations is truly a threat to the Constitution. Or maybe, now that the wealthy are able to anonymously contribute more to influence elections, Senator McConnell has recognized that if voters knew the extent to which special interest groups, corporations, and billionaires are monetarily invested in supporting (mostly) conservative candidates, that he and his republican colleagues may have a difficult time retaining their seats.

Or perhaps this position reversal is a result of the changing Republican Party. Other Republicans like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) have all supported disclosure in the past, but now argue that it is an infringement on First Amendment rights. Republicans’ unwillingness to support disclosure is illustrative of the current partisan stalemate in Congress and reflects the shifting of the Republican Party even further to the right.  The emergence and success of the Tea Party has forced republicans to adopt more conservative policies in order to survive primary races and stay in office. The DISCLOSE Act is an example of how republicans that previously supported policies like disclosure alongside their Democratic colleagues are no longer willing to collaborate on bipartisan legislation.

I agree with Senator Warren that the Citizens United ruling has given billionaires and corporations an unfair advantage in elections. The voices of a few are drowning out the voices of many. Passage of the DISCLOSE Act would only just begin to remedy the detrimental ruling, but it is a step in the right direction. If political donors are scared of having their identities and donations become public knowledge, perhaps they should reconsider their spending habits. And Republicans’ unwillingness to make transparent the sources of campaign donations suggests that they may have something to hide.


Taylor Anderson is the College Democrats of Massachusetts Finance Director. She is a senior at Mount Holyoke College and has served as both Treasurer and President of the Mount Holyoke College Democrats. She is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Follow her on twitter at @taygirltay.

Forever Blue Guest Blog: “What’s the Matter With Uber?”

Posted by CDM Communications Director on July 25, 2014

Editorial by Ross Svenson

Ross Svenson, College Democrats of Massachusetts’ Eastern Regional Director, comments on the balancing act that must occur between advancing technology and ensuring protection of worker rights.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

My time abroad as an intern in UK Parliament began with an illuminating taxi ride from the airport. The cab driver, a man in his early 50s, and I began chatting easily about the impending World Cup and England’s prospects. Like many Englishmen, he pessimistically predicted early defeat. (He proved right.) Our conversation gradually shifted, however, to a discussion of his profession and ever-increasing competition from multinational ride-share services like Uber that utilize smart phone technology. London’s famous “black cabs” are fast losing customers to these companies, and my driver was understandably resentful. He and his colleagues had to pass extensive safety and knowledge tests to become cab drivers, while Uber drivers can simply start work upon gaining employment. With fewer daily passengers and dwindling income, my cab driver told me he planned to leave his job at the end of the year. He would start driving semi-trailer trucks cross-country to make more money. Of course, that job will mean long periods of time away from his family, but he saw this change as his only option.

This cab driver’s story is not unique among his colleagues, nor is it unique among the working and middle classes in the United Kingdom (and the United States). I saw that in UK Parliament as I spoke and corresponded with constituents sharing similar concerns. This cab driver’s story is emblematic of the technological advancement and globalization that has eroded and will continue to erode traditional occupations. While many technologies like ride-share services offer convenience to consumers, their consequences demand attention. This new economic reality is the defining challenge of our generation.

How do we reap the benefits of technology and a globalized economy while protecting workers? How do we transition individuals to new industries when their occupations are eliminated? How do we ensure economic growth is broad-based in this dynamic time? These are the important questions facing politicians in developed countries across the world. In the United States, our politicians have become distracted from these concerns, choosing to engage in partisan warfare over wedge issues instead. But hope remains for progress. Even with partisan posturing, Democratic politicians have largely kept income inequality, a by-product of the new economy, front and center in their legislation and campaign speeches. And front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, said in a recent interview that any prospective presidential campaign should focus specifically on what steps the country should take to foster growth, the “handmaiden of inequality.” Perhaps, a presidential campaign focused on answering these hard economic questions will yield smart and innovative policies for the future.

We certainly need them.


Ross is a rising senior at Harvard University where he studies Government. At Harvard, Ross serves as the Campaigns Director for the Harvard College Democrats and rows for the lightweight crew team. Beyond the future of our transportation service industry, Ross’s interests range from a passion for grassroots campaigning that began in Obama’s 2008 campaign to serving as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay. Follow Ross on twitter at @RossSvenson.

PRESS RELEASE: CDM Announcing its July State Action Call Featuring Special Guest Senator Ben Downing

Posted by CDM Communications Director on July 23, 2014


The College Democrats of Massachusetts Announce the July State Action Call, July 28, Featuring Special Guest Senator Ben Downing

Join the College Democrats of Massachusetts on our July State Action Call this coming Monday, July 28, at 10pm. This month we will be joined by special guest Senator Ben Downing. As well as representing 52 communities in the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden State Senate District, Senator Downing is the Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Coordinated Campaign, Chair of the Youth Services Subcommittee, and Honorary Chair of the College Democrats of Massachusetts. With a tough race for governor shaping up against Republican Charlie Baker this November, the senator will be joining us to talk about the MassDems Coordinated Campaign and how college students will play an integral role in helping Democrats keep the commonwealth blue this November.

We will also be joined by Natasha McKenzie and John McDermott, candidates for College Democrats of America President and Vice President. Both Natasha and John are expert organizers who will be joining us to discuss how CDA can be a resource for CDM in the future. We will also hear quick updates from members of the Executive Board, as well as updates from the LGBT, Women’s, and Environmental Caucus about the success of our past and future social media campaigns.

Please join CDM for our July State Action Call on Monday, July 28 at 10pm. To log on, just click on the link: https://meet87378393.adobeconnect.com/cdm_julyactioncall/. You can keep updated on the event by joining the Facebook event page here: https://www.facebook.com/events/684360721657052/.

Ben Kaplan
Events Director, College Democrats of Massachusetts

CDM Women’s Caucus: “Why We Cannot Give Up on Women’s Rights”

Posted by CDM Communications Director on July 21, 2014

 One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:
Why We Cannot Give Up on Women’s Rights

By Emma Walters and Hadley Chase
Chair and Vice-Chair, College Democrats of Massachusetts’ Women’s Caucus

The fight for reproductive rights continues on today…

In the past two weeks, American women have seen their right to equitable healthcare access severely restricted by the Supreme Court, continuing a trend towards pro-life legislation seen across the country in the last several years.  The Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely held corporations need not pay for insurance coverage for contraception if they have a religious objection.  This decision places employers between their female employees and safe, affordable healthcare, and forces women to pay out of pocket for care they cannot necessarily afford.

In a clear attack on women’s healthcare, the justices specifically named contraception as the only exemption from the Affordable Care Act, prohibiting religious employers from denying coverage for all other medical procedures and medications, including both vasectomies and Viagra.  As Justice Ruth Badar Ginsberg said in her dissent, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” We have not only expanded the Citizens United ruling from 2010 that essentially states that corporations are people – but now women are not people.

The College Democrats of Massachusetts feel this restriction on women’s access to healthcare is a dangerous trend that must be challenged in every city, district, and state.  To this end, we are designating this week as the Women’s Caucus social media campaign, #CDMWomen. We are excited to spread awareness about the issues affecting women today and to foster discussions around these issues.  We hope that our campaign will highlight women’s involvement in every political issue, from Social Security to healthcare to voter restrictions.

Women comprise half the U.S. population, so they cannot reasonably be labeled a “special interest group.”  While certain laws do hurt women more directly than men, such as the recent Supreme Court decisions restricting birth control access and buffer zones around abortion clinics, these issues do not constitute “women’s issues.”  They are just an extension of the basic freedoms guaranteed to all Americans.  The College Democrats of Massachusetts hope to spread the message that women’s rights are human rights and include women in political conversations generally not viewed through the lens of gender.

Though women fought for equality in the Womens Rights Movement years ago, the battle
is not over. CDM will continue the conversation surrounding women’s rights.

As we laud and celebrate the recent victories in gay marriage or employment throughout the country, we must remember that losses for some are losses for everyone. In the United States, we have a tendency to declare victory at the slightest inclination of success. And yet we sometimes forget – both intentionally and subconsciously – the huge steps still to be taken – not only for contraception, but for the thousands of immigrants trying to create a new life, the person who can’t get a job based on the color of their skin or the person they choose to love, or for the woman trying to get through the throngs of screaming protesters to access her reproductive health care. It is the job of activists to advocate for everyone’s collective rights, because we are all connected – and we can’t afford to move backwards. We must keep that chip on our shoulder, because without it, we lose the reason we decided to get involved in politics in the first place.


 We are very excited to begin our work and look forward to collaborating with college students and organizations across Massachusetts.  If you would like to get involved in the Women’s Caucus Campaign, please contact Chair Emma Walters at emma@macollegedems.org or Vice-Chair Hadley Chase at hadley@macollegedems.org.  Be sure to search #CDMWomen to keep updated. Remember to like the CDM Women’s Caucus on Facebook and follow us on twitter!

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