Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) spoke on the Senate floor today to underscore his commitment to the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase transparency and openness in campaign financing.
“The people of West Virginia believe that we need openness and transparency to stay informed and keep our democracy strong – and the DISCLOSE Act would do just that. The people of this country have a right to know who is spending large amounts of money to influence elections, and this bill would make that information available,” Senator Manchin said. “Now, some of my friends would say that spending money to influence an election is their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. To my friends, I understand and respect your concerns. But I truly believe that the DISCLOSE Act won’t limit your freedom of speech. Instead, it will prevent the anonymous political campaigning that is undermining our democracy.”
Below, please find the full text of Senator Manchin’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
I rise today to address the disturbing role that money is playing in our politics – especially when it comes to anonymous groups with deep pockets that are trying to tear people down.
There’s no question, this is a corrosive situation and it is hurting our democracy.
When you have unaccountable outside groups with virtually unlimited pockets, more and more lawmakers spend their time dialing for dollars, and that takes time away from legislating.
That’s backwards. Elected officials should be working on fixing our problems, not raising money for re-election and to fend off negative attacks.
And the effects are very clear: this Congress is stalled when it comes to tackling our biggest problems as a nation, but we’re raising more money in politics than ever before. Those priorities are out of order and we need to do something to change the system.
I’m not alone with this concern. In private, Senators of both parties – Democrats and Republicans – will tell you that too much time is spent raising money for re-election and that the constant fundraising events interfere with the everyday business of governing this great nation.
I try to spend time in my great state of West Virginia every weekend, and I can tell you that the people of West Virginia are also deeply troubled by the increasing role that money is playing in our politics. Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United campaign finance case, we have seen outside groups unleash an unprecedented flood of money to sway elections – and we’ve seen it time and again in West Virginia over the past several years.
I was deeply troubled by some statistics about how few Americans are involved in financing elections, cited by Professor Lawrence Lessig, a campaign finance expert, in The Atlantic.
Let me put this issue in perspective for you: The population of this country is approximately 311 million people. A tiny number of those Americans – 806,000 people – give more than $200 to a Congressional campaign. To break that down even further, only 155,000 contribute the maximum amount to any Congressional candidate.
Then you look at the people who participate in a number of elections and give more than $10,000 in an election cycle. There are only 31,000 of those Americans.
And if you look at where the Super PAC money comes from – just in the Presidential election so far – there are only 196 Americans who have given 80 percent of the funding, hundreds of millions of dollars.
This is a real problem, and I want to thank my friend Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island for proposing a solution.
Now, some of my friends would say that spending money to influence an election is their First Amendment right of freedom of speech. To my friends, I understand and respect your concerns. But I truly believe that the DISCLOSE Act won’t limit your freedom of speech. Instead, it will prevent the anonymous political campaigning that is undermining our democracy.
The people of West Virginia believe that we need openness and transparency to stay informed and keep our democracy strong – and the DISCLOSE Act would do just that. The people of this country have a right to know who is spending large amounts of money to influence elections, and this bill would make that information available.
In fact, the measure is quite simple. Any time that an organization or individual spends $10,000 or more on a campaign-related expense, they have to file a disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours. Some states, like Virginia, already have this transparency and disclosure – and it has not stifled free speech there.
Nor does this provision affect organizations’ regular operations. The disclosure is only required when organizations or individuals spend money on campaigns or try to influence elections.
Instead, this bill makes sure every person and organization plays fairly by the same rules, whether those organizations or individuals are in the middle, left, right, forward, backward or upside down.
In fact, I truly believe that this provision will take an important step forward to increase transparency and accountability. That seems only right and fair to me, and I am proud to cast my vote in favor of the DISCLOSE Act.
Thank you, and I yield the floor.