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Jul 17, 2012   |  Senator Jon Tester

Tester backs Disclose Act to ensure transparency in elections

Senator: Provision "strengthens freedoms, holds government accountable"

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is determined to prevent secret money from undermining America’s democracy and to bring more transparency to American elections.

Tester today again voted for the Disclose Act.  The bill requires any organization or individual who spends $10,000 or more on a political campaign to report it within 24 hours.

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations currently can spend unlimited money to influence elections without any transparency or accountability.  Tester says that means corporations can try to buy American elections without anyone even knowing who they are.

“The Citizens United decision has already dealt a blow to our democracy,” Tester said on the Senate floor.  “It’s allowing a handful of billionaires, corporations and secretive groups that represent special interests to try and buy votes.  The Disclose Act is a responsible step toward making sure that people decide the course of our future.”

Tester, along with most Montanans, has always opposed the unpopular 2010 Citizens United decision.  In highlighting his opposition to the decision, he noted Montana’s century-old law that limited the influence of wealthy corporations.  The 1912 initiative, recently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, was passed in response to mining corporations using their money to buy election outcomes.

“Transparency keeps people from being able to buy something that all Americans are entitled to no matter how much money they have: the power to vote,” Tester said.  “The Disclose Act strengthens our freedom to make informed decisions about our democracy.”

Tester supports amending the Constitution to undo the Citizens United decision and to guarantee the right of states to regulate their elections – ensuring transparency and accountability at both the federal and state levels.

Tester, a member of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, also recently cast the only vote against a bill that would block public disclosure of campaign contributions made by corporations that contract with the federal government.  He called out his colleagues for supporting the bill, saying they “missed an opportunity” to bring more transparency to government.

Text of Tester’s floor speech on the Disclose Act is below.  Video of Tester’s floor speech is available online HERE.  The bill did not receive enough votes to pass the Senate.

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Floor remarks
DISCLOSE Act
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
July 16, 2012

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.

Mr. President, I rise this evening in support of the Disclose Act.  Legislation to shine some sunlight onto our elections.  To restore transparency and accountability into this nation’s political campaigns.

The Disclose Act is a responsible step toward making sure that people decide the course of our future. 

That people make their own choices based on good information.

That people always have the ability to hold this government accountable through transparency.

Right now, that’s not the case.

On January 21st of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that gave power to corporations to spend unlimited money on political campaigns… with no transparency whatsoever.

That includes foreign corporations, by the way.  So for example, it would be pretty easy for a Chinese company to start spending a lot of money to influence American elections.  Again, with no transparency whatsoever.

The Citizens United decision has already dealt a blow to our democracy.  It’s allowing a handful of billionaires, corporations and secretive groups that represent special interests to try and buy votes.

That already happened in Montana once.  And the people of Montana put a stop to it… one hundred years ago.

At the turn of last century, one of the world’s wealthiest men literally bought himself a seat in the United States Senate.  His name – William Clark.  He was one of the mining barons of the Gilded Age. 

Mr. Clark left his mark across this nation.  In fact, Clark County, Nevada, is named for him.

Back then, Montana’s legislature got to choose who served in the U.S. Senate.  So William Clark paid as many legislators as he could to send him to Washington. 

In fact, he spent a staggering $431-thousand dollars buying his Senate seat in 1899.  That’s equivalent to about $11 million dollars today.

This bold bribery was a national scandal back then.  And it shaped Montana forever.  Because of what William Clark did, Montana passed a law in 1912 limiting the influence of wealthy corporations over our elections. 

And just as important, the scandal showed us that as Montanans, transparency prevents corruption. Transparency prevents ineffectiveness.

Transparency keeps people like William Clark from being able to buy something that all Americans are entitled to no matter how much money they have: the power to vote.

Mr. President, transparency in government is a fundamental value in Montana.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Montana’s important 1912 law to guarantee transparency and accountability in our elections. 

Citing its own Citizens United decision – and the idea that corporations somehow have the same rights as individual people – the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out Montana’s century-old law.

Now the secretive special interests are taking full advantage of this uneven playing field.  They’re buying up millions of dollars of time on the airwaves, blanketing Montana with lies and distortions in order to influence voters.  And Montanans are getting sick of it.

Like 100 years ago, a few millionaires and billionaires are bankrolling secretive campaign spending.  And they are steamrolling our Democracy, because they’re doing it in secret.  With no accountability.

I support undoing the Citizens United decision by amending the U.S. Constitution.  That’s a heavy lift.  But it’s one I—along with many of my colleagues—support.

And in the meantime, let’s make our elections more transparent. I join most Montanans when I say that any money spent influencing voters ought to be transparent—no matter where it comes from. 

And that’s exactly what this Disclose Act does.

Mr. President, I don’t think anyone here has heard complaints about too much transparency when it comes to political TV ads.

The Disclose Act requires any organization or individual who spends $10-thousand dollars or more on a political campaign to report that expense within 24 hours. 

No organization or type of organization is exempt.  It applies to SuperPACs, Unions, and so-called “issue advocacy” organizations. 

That’s not stifling free speech.  That’s responsibility.  It’s accountability.

The Disclose Act strengthens our freedom to make informed decisions about our democracy. 

And for folks in Montana, it’s a chance for us to put OUR priorities back ahead of special interests. For Montanans to make their own choices free from the influence of unlimited spending by multinational corporations.

It’s what the people of this nation deserve.  And I urge all of my colleagues to vote for that transparency. 

A vote against the Disclose Act is a vote to allow secretive special interests to buy something that should never, ever be for sale:

Our democracy and the power to make our own decisions, with good information, full transparency, and full accountability.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.

Billings

Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768

Bozeman

Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647

Butte

Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586

Helena

208 North Montana Avenue
Suite 104
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462

Kalispell

8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974

Missoula

130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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