Tester Leads 26 Senators to Hold Washington Accountable and Increase Transparency in Elections
Senators’ Spotlight Act Will Overturn Rule to Shed More Light on Major Campaign Contributors
(U.S. Senate)—U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and 26 of his colleagues are holding Washington accountable with a push to tear down a new controversial rule allowing special interests to hide those who are funding political campaigns.
The senators officially introduced the Spotlight Act today to reverse the Treasury Department’s decision that allows non-profit organizations that engage in political activity to avoid disclosing certain donor information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Spotlight Act also requires these organizations to disclose the names of donors to the public, not just the IRS.
“Montanans are sick and tired of out-of-state dark money trying to buy our elections,” Tester said. “The Spotlight Act will shed more light on the anonymous ads that flood our mailboxes and airwaves, and I will always defend Montana against these special interests who continue to try to influence our decisions and change our way of life.”
“This bill shines new light on dark money donors and keeps Russian oligarchs with friends at the NRA from being able to funnel money into our elections undetected,” Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said. “Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin must be held accountable for using any means possible to wrest control of our democracy from the hands of American citizens.”
On the first day it was introduced, 26 senators cosponsored Tester’s Spotlight Act.
“The Treasury’s decision to further shield dark money from disclosure makes our dysfunctional campaign finance system even worse,” Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said. “At a time when our democracy is already under attack, we should increase transparency—not make it harder for the government to stop illegal foreign money from influencing our elections. Congress should pass the Spotlight Act immediately to overturn this rule.”
“With the midterm elections a few short months away, special interests and dark money donors are waiting in the wings to bankroll anonymous ads that drown out the voices of the American electorate,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “While Russian oligarchs and other foreign adversaries remain intent on disrupting our democracy – including efforts to launder money through organizations like the NRA – we must take immediate action to shine a bright light on attempts to influence our elections.”
“Special interests shouldn’t get a free pass to drown out the voices of hardworking people,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
“Our campaign finance system is completely broken and part of the problem is the rise of secret dark money donors,” Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said. “While we’ll need to do far more to stop corporate special interests from buying our elections, the Spotlight Act is an important next step to provide more transparency about who is behind political ads.”
“North Dakotans are tired of political ads funded by shadowy groups that exploit loopholes to avoid exposing their donors,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said. “At a minimum, North Dakotans deserve to know who’s paying to try to influence their votes, and our bill would increase transparency so voters know who’s behind these ads. The Treasury Secretary should not be able to unilaterally decide which groups and donors can hide in anonymity from the voters of North Dakota while flooding their airwaves and mailboxes, telling them what they should think or how they should vote. Voters should know who – and be able to decide why – these folks are so interested in coming into our state.”
“Concealing the identity of big donors goes against the spirit of openness and transparency,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Reversing the Trump Administration’s decision to scrap disclosures will help prevent foreign interference in our elections and bring dark money into the light.”
“President Trump’s Treasury Department just made dark money a little darker by making it easier for big -corporations, billionaires, special interests — and even illegal foreign money– to influence our elections,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “At a time when the American people are rightly worried about foreign meddling in our democracy, we need to increase transparency, not expand the cloak of secrecy.”
“Our founders made it clear that this is supposed to be a nation of, by, and for the people, but in recent years, our democracy has been hijacked by powerful special interests,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “We need to end the dark money that is drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans in our elections. Our government needs to work to create opportunity for everyone, not rig our economy for the wealthy and powerful.”
“It’s absolutely outrageous for President Trump to change the rules to give cover to big-dollar donors, and tip the scales even more for the wealthiest few who are writing the biggest checks,” Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said. “Every member of Congress, regardless of their party affiliation, should join our efforts to demand more transparency in political donations and better information for the families we represent.”
“The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates and allowed the wealthiest Americans to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections,” Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said. “The American people have a right to know who they are voting for – not just whose name is on the ballot, but who’s behind that candidate.”
“Groups with anonymous wealthy donors are flooding our elections with dark money, and it’s drowning out the voices of American voters and middle class families,” said Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.). “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this commonsense bill to improve transparency in the campaign finance system and ensure voters know exactly who is spending money to influence elections.”
“Secret, undisclosed money has flooded our electoral system and completely drowned out the voices of everyday citizens. Now, the Trump administration is making an already rigged system even worse — ending some of the limited disclosure we have about who is spending these unlimited sums of money to try to buy our democracy,” Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said. “The American people look to our political process – and decisions like these by the Trump administration — and see a system that is fundamentally broken. We need to pass reforms like the Spotlight Act and the We the People Democracy Reform package to restore public faith in our democracy.”
“In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in Citizens United, secret outside spending has flooded our elections as special interests try to sway the votes of the American people,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). President Trump’s move to eliminate long-standing disclosure rules for social welfare organizations and business leagues – which sometimes serve as a front for dark money groups – will only further erode confidence in our democratic process. I join my colleagues in urging the Senate to immediately consider the Spotlight Act to shine some much-needed light on those spending millions to influence our elections.”
“It’s bad enough that special interests can flood our elections with massive amounts of anonymous money to rig our government in their favor,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “Even worse, we learn more and more each day that foreign agents, like Putin and his cronies, can exploit these same loopholes to interfere in our elections. That’s why the IRS’s decision to further shield secret influencers from disclosure is so shameful. Dark money just got even darker, and I’m proud to stand with Sen. Tester in fighting the Trump administration’s choice to turn over the keys to our government to dark money front groups.”
Under current law, 501(c)(3) organizations are required to provide donor information to the IRS, however, the Treasury Secretary has discretion over whether to require donor information from other types of tax-exempt organizations. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin recently decided he would not collect that information anymore.
The Spotlight Act will specifically require three classes of nonprofit organizations (501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6)) to disclose publicly and to the IRS the names and information of donors who contribute more than $5,000.
The Spotlight Act is also sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
The bill is available HERE.