Tuesday, April 3, 2012

House Judiciary Hearing on the Disclosure Bill

Great news for political transparency in Rhode Island!  This Tuesday, April 3rd, the Judiciary Committee at the Rhode Island Statehouse will hold a hearing on the Rhode Island Transparency in Political Spending Act, sponsored by Speaker Gordon Fox and Representative Chris Blazejewski.  As it stands now in Rhode Island, corporations and wealthy individuals can give unlimited anonymous donations to SuperPACs to influence our election cycle.  If enacted, the Rhode Island Transparency in Political Spending Act will update our election laws to require SuperPACs to disclose their donors and ensure Rhode Island citizens know who is seeking to influence our elections. 

As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010, corporations and wealthy individuals can now spend unlimited amounts to influence our election cycle.  As a result, corporations can form SuperPACs and spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertisements to influence the electorate.  Under our current state election laws, SuperPACs do not have to disclose their donors.  Consequently, this election cycle Rhode Islanders can expect to be bombarded with electioneering materials from anonymous entities whose private agendas are completely hidden. 

As a small state, Rhode Island is uniquely vulnerable to outside spending during our election cycle.  It costs an estimated $30,000 to run for state legislator in Rhode Island compared to the millions of dollars that it can cost to run for office in states like Massachusetts.  We have seen donors give upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to candidates for state offices in larger states.  So, as a small state in a land of concentrated wealth, Rhode Island is a small ship on a big ocean. 

The Transparency in Political Spending Act will modernize our campaign finance laws to ensure there is a bright light shining on the money behind these otherwise anonymous political advertisements.  This law will require SuperPACs to disclose their top five donors on any campaign material.  The law will also require SuperPACs to disclose their top donors to the State Board of Elections to illuminate the world of political donors. 

This is a major step forward to make our election system as democratic as possible. For Rhode Islanders to make responsible voting decisions, we need to know who is sending us messages and who our representatives will potentially reward once they enter office.  We applaud all the state legislators who have worked to spread information to the public.

It is imperative that as many people as possible support the bill at the hearing!  The House Judiciary Committee will hold its hearing in the House Lounge, Tuesday, April 3rd beginning at 4:30.  Please join us to support voter ownership of elections!

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