Whitehouse, Langevin, Cicilline, & Gorbea Call for Federal Campaign Finance Reform

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, and Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea today called for an end to unchecked corporate spending in elections at a roundtable discussion about federal campaign finance reform.

The event, which was held at Save the Bay’s headquarters in Providence, was hosted in partnership with Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Public Citizen and Common Cause Rhode Island. The discussion comes in advance of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gaveling back into session later in the day after summer recess, and in the midst of a national election cycle in which outside spending by special interest groups has outpaced candidate spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The American people want and deserve accountability in their elections,” said Whitehouse, who introduced the DISCLOSE Act to require disclosure of donations greater than $10,000 to organizations spending at least $10,000 in an election. The legislation includes a provision to prevent organizations from evading disclosure requirements by laundering money through multiple organizations. “Unchecked secret corporate spending has tipped the scales of power away from ordinary Americans and in favor of big special interests. If Congress is going to make meaningful progress in the months and years ahead on important issues that matter to Rhode Islanders like addressing climate change, reforming our broken campaign finance system is the first step.”

“Citizens United opened the floodgates, and the result has been disastrous. We must remove the influence of big money from elections, and work toward a process that is transparent and holds candidates accountable not to donors, but to the people who matter most – the constituents,” said Langevin. “I applaud Senator Whitehouse for his leadership on this issue, and I join him in our commitment to changing the way we do business in Washington.”

“The ruling in Citizens United has proven to be one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history,” said Cicilline. “I am proud that Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation is taking a leading role in calling for a Constitutional Amendment to reverse this decision and restore government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Whitehouse’s DISCLOSE Act, which has been supported by Langevin and Cicilline in the U.S. House of Representatives, is part of the “We the People” legislative package that was introduced in the U.S. Senate in June to deal with secret corporate political spending, lobbyist influence, the revolving door, and other facets of the campaign finance system to help level the playing field and take back our democracy for regular Americans. Whitehouse touted the suite of legislation as a solution to the corporate spending blocking meaningful legislative action on issues like ensuring economic security for the middle class and addressing climate change.

“Campaign finance reform is a critical issue that impacts everyone,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “Government can and must be effective, transparent and accountable to the people it serves in order to succeed. Democracy is at stake when the power of the collective voice of voters is overshadowed by big money and special interests.”

Environmental advocates and legal experts on the panel pointed to the uphill battle faced by ordinary citizens in countering the lopsided influence of corporate spending on elections since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. At the event, Public Citizen presented a petition signed by more than 4,000 Rhode Islanders calling for an amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling.

“It didn’t take long after Citizens United for secret money has find its way to the shores of Rhode Island,” said John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “We know that Rhode Islanders don&rsquot want unlimited undisclosed money in our elections. We are fortunate to have a congressional delegation that has taken this issue seriously and has offered real solutions for the problems posed by big money in our politics.”

“Senator Whitehouse is a national leader fighting to make our elections and government work for everyday people again through the We the People Act,” said Aquene Freechild, Campaign Co-Director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “He’s pushing the current Congressional majority to snap out of their campaign cash-induced paralysis and stand up to the tiny but influential donor class: by overturning Citizens United, disclosing all spending in elections, and slamming shut the revolving door that transforms public servants into corporate shills.”

Citizens United unleashed a previously restricted torrent of special interest money into the political system. More than $1.5 billion in unlimited contributions, including more than $500 million in secret contributions, have been poured into federal elections since the decision was issued.

“Because of the erosion of campaign finance laws, the fossil fuel industry has been freely able to exert enormous influence over both the legislative process and regulatory structures,” said Johnathan Berard, Clean Water Action’s Rhode Island State Director. “In 2014 alone, the oil and gas industry contributed over $64 million to campaigns, PACs, and industry groups, and because of the Citizens United decision, the source of much of this money remains undisclosed. Oil and gas money goes to help elect candidates that actively undermine efforts to safeguard the environment, push for industry-friendly regulations, and ensure that taxpayers continue to subsidize companies that profit immensely from the irresponsible exploitation of our natural resources. This has tremendous consequences for the environment and public health, so we are pleased to see Senator Whitehouse and colleagues working diligently to address these disastrous practices.”

“Sadly, under our current election system money can buy outsized political influence,” said Michael J. Yelnosky, Dean of Roger Williams University School of Law. “Common sense campaign finance reform is necessary to begin to restore the promise of democracy.”