Senate Democrats are touting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s support for campaign finance disclosures as they reignite a push to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would require groups that spend money to influence elections to reveal their sources of funding.
Although the Reagan-appointed justice has voted with the Supreme Court’s conservative wing to slash limits on independent and aggregate campaign donations, he is also an outspoken supporter of disclosure requirements for donors, which congressional Republicans have blocked since 2010.
“The debate here is not a legal debate, the debate here is a political debate. And I think that’s made very clear by what Justice Scalia wrote in Doe v. Reed,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, the chairman of Senate Democrats’ electoral arm. The Colorado senator stood with his colleagues at a press briefing with reporters on Tuesday while re-introducing the bill. It has 50 cosponsors.
In Doe, which was decided just five months after the controversial Citizens United ruling, the Court held 8-1 that disclosure of signatures on a referendum does not run afoul of the First Amendment. In a separate opinion agreeing with the outcome, Scalia declared his strong support for public scrutiny in a broader context of those seeking to influence elections.
“Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed,” he wrote. “For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously … and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”
Senate Republicans have filibustered the DISCLOSE Act multiple times since 2010, while House Republicans have refused to consider the legislation since they took the majority in 2011.
The Democratic senators were asked Tuesday about the counter-argument that requiring disclosure could lead to intimidation and retaliation toward individuals for exercising what the Supreme Court has decreed their constitutional right.
“The First Amendment is about the public square and public discourse, and that’s a public process that has to be clear,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said.
“We refer you to Justice Scalia on that,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) added.
In a July 2012 appearance on CNN, Scalia said spending money to influence elections is a matter of free speech, “so long as the people know where the speech is coming from.”