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Durbin, Hultgren are split on Disclose Act

Updated: August 28, 2012 6:10AM

In childhood when there was lying or name-calling, I remember adults saying: “Consider the source. Why would you listen?” As years passed I came to believe that one’s reputation was a quantifiable asset and if we speak carelessly, eventually our words will simply be dismissed.

When political discourse devolves into name-calling or twisting of facts, it should be easy to look at the sources of misinformation and dismiss those which have already been proven untrustworthy. But what happens if the sources are allowed to remain anonymous?

There is a bill in the U.S. Senate (S3369), commonly called the Disclose Act, which would require anyone donating $10,000 or more to political campaigns during an election cycle to file a statement disclosing their identity, their principal place of business, the address of the person to whom the disbursement was made, and the amount of money given.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin voiced his support of the legislation with this statement: “Those spending money to influence elections should have to stand behind the allegations made in the TV and radio ads they bankroll. Moreover, everyone in our country should have confidence that big unions, multinational companies, and wealthy individuals with special interests will not be able to curry favor or dictate policy outcomes simply because they secretly fund a candidate’s campaign or Super PAC. The Disclose Act is simple and applies to everyone — if you give more than $10,000 to a candidate or campaign, you have to do so publicly. I strongly support the measure and will continue to push for its passage.”

Even conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia offered his support in a National Public Radio interview Wednesday morning. “To evaluate speech intelligently,” said Scalia, “it’s good to know where the speech is coming from.”

Last week Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Disclose Act, so it has not yet made its way to the House.

If it does, Randy Hultgren, representing Illinois’ 14th Congressional District, opposes the legislation. In a letter to me dated July 17, he wrote: “If we are serious about enacting common sense campaign finance regulations, we must look at something more than regulating some entities while still allowing other special interests to continue unchecked.”

On Monday I phoned his office to ask for clarification concerning which special interests would be left unchecked. His press secretary, Laura Finch, was very pleasant and I appreciate the time she spent with me. Initially she answered: “Labor unions come to mind.”

“I’m confused,” I responded, “because I have the text of the bill in front of me and it says the purpose of the bill is ‘to provide for additional disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities.’ Wouldn’t labor organizations include unions?”

“Let me call you back,” Finch said. When she did, Hultgren’s message was: “There is no House bill. We cannot comment on a bill that doesn’t exist.”

“I’m asking for comment on S3369, which does exist,” I clarified. “In fact, Congressman Hultgren already commented in a letter. I’m seeking clarification on previous comments.”

“The bill does not include all special interest groups that it would need to in order to be fair,” was the answer.

“Who is not included?” I asked once more. “I really want to understand. You mentioned labor unions before but that’s not the case.”

I later received an e-mail from Hultgren’s office with letters attached from the National Right to Life Committee, the NRA, and ACLU, outlining their objections to the legislation. Generally, they cite infringement of their First Amendment rights.

I’m all for free speech. But I was raised to believe that when we publicly express ourselves — whether directly or by using money for airtime or print space — we need to take responsibility for it. Those who hide behind anonymity are cowards. So in this election cycle, when you hear toxic and manipulative messages, I urge you to consider the source.

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