I’m on Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s email list. Lately, his emails have focused on the Disclose Act, legislation being pushed by Senate Democrats that would require non-profit groups to disclose the identity of their donors.
The bill is a response of sorts to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and unions. Senator Brown’s most recent email, sent Saturday afternoon, says that such special interest money is having a “distorting effect” on elections and that the “flood” of money is “is threatening to wash away the voice of America’s middle class.” (Of course, because we don’t know the identity of the donors to these groups, we obviously don’t know for sure whether those donors are members of the middle class or not.) Not surprisingly, Senator Brown views all of this through the lens of his own experience; if you read his emails, they all discuss, in great detail, how much groups opposing his reelection are spending on that race.
What’s of interest to me is not the merits of Citizens United, or the merits of campaign finance reform generally. Instead, I find it curious that the Senate seems capable of debating and acting on issues like the DISCLOSE Act, but not on the issues that are of real import to Americans given our current predicament — like passing a budget, or dealing with our debt problems, or figuring out how to get our economy out of the doldrums in which it has been mired for four years.
Why is the DISCLOSE Act more worthy of the attention of the Senate than legislation that addresses our ongoing economic problems? Because political spending affects Senators, of course, and therefore legislation that addresses political spending must necessarily be their top priority. It’s a good example of how the interests of Senators vary from the interests of their constituents. If you asked Americans — middle class or otherwise — what topics the Senate should be focused on these days, how far down the priority list do you think you would need to go before your reached Citizens United and campaign finance reform?