The Benefits of Disclosure

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

 ~  Justice Louis Brandeis 

Why is transparency important in our elections?

  1. Disclosure provides voters with information about where money came from and how it was spent to help the electorate evaluate those running for office, including alerting voters to which interests the candidate is most likely to be responsive.
  2. Disclosure permits voters to consider the source of information.  Is BP speaking? The Farm Bureau? The Hospital Association?  Big Pharma?
  3. Disclosure can help to deter corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures.  Such exposure may discourage improper pressure on candidates and arms the public with information so that they can detect possible post-election special treatment. 
  4. Disclosure is essential in identifying any campaign finance violations. 

For more than forty years, the United States Supreme Court has upheld and elevated the importance of disclosure and transparency in the nation’s elections:

In 1978, a majority of the US Supreme Court justices in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti stressed how disclosure helps citizens evaluate credibility:

“People in our democracy are entrusted with the responsibility for judging and evaluating the relative merits of conflicting arguments. They may consider, in making their judgment, the source and credibility of the advocate.”

In 2003, in McConnell v. FEC, the majority highlighted the benefit of disclosure:

“First Amendment interests of individual citizens seeking to make informed choices in the political marketplace.”

In 2010, an overwhelming majority (8-1) in Citizens United v. FEC emphasized the merits of transparency:

“… prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are “in the pocket” of so-called moneyed interests… This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”