Joe Biden calls for end to ‘dark money’ in US elections

The US president urges Congress to pass a campaign finance bill that would force political groups to disclose big donors.

US President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pass a law to combat “dark money” in US elections, calling untraceable spending in politics a “serious problem” for democracy.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Biden said too much money that is used to influence elections in the United States “flows in the shadows”.

He endorsed the “Disclose Act”, a bill that would require political organisations that participate in campaigning to reveal the names of big donors. The proposed legislation would also ban contributions by foreign entities.

“Right now, advocacy groups can run ads on issues – attacking or supporting a candidate – right until election day without disclosing who’s paying for that ad,” Biden said. “Too often powerful special interests use front groups to run these ads to win at any cost.”

The law is unlikely to pass in the 100-member Senate, where Democrats do not have the 60 votes required to override the filibuster, a legislative procedure that allows the minority to block major legislation.

Under US law, political action committees – commonly referred to as PACs – and individuals can contribute only limited funds directly to political candidates.

But in a 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution give entities the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to oppose or support candidates indirectly.

Additionally, some political advocacy groups do not have to disclose their donors. Others obscure funding through shell organisations that make it difficult – if not impossible – to trace the money back to the original donors.

The effort to pass the “Disclose Act” ahead of the midterm elections in November comes as Democrats push to portray former President Donald Trump and his supporters, who dispute the 2020 election results based on false allegations of voter fraud, as a threat to democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that the chamber will take a vote on the bill by the end of the week, describing election spending by secret donors as a “veil cast over our democracy that must be ripped away once and for all”.

Schumer thanked the bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, for “pressing forward on trying to eliminate the evil scourge of dark money“.

Although the bill will most likely fail, the Democratic Senate leader suggested that the vote aims to expose which lawmakers support dark money in politics.

“This week, all of us will go on record on whether or not we think Americans deserve to know who is spending billions to sway our democracy,” Schumer said.

The topic of money in elections dominated the Democratic primaries earlier this year, with pro-Israel groups – often funded by conservative billionaires – spending millions of dollars to defeat progressives who are more likely to advocate for Palestinian human rights.

Progressive activists had unsuccessfully called on the Democratic Party’s leadership to denounce the pro-Israel spending, which has been spearheaded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Last month, a Democratic National Committee (DNC) panel blocked a motion that sought to ban dark money in the party’s primaries.

“The Democratic Party, by not allowing this resolution to come to the floor, is complicit in the railroading of democracy itself,” Nina Turner, a former congressional candidate who faced an onslaught of pro-Israel spending earlier this year, wrote on Twitter on September 8.

On Tuesday, Biden acknowledged that dark money is an issue for both major parties, but he said Democrats in Congress “support more openness and accountability”, while Republicans have so far rejected calls for campaign finance reform.

“Dark money has become so common in our politics. I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Biden said.

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