Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, (H.R. 5175), a bill designed as a response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. On the off chance that you haven't been paying attention to the nuts and bolts of campaign finance law, the Supreme Court decided that, essentially, independent expenditures by corporations were a form of speech. Since, according to a precedent set in 1886, corporations are "legal persons," they are protected under the first amendment. Corporations are people, money is speech. Clear?
Good, because we're headed deep into irony country. (It's a big country.) Stephen Colbert said it best:
Corporations are legally people. And it makes sense, folks. They do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River.
However, actual humans have the misfortune of voices that are associated with our bodies. Corporations labor under no such restrictions. Spinning off a subsidiary, and having that subsidiary spin off its own subsidiary, and so on so forth is no big deal for corporations. In the end, it's easy to have "Ye Olde Mom and Pop Corn Concern" advocating for the interests the largest agricultural corporations in the country. All it takes is a bit of creative paperwork.
The DISCLOSE Act was drafted to address that situation, and to provide Americans the information they need to assess the content of these independent expenditures. (Independent expenditures often take the form of radio or TV advertisements.) Enter the National Rifle Association, which vigorously and successfully pursued a provision that would allow them to avoid disclosing the names of top donors supporting their advertising campaigns. It's total hogwash: the NRA is leveraging i's right to unlimited "speech" (i.e. expenditures on behalf of a candidate) to avoid telling the American people who's speaking. Speech without speakers; faceless men with guns and money.
And with Citizens United v FEC a done deal, Democrats confront an awkward choice. If they embrace the new campaign finance regime, they risk appearing to side with corporate interests over rank-and-file Democrats. However, if they condemn independent corporate expenditures, they're putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Republicans in an already anti-incumbent climate.
ActBlue is the way for campaigns to cut through that Gordian Knot. As Nancy Scola noted in a recent piece for Salon, Democrats like Alan Grayson have discovered that "populism is popular," and–when paired with ActBlue–a valuable source of funds. By relying on small-dollar fundraising, Democratic candidates are able to respond to popular interests, rather than corporate interests. Moreover, they're embracing exactly the sort of "speech as money" paradigm our Supreme Court ought to protect: human voices, not corporate ones.
As a final note, Republicans voted unanimously against the DISCLOSE Act, an action that–yes, I'll go there–speaks louder than words.