Heitkamp joins Montana senator on bill for campaign finance transparency
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has signed onto a bill introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., which promotes transparency in campaign financing.
"Everybody's entitled to speak, but why if you have more money does your voice get to be louder than everybody else's?" she said.
The SUN (Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits) Act would allow the public to know when donors spend more than $5,000 on tax-exempt groups that engage in electioneering and would have no impact on nonprofits that don't engage in election activities.
"Our campaign finance system is broken," Tester said in a release. "That's why I am pleased to partner with Senator Heitkamp to add some western common sense to our elections and shine light on the dark money interests trying to influence our democracy."
Heitkamp said that in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Buckley v. Valeo case that "money is speech, and it's protected." She said that Democrats have been trying to get the case overturned for years, and she believes Buckley v. Valeo was "wrongly decided." That case led to Citizens United, she said.
"The problem with where we are right now ... is you don't know who gave the money," Heitkamp said. "So it's a way to launder political money to a (501(c)(4)) and no one can know. At a minimum the voters of our state have a right to know who's financing campaigns—that's why we have disclosures, that's why we have campaign finance reporting."
Heitkamp added that when she was attorney general in North Dakota, she pushed for more campaign finance transparency. She said she has worked with other senators to even consider amending the Constitution in order to increase transparency.
"When people ask me why Washington's so broken, I will tell you there's too much undisclosed money, and we need to get into the sunshine here," Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp claims that when Citizens United was decided, Justice Antonin Scalia said Congress can regulate disclosure. She also claims that Scalia suggested that regulation of disclosure should happen.
"I don't know why the Republicans oppose disclosure, given that their hero Justice Scalia basically recommended it in his opinion," she said.
Heitkamp said she believes The SUN Act is important to the entire electoral system.
"When people in North Dakota get incredibly frustrated about the inability to get things done, I think that a lot of times the positions people take may be driven more by who funds them, then by the interest of their state," she said. "I think it's critically important if we're going to move Congress forward and get things done, not just for North Dakota, but for the entire country, that we clean up campaign finance reform."
Heitkamp said North Dakotans have the right to know who is trying to influence people's opinions — whether through television ads or advocacy groups. However, she added that the influence of these ads can vary—sometimes they will receive no calls because of the ads, she said. Heitkamp said recently out-of-state groups ran ads in the state urging people to call their senators to vote for Betsy DeVos, the eventual U.S. Secretary of Education. However, instead her office received calls and responses from an online portal she had created for feedback saying they saw the ads, but wanted Heitkamp to vote against DeVos.
"I think that sometimes those things are just not as well received, and I think they tend to be a waste of money," she said. "I also think that it's important that when people are giving you advice on how you should interact that you should know who's behind that ad."