It's well known that the Supreme Court in its 2010 Citizens United decision lifted restrictions on political advertising by unions and corporations, contributing to the orgy of special-interest spending already on view in the 2012 presidential campaign. Less noted was the decision's reaffirmation of the constitutionality of laws requiring disclosure of the identities of political donors.
Yet as the campaign already has demonstrated, Congress has not done nearly enough to shine the light of disclosure on who is bankrolling efforts on behalf of particular candidates, including those sponsored by supposedly independent "super PACs." Disclosure is not a panacea for the distorting effects of special-interest money in election campaigns, but at least it allows voters to know who is writing the checks — and to speculate on what they might hope for in return.
Not too late for the general election, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has introduced a new version of the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which failed in the last Congress. It would maximize and expedite disclosure of information about individuals and corporations contributing money during political campaign seasons. Some might be bankrolling ads that clearly endorse or oppose a candidate; others might be spending on "electioneering communications" that mention the name of a candidate without explicitly advocating his election or defeat. The latter include the notorious "bogus issue ads" that urge viewers to call President Obama or Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney to complain about their derelictions, as if they didn't happen to be candidates.