Commentary: Who's buy politicians? DISCLOSE act would help shed light on that

Americans are almost ready to see the finish of one of the roughest campaign seasons on record.

It’s also the end of a time during which a record amount of money was contributed to allegedly nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations that became some of the biggest — and nastiest — political advertisers.

These two facts are related. The combination threatens a working democracy, further and dangerously marginalizing those without vast wealth in the political process.

One solution being offered is the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections), which passed the U.S. House this summer, but not surprisingly stalled in the Senate.

The act, simply summarized, seeks to force those pumping money into campaigns to take personal responsibility for their actions and not hide behind front organizations.

It must be passed. Specifically, corporations, labor unions and nonprofits would have to disclose their donors, and their leaders would have to appear on their television ads noting “I approve of this message.”

Most importantly, the act would rein in a growing group of 501(c)(4) organizations, which by law cannot be political or party-affiliated. The groups officially are nonprofits, organized for the “promotion of social welfare.” But in reality these often highly partisan groups use this status to keep their donors secret.

The DISCLOSE Act might not change the amount of money spent on campaigns, but the sources would be known. If political advertising works (and as so much money is spent on it, the assumption is that it does), people deserve to know exactly who is trying to buy their elections.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.kansascity.com.