December 14, 2010; Source: Iowa Independent | The U.S. Congress seems unable to act on the DISCLOSE legislation, so it should be no surprise that some states are trying to take up the issue of disclosure of secret political donations to 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations on their own. The notion seems to be garnering some bipartisan support in Iowa, with statements from Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat, and Governor-elect Terry Branstad, a Republican.

Gronstal: “I think if you’re running ads that mention candidates by name, there ought to be disclosure. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are free to engage in this kind of activity . . . I think it’s pretty clear from the U.S. Supreme Court decision that we probably can’t get at restricting them,” he said. “But we can at least find out who is financing this operation.”

Branstad: “The voters have a right to know who’s paying for these vicious and distorted attacks. I believe all of those groups should be required to disclose just like the candidates do. I believe you should have the right to contribute and support candidates, but it should all be disclosed, and it should be disclosed in a timely manner.”

There is opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized the DISCLOSE Act suggesting that disclosure of donors of “as little as $600 both violates individual privacy and chills free speech on important issues.” The ACLU buttresses its analysis by citing the NAACP v. Alabama Supreme Court decision, which slapped the state’s attempt to get the names of NAACP members “as thinly veiled attempts to intimidate activist organizations . . . by instilling a fear of retaliation among members of the activist group.”

Branstad might have trouble with his own party, as several members of his campaign team or fundraising apparatus are connected to either the American Future Fund or the Progress Project—the two most active (c)(4)s in Iowa in the run up to the recent elections. AFF spent $1 million in an attempt to unseat Bruce Braley (D-IA).

There is no legislation yet pending in Iowa to compel (c)(4)s to fess up on the sources of their money, but aggrieved politicians of the left and right might be increasingly disposed toward a government disclosure regime, not as a matter of intimidating their opponents, but, at the very least, to know who’s paying the tab for the pre-election attack ads.—Rick Cohen