The point of disclosure is to let voters see who is financing election campaigns. That was why the Supreme Court upheld the disclosure law in Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, and that was the purpose of the law when Congress passed it in 1910. Getting that first law on the books was not a sure thing, though. Perry Belmont, the former member of Congress (D-NY) who drafted it, explained that disclosure would "turn on the light," which Congress was not eager to do.1 Belmont failed in his first two attempts to get his bill passed, and it might not have become law but for William Howard Taft.

Taft made two promises when he became the Republican candidate for president in 1908: to voluntarily disclose the funding of his own campaign, and to get a disclosure bill through Congress if elected. When he released his donor list after the election, people saw that he still got some money from the GOP's big Wall Street donors, but that he also had thousands of small donors from well outside New York. Disclosure "never won a greater triumph than this," exclaimed the Wall Street Journal.2

Taft also made good on his second promise. The law he pushed Congress to pass in 1910 stayed on the books until it was replaced by the one in the 1971 FECA. Congress did not want disclosure to shine a very bright light on its members in 1971, either; and it did not create an agency to enforce the new disclosure requirements. Congress had to change its mind on that point after Watergate, and it created the Federal Election Commission (FEC); but it keeps a tighter leash on the FEC than it does on other regulatory agencies.

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