DISCLOSE Act Blocked in the Senate

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Earlier this evening, the DISCLOSE Act died in the Senate by a vote of 51-44. The bill would make have made it harder to anonymously donate money to politically active organizations by requiring that corporations, unions, super PACs and others report “campaign expenditures” over $10,000 within 24 hours. As expected, Republicans unanimously opposed the bill. Democrats are holding a late session tonight to make speeches in favor of the legislation, which needed 60 votes to proceed.

In a statement, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the sponsor of the bill, explained the need for the fillibuster, which Democrats are calling a “midnight vigil”:

“Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be,” Whitehouse said. “We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”

Over the weekend, Politico columnist Adam Skaggs noted that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “launched a full-throated attack on the DISCLOSE Act” over the past few weeks in an editorial.

“DISCLOSE supporters say it ensures transparency and accountability in U.S. elections. McConnell, however, contends it’s a vehicle for intimidation that will squelch political speech and let the Obama administration compile an ‘old-school enemies list’ to punish critics.

Central to McConnell’s strongest indictment is that the bill is a lawless end run to get around the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. McConnell seems to suggest the Democrats’ actions are not only wrong — they’re un-American.”

The trouble with McConnell’s argument is that it completely misrepresents what the Supreme Court actually had to say in the Citizens United decision. The justices were enthusiastically in favor of disclosure, by a margin of 8 to 1. Justice Kennedy wrote: “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

The Sunlight Foundation: Republicans have a long history of supporting disclosure in campaign finance
To help voters make sense of the spin, the Sunlight Foundation began a series of blog posts last week — What You Should Know about the DISCLOSE Act — starting with the story of how the bill came to be. In another post, they produced a video that points out many Republicans, including Sen. McConnell, supported increased disclosure requirements prior to Citizens United, when they had less to lose. As The Washington Post noted in an editorial entitled “Expose the fat cats,” that “[n]ow that the tide of money is running in their favor, they don’t.” Post editors challenged senators to do the right thing:

“Credibility is a precious thing. In their lust for contributions, in cozying up to the moneybags of this era, candidates and political operatives in both parties seem to be forgetting that they put their own credibility at risk. There is a very good chance that when some government decision or vote comes along next year, responsible politicians will find themselves haunted by the secret money of the 2012 campaign.

Is it really worth it? Do these donors deserve to remain hidden? Why can’t they handle a little sunshine? We’d like to see a few courageous Republicans rise in the Senate on Monday and declare: Enough is enough.”

When it comes to campaign finance anonymity, Senate Republicans apparently think there can never be enough.

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