A campaign-finance disclosure bill meant to close the spending floodgates opened by the U.S. Supreme Court in January’s Citizens United ruling was blocked today in the U.S. Senate, bringing joyful statements from some extremely strange bedfellows.
The Senate voted 57-41 on the motion to invoke cloture on the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act; 60 votes were needed to end debate on the bill and bring it to a vote. Both of California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted for cloture; no Republicans did so; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the lone Democrat voting “no,” a parliamentary maneuver that lets him revive the bill some other time if he thinks he has the votes. The House passed its version of the DISCLOSE Act in June.
The American Civil Liberties Union says it supports the disclosure of large contributions to candidates as long as that disclosure doesn’t chill political participation; it had urged senators to oppose DISCLOSE Act.
“The DISCLOSE Act would not improve the integrity of political campaigns in any substantial way but would significantly harm the speech and associational rights of Americans,” Laura Murphy, the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office director, said in a news release. “We can only truly bring positive change to our elections if we continue to respect our cherished free speech rights and, unfortunately, the DISCLOSE Act does not do that. We commend the Senate for rejecting this well-intentioned but overly broad legislation.”
Michael Macleod-Ball, the ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel, said small donors to small organizations risk losing anonymity under the bill while larger, mainstream organizations would be exempt from donor disclosure – a further distortion of campaign finance fairness.
Way over on the right, Americans for Limited Government celebrated the bill’s blockage too.
“The so-called DISCLOSE Act imposes arduous regulations on corporations and non-profits and is explicitly designed to intimidate dissent, all in violation of the First Amendment. Senate Republicans deserve the praise of all freedom-loving Americans who believe that free, unrestricted political speech is a basic and fundamental right under the Constitution,” ALG President Bill Wilson said in his news release. “This is intended to intimidate certain groups and individuals from saying anything at all and into giving up their First Amendment rights. It’s a cynical gag order.”
Open government and consumer advocacy groups such as Common Cause and Public Citizen had strongly supported the bill as a bulwark against the tsunami of money expected to flood this year’s general election season; for it to take effect in time, the Senate would have had to approve it before the August recess.
UPDATE @ 2:09 P.M.: Add the League of Women Voters to groups aggrieved by the DISCLOSE Act’s blockage.
“It is sad to see Senators cling to partisanship and obstructionism once again, instead of working together to find a middle ground on the DISCLOSE Act,” League national president Elisabeth MacNamara said in a news release. “This is a failure for which voters will have to pay this November when corporate and other special interests use secret money to influence our elections.”
“Opponents of the DISCLOSE Act have put forth various criticisms — some true and others based on misinterpretations — justifying their obstruction. But the bottom line is that voters deserve to know who is paying for election advertising. This is not only common sense — it is crucial if voters are to remain the cornerstone of our democracy,” she added. “We would like to know what these opponents have to fear from disclosure of election advertising. Furthermore, what is to prevent them from falling victim to the deceitful advertising which they are refusing to regulate?”