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How Dead is the DISCLOSE Act?

November 9, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The upcoming lame duck session is the last chance for Congress to require disclosure of unions, corporations and special interests that donate to campaigns, without limit, under the loopholes opened up by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. If it doesn’t get done before the year ends, the Republicans, who have stood in lock-step against disclosure, will gain even more influence in Congress and the 2012 elections will be controlled by secretive special interests to a whole new level.

Jesse Zwick has a great piece in the Washington Independent today explaining why Republicans, who have historically favored transparency initiatives like this, aren’t biting on the Democrats’ disclosure bill, the DISCLOSE Act. According to Zwick, the problems with the bill really started when the House of Representatives added a carve-out in the bill for membership groups like the NRA. That allowed the bill’s opponents to argue that it was the result of a corrupt process and was not a pure transparency initiative, so when it moved to the Senate, the moderate Republicans that the Dems had been courting to help them overcome a filibuster were not willing to participate in talks.

By the time the bill was slated to be brought up again in Congress for a vote in late September, it suffered from a breakdown in trust. Both sides realized that the current bill was a nonstarter, but there was no time in the packed legislative schedule to take the multiple days required to introduce a new, stripped-down version. Instead, Democrats urged Snowe and Collins to vote for cloture on the bill as it stood, on the assurance that the Democratic leadership would scrap whatever the senators didn’t like when it came time for debate and amendments. But such a deal would have required the confidence of all parties.

“My understanding — and I’ve talked to both Republican and Democratic offices — is that Democrats were saying, ‘Well, just tell us what you want,’ and Republicans were saying, ‘Tell us how you’ll change it and then we’ll talk,’” said Meredith McGehee, who lobbies for greater transparency in campaign finance for the Campaign Legal Center.

Other campaign finance reform advocates take a more cynical view. “A pared-down version was being discussed in the last round and that wasn’t what the issue was,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, a citizen lobby group. “The Republicans, down to Collins and Snowe, even though their public denunciations were about unions, none of them ever meant that. All they wanted was anonymous corporate support in 2010 and 2012.”

In either case, the Maine senators, having already decried the bill once, cited their same complaints and voted ‘no’ once again. A vote for cloture was too close to a vote for the bill itself, and moreover, it opened the door to the possibility of Democrats pulling a fast one and passing the bill without amendments, denying them any input and earning them the wrath of the Republican caucus for enabling Democrats to enact their agenda. The bill failed to overcome a filibuster by a single vote.

If the Democrats push a new stripped-down version of the DISCLOSE Act — one focused only on disclosure and with no carve-outs — in the lame duck, they may have a chance to get someone like Snowe, Collins or Brown on board. But the results of the midterms might make it even tougher than before to get them on board. Among political groups that used the Citizens United ruling to keep their funding sources secret, Republicans outspent Democrats by a ratio of nearly six to one. Political attack groups like the Rove-connected American Crossroads don’t work with disclosure. We saw them fail as a traditional 527, and then we saw them succeed wildly when they used the Supreme Court ruling and turned into a secretive 501c(4).

So, more than ever, the plates are stacked against Democrats getting this done, but they may have a chance in the lame duck if they start with a fresh, stripped-down bill. It certainly will be there last chance until at least 2013. However, as I’ve been explaining on this blog, there is just very little time left for Congress to be in session, and with the uncertainty surrounding the DISCLOSE Act, the Democrats will probably decide not to try in order to avoid a time drain.

Photo from takomabibelot used under a CC license.

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Comments

  • DeborahJBrown 11/09/2010 9:33am

    Why bother with this right now? There are more important issues hanging in the balance. But then, why would it be a surprise that no one on Capital Hill knows how to recognize a priority?

  • Comm_reply
    Naame 11/09/2010 12:11pm

    I disagree. I think this is one of the most important issues to take care of immediately. The impact that the passing of this legislation will have on most if not all of the other important issues at hand will be vast.

    We need disclosure. We need transparency. Otherwise, our representatives will be tackling the issues which you believe are more important with an even greater influence from various special interests who could care less about you and I.

  • Comm_reply
    deborahg6 11/09/2010 1:09pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    Exactly Deborah!

  • beenblue 11/09/2010 11:10am

    Why would one be against discloser, if one had nothing to hide ???
    The answer should destroy the question, not create another question !!
    The odd thing is the party that uses the big words like justice, equality, freedom, and rights deny these very things to the people they swore to serve and protect. The patriot act is a perfect example, the loss of habeas corpus, George Bush in 04 stated that the bill of rights is “just a piece of paper”, and lets not forget an 8 year campaign of fear on the American people.
    This country has not been this divided since the civil war. The agenda is clear, and their motives are set in stone. Let no republican speak of fiscal responsibility, who will not acknowledge two unfunded wars under their watch that created trillions in debt. To date the republican party has stalled any recovery for political gain against the democrats. Simply put every problem this country has leads right to the door steps of Washington, and the democrats share in the blame.

  • deborahg6 11/09/2010 1:13pm

    Aaaaand the Democrats do not have secret 501c’s? Good grief! Corruption is on both sides, monumental corruption. This piece of legislation is a laughable distraction, except, no one is laughing.

  • beenblue 11/09/2010 4:28pm

    Actually there are very few innocents, we don`t like being told what to do. We want to enjoy our lives, and we want to enjoy them with a good conscience. People who disturb that equilibrium are uncomfortable, so moralists are often uninvited guests at the feast, and we have a multitude of defences against them. Analogously, some individuals can insulate themselves from a poor physical environment, for a time. They may profit by creating one. The owner can live upwind of his chemical factory, and the logger may know that the trees will not give out until after he is dead. Similarly, individuals can insulate themselves from a poor moral environment, or profit from it. Just as some trees flourish by depriving others of nutrients or light, so some people flourish by depriving others of their due. And so like the antebellum slave owners in America, we have to tell ourselves a story that justifies our system, to sustain a conviction that we deserve our better fortune than them.

  • Comm_reply
    beenblue 11/09/2010 5:25pm

    An ethic gone wrong is an essential preliminary to the sweat-shop or the concentration camp and the death march. I am not an expert in politics or the economy, I was thrust into this when my fate was taken away, and I became an observer to my demise and the implementation of a new world order that wiped away middle class America like so much dust in the wind. So I state that I`m not an innocent either, for I was complacent like so many other Americans living the American dream. I don`t need to be above average to know what`s next, just read a history book, for we are a people bent on repeating the mistakes of the past.

  • wac6 11/09/2010 6:41pm

    Donny, God bless you, keep it up, but can we aim higher on this? Why are we settling for transparency in funding of election campaigns?

    Let’s think bigger. Let’s take the moment of the Tea Party and President Obama’s administration regrouping and a national disgust with all sides and think about getting rid of corporate influence in Washington, period. DISCLOSE has a carve out for registered lobbyists, right? Why?

    To paraphrase myself, “Corporations should not be voting, they should not be lobbying, they should not have political speech. The [proposed legislation] seems to be limited to corporate activities in the election cycle and not to the corrosion of democracy from corporate participation. I’m liking Scott Turow’s idea more and more, that what we need is an amendment to the First Amendment.” http://www.wac6.com/wac6/2010/09/requiring-shareholder-approval-of-corporate-spending-in-political-elections.html

  • deborahg6 11/09/2010 7:14pm

    If we’re going to trample on the Constitution for so called “transparency”…let’s include left leaning sites like this. Especially if they are funded by corporations and groups like Google and George Sorros’ Open Society.

    Do your homework folks.

  • Comm_reply
    beenblue 11/09/2010 8:51pm

    AH ha there you are, bitching about the constitution, and left leaning sites and democrats with 501 c3 exemption, and spewing fox news corp. talking points. The only point of view you have has been borrowed, and over-played. Not even the people on fox believe the garbage they spit out, they are actors who are well paid to deceive their listeners with what they want to hear. This is not unlike paying a prostitute to tell you they love you.I want to thank the Republicans for the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, the loss of habeas corpus, Govt. eavesdropping, an economic meltdown, a total disregard for the Bill of rights, a laissez faire market with no regulations, and two wars that were not funded, and lets not forget to mention all the ill-legal contracts that cost billions to the tax payer. And their slogan is LESS GOVERNMENT, AND THE DEFICIT.

  • Comm_reply
    deborahg6 11/10/2010 7:35am

    Actually, I have received much of my information from watching this site and reading bills.

    The Patriot Act? If the Dems were so concerned, why did they not kill this while they had the power? No, they simply extended it and expanded it. Government eavesdropping? Uh, have you been paying attention to Google’s shenanigans? And are they not in bed with most libs (as well as sites like this “Open”)? Ha! Economic meltdown? Are you living in a cave? We are so way past blame Bush for that. QE2 is the most monumental risk and the biggest red herring for the fact that no other country is willing to lend us any more money. No regulations? Where have I heard that? Oh, President Bush warning about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and where did that lead us? Please, stop trying to paint the Dems as sweet, innocents. The tea party people make no bones about corruptions on both sides, at least, and aren’t burying their heads in the sand.

  • Comm_reply
    beenblue 11/11/2010 4:00pm

    WOW !! coo coo……

  • beenblue 11/09/2010 9:36pm

    When Donny presents the republican point of view, and how it`s an assault to common since, what`s the problem ?? A fact is a fact, why is it regarded as an assault from the left ? Is this a case of looking for the occasion to be offended ? What is this the land of the cyclops! Or how about this Donny reports you decide???

  • ryandsmith 11/10/2010 2:20am
    Link Reply
    + -1

    I am torn on this issue. It looks like a good idea but there is already a lot of reporting on donations as it is currently. Although, it would make it a lot more easy for people to know who is funding the latest joker running for office.

  • AllenMills 11/10/2010 4:55pm

    It angers me that this can be such a partisan issue. I respect politicians, bloggers, and commentators who seem to be taking both parties to task.

  • Moderated Comment

  • HildaSuf 11/15/2010 11:52am

    The Disclose Act/Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections – as usual, now that we have a Congress that Misrepresents the people for the most part – is the opposite of how it sounds.
    This law is one step toward public/government financing of campaigns – just as the healthscare TAX is one big step/scheme toward public/government health “care” – the purpose is to take decision making from private entities, and give the power and control to the gov.
    NRA and union buddies exception, is part of this disgrace to free speech bill.
    Of course the neo-democrat socialists would attempt to nullify the Supreme court ruling that this law is unconstitutional.

  • HildaSuf 11/15/2010 11:53am

    From George Will – “Beware when the political class preens about protecting us from “special interests.” The most powerful, persistent and anti-constitutional interest is the political class. Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, says Disclose should stand for Democratic Incumbents Seeking to Contain Losses by Outlawing Speech in Elections. It is a reason for voters to multiply those losses.”
    chamberpost-com/2010/07 Citizens United, Election Spending, and the DISCLOSE Act
    -
    - Sherrod Brown supports disclose act – co-sponsor S.3628
    - charlotteobserver-com In Disclose Act, Democrats are muzzling free speech Jul. 09, 2010

  • leomoon11 11/16/2010 7:15pm

    who have stood in lock-step against disclosure, will gain even more influence in Congress and the 2012 elections will be controlled by secretive special interests to a whole new level.

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