Partisan Self-Preservation may Derail DISCLOSE


The Senate is expected to bring up the DISCLOSE Act tomorrow—perhaps a last stand to get the bill enacted before elections in the fall. Senate Republicans have been united in their opposition to the bill—efforts to get the support of moderates like Senators Brown, Snowe and Collins seem to have been fruitless. Without them, the bill will be shy of the 60 votes it needs to survive cloture. And without the DISCLOSE Act, the public will be left in the dark about who is funding political campaigns across the country.

Senator Reid is probably playing politics by bringing up bill knowing it doesn’t have the votes to pass. He’s right to use this vote to point out that Republicans are, in this case, the party opposed to transparency. And the voters should care. They should also ask anyone who opposes the DISCLOSE Act the following:

  • Why, when the Supreme Court specifically said, “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages,” are you opposed to a bill that does that?
  • How can you claim that the DISCLOSE Act violates the first amendment when disclosure regimes have long been upheld as constitutional? Campaign contributions, candidate, party and PAC expenditures and lobbyists disclosures have long been upheld as legitimate methods of deterring corruption and the appearance of corruption in the political process.
  • What is the basis for claiming the bill treats corporations and unions differently? The House and Senate bill ensure that unions and corporations are subject to the same transparency provisions, including disclosure of contributions to electioneering communications and stand-by-your-ad requirements. Under the Senate bill, both corporations and unions are required to report transfers among affiliates, including dues, greater than $50,000.
  • How is the public served when a shadow group can conceal everything about itself and still influence elections by pumping unlimited amounts of money into campaign ads? The interests of the messenger can be easily disguised by giving a group an innocuous or even misleading name. At its core, the DISCLOSE Act is designed to lift the curtain off of such groups so that public can judge the veracity of a campaign ad and the credibility of the speaker.

The arguments lobbed against the bill are flimsy excuses to justify voting against legislation that would provide the public with critical insight into who is paying for our elections. By potentially killing the bill, Senate Republicans are not only denying the public with important disclosures about campaign expenditures by outside groups, they are also denying the public timely information about Senate candidates’ contributions and expenditures. The DISCLOSE Act includes a Sunlight priority to require electronic filing of Senate candidates’ disclosure reports. This straightforward provision has also been indefinitely stalled as a result of Mitch McConnell-led obstruction by Senate Republicans.

It’s ironic that the Chamber of Commerce would call this bill a partisan power-grab by Democrats. Rather, by opposing transparency, it seems that Senate Republicans and their special interest allies are trying to boost their own fortunes in November by ensuring that Republican-leaning corporate coffers can be opened up to help Republican candidates without leaving any fingerprints behind.