Senate Democrats on Monday failed to move forward on legislation that calls for more strict disclosures for political spending, as Republicans easily blocked a mostly symbolic procedural vote on the measure less than a week after Democrats blasted House Republicans for holding a token vote to repeal health care.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who has characterized the so-called Disclose Act as a threat to the First Amendment, led a successful filibuster to defeat the measure during an evening vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was expected to try again Tuesday. But with the Democratic leader eight votes shy of the 60 needed to advance the measure, the bill is all but dead.
Democrats say the White House-backed bill would add much needed transparency to the unlimited political expenditures now allowed by outside groups. But they’re also eager to use the vote — despite its imminent failure — as a way to portray Republicans as beholden to big business and corporate money ahead of the November elections.
Republicans’ “new-found opposition to transparency makes one wonder who they’re trying to protect?” Mr. Reid said. “Perhaps Republicans want to shield a handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election.”
Mr. McConnell countered by saying the measure is an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s decision, a move he says could be used as a political weapon to target certain groups while leaving others alone. But the Republican added that, since it has no chance of passing either chamber of Congress, Democrats were only using the vote to “blow a kiss” to organized labor.
It’s “a bill that has only two discernible purposes: to create the impression of mischief where there is none, and to send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” Mr. McConnell said.
The Disclose Act calls for new donor-and-contribution-disclosure requirements on most groups that spend money on political advertisements but are not affiliated with a candidate or political party. The sponsor of the ad would be required to appear in the ad and claim responsibility for it.
The measure is a direct response to a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that struck down most limits on corporate and union spending in elections on the grounds they violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech. That case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, has been chastised by Democrats but generally applauded by Republicans.
An earlier version of the measure in 2010 passed the then-Democratic House but was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Meanwhile in the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, last week said House Democratic leaders would file a “discharge petition” for the bill, which means if a majority of House members sign on, the bill automatically would be brought to the floor for a vote, despite the objections of Republican leaders who control the chamber’s schedule.
Like the Senate’s push, the House effort faces almost no chance of success and is more about political messaging than legislating. Democrats in both chambers repeatedly have held-up presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s reluctance to make most of his tax returns available as justification for the bill.
“The person who wants to be the chief executive in control of the finances of the United States should tell the American people how he conducts his own finances,” Mr. Van Hollen told reporters last week while discussing the Disclose Act. “So this is a question of disclosure and transparency.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out strongly against the measure, saying in a Monday statement that it “is designed to chill the political speech of corporations, business interests, and others, while giving labor unions special protections.”
But Democrats dismissed the notion, with Mr. Reid saying the bill “treats all political entities equally.”
President Obama condemned Republicans for blocking the bill, saying they’re standing in the way of needed reforms.