DISCLOSE Act Fails: Pro-Life Campaign Groups ‘Dodge A Cannonball by a Whisker’

Republicans managed to beat off a cloture vote in the U.S. Senate on a campaign disclosure bill that pro-life groups said would have effectively muzzled their ability to communicate with voters in the upcoming 2010 midterm elections.

“We dodged a cannonball by a whisker,” Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life Committee’s Legislative Director told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN).

The Senate voted Thursday to invoke cloture and proceed to debate the  “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act” (S.3628). However, they did not succeed in getting 60 votes to overcome a GOP-filibuster.

The motion failed 59 – 39. Every single Democrat, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), voted for the bill, but not a single Republican crossed the aisle. GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska did not vote.

“I’m not ready to declare it dead yet, but the chances of it being enacted in this congress have fallen substantially,” said Johnson.

“They threw everything they had at it and they still weren’t able to punch it through the Senate.”

President Obama made a big push for the bill, urging Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act, alleging that “shadow groups” were trying to influence the midterm elections. He said that the bill is “about how much influence special interests should have over our democracy.”

In a rare moment of agreement with conservative and pro-life groups, the American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the bill as a threat to free speech and crippling to free participation in the political process.

The ALF-CIO, the largest federation of trade unions in the U.S., also said they “reluctantly” were opposing the bill, saying that the “new, costly, and impractical record-keeping and reporting obligations” did not have any “ corresponding public benefit.”

Johnson said that it was likely opponents of the bill could keep it “bottled up for the rest of the session” and that is unlikely, now that every Senator has voted twice on the matter, that their positions would change. Still, he added, anything could happen in December’s lame-duck session, so pro-life groups should remain vigilant.

NRLC sent a detailed letter to the Senate in July warning that a vote for cloture would count against individual senators on NRLC’s legislative scorecard.

The bill has been condemned by the pro-life organization as “a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors.”

The DISCLOSE Act would force grassroots organizations – including most 501(c)4, 501(c)5, 501(c)6, and 527 groups – to list all donors of $600 or more with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Groups must also post a hyperlink on their website to the FEC, where a list of the names of their donors can be accessed. Critics of the bill say this could possibly expose donors to political retaliation by motivated groups or individuals.

In addition, the bill requires that every time an organization runs a campaign ad, its CEO must appear in the ad and twice state his name and the organization’s name. The top five funders of the organization behind the ad – even if they had nothing to do with the ad’s funding – must also have their names listed in the ad.  In addition, the most “significant” donor to the organization must list his name, rank, and organization three times in the ad.

Opponents of the bill say it would frustrate the ability of grassroots entities to communicate effectively with the public about public policy, and level criticism against incumbents. The disclaimer rule has been singled out for criticism by those who say the requirement would devour valuable airtime that would otherwise be used to inform voters about a candidate’s record.

The DISCLOSE Act exempts large 501(c)4 groups – like the 4 million strong NRA and 750,000 member Sierra Club – from having to report their donors if they have at least 500,000 members, over 10 years of existence, chapters in all 50 states, and if they receive no more than 15% of total contributions from corporations.

Other affected entities under the bill will likely include vocal liberal and conservative groups that communicate through the Internet. While traditional media organizations like newspapers and television stations are exempt from the bill, bloggers, the vanguard of the “new media,” are not.

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