Senate Readies Tuesday Cloture Vote on DISCLOSE Act

The Democrat-controlled Senate will have its first vote Tuesday on a campaign finance disclosure bill bilaterally condemned as a critical blow to grassroots political voices, and one that could prove especially disabling to the pro-life movement.

The Democrat-controlled Senate began debate Monday on the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act” (S.3628), and is expected to attempt its first cloture vote on Tuesday. The House passed its version of the bill in June.

To achieve a vote for cloture to end debate, Democrats would need “yes” votes from every member of their caucus, and at least one GOP member. Democrats have targeted Maine’s moderate GOP Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, by making minor modifications to the bill from the House version (HR 5175). However, neither has offered public support.

In addition, Politico reports that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Majority Whip and the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, would not confirm whether he had succeeded in getting every Democrat on board with the DISCLOSE Act, and that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) may be undecided on the measure.

NRLC’s Legislative Director Douglas Johnson told by telephone that the bill has not changed in any way that relates to his group’s original objections of the House version. NRLC sent a detailed letter to the Senate strongly opposing the measure, warning that a vote for cloture would count against them on NRLC’s legislative scorecard.

Johnson expected the GOP to oppose the bill vigorously since it “is so blatantly partisan and egregiously offensive to the First Amendment.” “The bill would substantially reduce the amount of information reaching the public about what federal office holders are doing about pro-life issues,” said Johnson.

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.

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.

“We are all familiar with foreign governments that jam radio broadcasts from disfavored political parties,” said Johnson. “What we have here is a bill requiring by force of law that we jam our own broadcasts.”

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.

The bill has been condemned by National Right to Life Committee as “a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors.”

Even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decried the bill as a threat to free speech and free participation in the political process.

Should the DISCLOSE Act be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama, it would take effect in 30 days, even if the Federal Elections Commission has not yet crafted new guidelines – just in time for the mid-term elections in November.

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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  • Well, if you can’t get what you want by a fair and reasoned debate of principle, then just use your legislative power to impose it by force. That’s what we voted for in 2008, and that’s what we’re getting. Is it 2012 yet?

  • Therese

    November can’t come soon enough!!