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DISCLOSE Act Passes House

The House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure that would blunt many of the worst elements of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, by a count of 219-206. Two Republicans, co-sponsor Mike Castle and Louisiana’s Joseph Cao, voted for the bill; 36 Democrats voted against it. The roll call is here.

The bill would add some transparency to corporate campaign spending in a number of ways. It would prevent companies which have open government contracts from spending on campaign activities, as well as foreign companies or foreign-owned subsidiaries. All of this would have been allowable under the Citizens United ruling, which equated corporate campaign funding with free speech.

In addition, there are a number of transparency and disclosure measures in the bill. All donors of c(4) organizations, the kind most often created by corporations to spend money and influence elections, would have to be disclosed. They would have to “stand by their ad” by having the major funder approve any TV or radio message. And all their campaign spending would be transparent as well.

The DISCLOSE Act almost ran aground when a special exemption on donor disclosure was carved out for the NRA. Liberal groups revolted, but the lead sponsor of the bill, Chris Van Hollen, countered that the NRA would be more strictly regulated even with the exemption, and that this was the price for passing the bill. Democracy 21 chief Fred Wertheimer, who co-wrote much of the bill, even went so far to say that “the NRA has veto power in the House of Representatives.” Van Hollen actually increased the exemption to bring more groups, including a couple more liberal groups, under its umbrella. But a few members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as gun control advocates like Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), voted against the bill.

It now moves to the Senate, which makes me wonder why I’m reporting on any of this.

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David Dayen

David Dayen