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Report: DISCLOSE Act Will Get Another Vote in Senate

With the midterm elections just a couple months away, there’s no way that Congress will be able to pass any campaign finance legislation applicable between now and November, given the speed with which things move in Washington. So we’re stuck in a post-Citizens United world for this cycle. Indeed, we’re already starting to see large ad campaigns by corporate-backed front groups as we near Election Day.

However, future elections could be governed by changes to campaign finance law. One of the bigger complaints used by Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe in voting against the DISCLOSE Act in July was that they didn’t want to inject uncertainty into the current election cycle. So the game plan for the next attempt to pass the DISCLOSE Act will seek to take that argument off the table:

The DISCLOSE Act, which could not clear Senate hurdles when it came up just before the Aug. recess, will head back to the floor for a vote when the Senate returns next month, according to spokespeople for Senate Maj. Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the bill’s lead sponsor.

The measure would implement strict disclosure laws on campaign ads, require corporate leaders to appear in ads much like candidates and severely restrict foreign-owned companies and those that do business with the government. Advocates cast it as a positive response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling, while opponents say the bill would freeze corporate speech.

Senate Dems and their reform-advocate allies are targeting Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME), all of whom voted against cloture last month. The 3 GOPers said the bill was rushed in an attempt to influence the ’10 midterms on Dems’ behalf.

Now, though, reform advocates believe they have removed that most significant objection all 3 GOPers had. If the measure is passed in late Sept. or early Oct., it would not go into effect until after the midterms.

This assumes that the New England Three will not find some other objection to justify their No vote. Collins already has criticized the DISCLOSE Act by lying about its treatment of unions (the AFL-CIO actually opposes the Senate version). I don’t think that taking away the immediacy of the legislation will necessarily evaporate the opposition to it.

The DISCLOSE Act would increase transparency in campaign spending by corporations and unions, and also ban such spending from government contractors, TARP recipients and foreign entities or foreign-owned subsidiaries. The bill includes a special exemption for the NRA and other large organizations that would obviate them of the need for donor disclosure, which has riled pro-gun control Senate Democrats like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). But the report argues that Feinstein and Lautenberg will agree to support cloture (as they did on July 27), and then vote their conscience on final passage. So passage really does come down to the New England Three. And I don’t think just delaying implementation will necessarily be determinative.

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David Dayen

David Dayen