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DISCLOSE Act Also Readied for Senate Vote?

I think Democrats are trying to fit all these big bills into this narrow window in the next couple months, mindful of the expected diminished majorities thereafter. After hearing about the inclusion of both the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell legislative repeal and the DREAM Act in the defense authorization bill, now there’s rumblings of a last-minute vote on the DISCLOSE Act.

Senate Democrats are considering a plan to hold centrist Republicans’ feet to the fire by forcing a vote on a bare-bones campaign disclosure bill.

With a Republican takeover of Congress a distinct possibility come November, advocates for greater limits on campaign spending believe they are facing a now-or-possibly-never scenario for the legislation. With time running out, they are pinning their hopes on Maine GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, two longtime champions of campaign finance reform.

If Republicans do win back the majority in either chamber, the chances of passing the bill in the next two years are slim to none, advocates say.

“We have to act now or face the reality that hundreds of millions of dollars will be sloshing around in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections without anyone knowing what’s going on and where the ads are coming from,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, which advocates for campaign finance reform.

OK, but what does “bare-bones” mean? Where, this would basically just be a disclosure bill. The parts banning companies who contract with the US government or accept TARP money from campaign spending, or the part banning any company with at least 20% foreign ownership from the same, would be excised. That’s not precisely what Chuck Schumer said today, but it’s a fair reading of his words.

This was mainly what I liked about the bill, the ability to apply the Hatch Act evenly. What’s left is standard disclosure stuff, somewhat useful but also able to be done by outside groups. None of the disclosure requirements would, in most cases, stop the tremendous amount of outside ad-buying, most of it in support of the Republican Party’s candidates. We may know a little more about who’s doing the funding, but the flood of money would continue.

I think what you’re seeing dawn on Senate Democrats in the past few days is this: they have no shot of holding the same majorities, and so they’d better do something positive with these 59 votes before it all comes crashing down after November. In doing so, they appear to be bending over backwards to fashion narrow compromises to gain one or two votes on the margins to win the necessary Republican support. If they were serious about changing the Senate rules, this rush wouldn’t be as necessary, since they would be able to pass legislation with a bare majority.

Alternatively, they could just be putting this up for a vote to attract a filibuster from the Republicans, to win a debate about Republicans aligning with corporate interests.

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David Dayen

David Dayen