Volumne 12, Issue No. 1
February 4, 2014

Campaign Transparency Dies in Senate; Sen. Mikulski Gives Nod to ANA

Senate Bill S. 3369, more commonly known as the “DISCLOSE” Act, (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections), died in the Senate when it failed to receive the 60 votes needed to end debate.  The final vote count was 51 to 44 with five Senators not voting: Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

The legislation would have required corporations, super PACs, nonprofits and unions to disclose the names of contributors who give more than $10,000 to those groups for use in political campaigns.  The bill’s author, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), introduced the legislation in response to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the “Citizens United” case, whereby the Court deemed corporate campaign donations a form of free speech, not subject to limitations by the government.

During what at times amounted to a fiery debate, Senators on both sides of the aisle argued for and against the legislation.  One Senator, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) spoke in support of the legislation and referenced the American Nurses Association in her speech;

“During a campaign I have to say who has given me money. I have to disclose who has given me money, and the donor has limits. Whether it comes from a little action committee like the National Association of Social Workers, which has always supported me; whether it is the American Nurses Association, which has always supported me; they disclose it.” 

The vote came down on a strict party line divide.  Every Democrat voted in favor, while every Republican opposed.  Even Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of the architects of modern day campaign finance reform, came out in opposition, claiming the bill “forces some entities to inform the public about the origins of their financial support, while allowing others, most notably those affiliated with organized labor, to fly below the Federal Election Commission’s regulatory radar.”

The bill’s supporters disagreed.  Political advertising, supported by such donations, “threatens to drown out the voice of middle-class families in our democracy,” exclaimed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  Added Majority Leader Harry Reid, “During this election, outside spending by GOP shell groups is expected to top $1 billion. . .  The names of these front groups contain words like ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity.’  But make no mistake: there is nothing free about an election purchased by a handful of billionaires for their own self-interest.”

Senator Reid brought the bill up for a second vote on Tuesday, but it suffered the same fate as the day before.  The vote fell short of the required 60 votes needed to end debate, at 53 to 45. This final vote all but killed the legislation in this 112th Congress, as the House of Representatives is unlikely to take up the bill.  Still, Senator Reid was optimistic that we haven’t seen the last of comprehensive campaign disclosure reform.  We at ANA are also hopeful we’ll see reforms enacted in the not-too distant future.

Jerome Mayer

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