Senate Tables DISCLOSE Act, For Now

Thanks to a united Republican Caucus, the Senate failed to take up a deeply flawed campaign finance "reform" bill.

The Senate fell three votes short yesterday of invoking cloture on the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance “reform” bill put forward by Democrats in response to the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in Citizens United:

Senate Democrats failed to attract a single Republican vote on the DISCLOSE Act Tuesday, effectively defeating the bill and casting doubts over whether any campaign finance measure can pass the upper chamber before the November elections.

Aides in both the Senate and the House insisted the legislation will come up for consideration again. But with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) painting the bill — which failed 57-41 — as detrimental to his conference, a packed legislative docket and contentious elections on the horizon, sending the DISCLOSE Act to the president’s desk now appears to be a long shot at best.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in accordance with the procedural rules, voted against opening debate on the bill to leave open the opportunity to bring it to the floor at a later date.

“There’s no reason to rush toward trying to pass a piece of legislation that needs broad support and [requires getting] the policy right, constructing the approach right — and certainly not in time for this election,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) told POLITICO, citing the years-long process of completing the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

“One has to ask the question as to why [Democrats] need to be driving this for this election. Perhaps it benefits their side more than it does ours — I don’t know — but the fact is, we’ve got to get the policy right, and it’s not there yet.”

Snowe had been a key target for Democrats pressing for a bill that had the support of their full caucus. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who missed the vote Tuesday for a funeral, told Reid he would have supported cloture, according to leadership aides, but Snowe had little incentive to break with her party on a measure the GOP leadership stood strongly against.

The general idea of the act, essentially requiring corporations donating to political causes to disclose those donations, is not entirely objectionable. Where the Republicans got hung up, and where I agree with them, is the nature and extent of the disclosures required (such as 14 second disclosures in a 30 second commercial according to some estimates) and the massive number of exemptions provided to unions and other Democrat-favored entities. The Senate bill cut down on those exemptions, but they didn’t go away entirely:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, had altered the House version of the legislation late last week to attempt to lure Republican votes. The new Senate language sought to make the treatment of unions and corporations more balanced. The tweaked legislation would require corporations, unions and advocacy groups to reveal their roles in political ads or mailings in the closing months of a campaign. Companies that receive Troubled Asset Relief Program funding and smaller government contractors would also be barred from underwriting “electioneering communications.”

There is also, inexplicably, a carve out for several specific organizations, including the National Rife Association. The NRA has, of course, not come out against the bill and has also been noticeably silent on Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination.

On the whole, the seeming defeat of the DISCLOSE Act is a good thing. Is some form of increased transparency in campaign finance necessary ? Yes. I’ve often said that my preferred campaign finance scheme would involve no public financing, no limits on contributions, and complete and more frequent reporting of all contributions to the FEC. That wasn’t what we had here, though.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Boyd says:

    The NRA is “noticeably silent” on the Kagan nomination?

    NRA: Kagan a threat to gun rights, wherein we learn that “The NRA indicated it will ‘key vote’ Kagan’s confirmation, a scoring process the group uses in its decision to endorse candidates and sitting members of Congress on gun rights issues…” This means that voting to confirm Kagan will lower Senators’ NRA grade, and could mean withholding an endorsement in the November election.

    Then there’s the anti-Kagan ad (and anti-Sotomayor, for whatever that’s worth) that the NRA released earlier this month.

    I’m not sure what you think the NRA would be doing if they weren’t “silent” on the nomination, Doug.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Sorry Doug, I think it’s an outrage this bill couldn’t even get to a vote even when there were 59 votes for cloture. The bill isn’t perfect but the idea that unions and corporations some of whom are foreign controlled can make secret campaign contributions is hard to believe. Fortunately, I think the American electorate has become largely inured to the more blatant demagoguery of political ads and the internet culture tends to reveal where the money is coming from. But I can guarantee this will produce some outrages over the next few years if the bill doesn’t find it’s way back between now and year end.

  3. Joe,

    That’s just a massive non sequitur.

    Every contribution to a candidate or a PAC has to be disclosed to the FEC. Contributions by foreign citizens and corporations is already against the law.

    There’s nothing worthwhile in this bill that isn’t already covered by existing law, and there are plenty of parts of the law that are designed to make it more difficult for people to engage in political speech in advance of elections. That, in and of itself, is just wrong.

  4. Boyd,

    I was referring to the fact that, unlike the Sototmayor nomnination, the NRA decided not to send witnesses to speech at the Judiciary committee hearing, principally

  5. Boyd says:

    That’s one consideration, Doug, but a very limited one. The NRA is taking a different tack with Kagan than with Sotomayor. And scoring the vote is the big gun, as opposed to testifying before the committee.

    But anyway, that’s really a side issue to the point of your post, so I’ll shut up now.

  6. steve says:

    “There’s nothing worthwhile in this bill that isn’t already covered by existing law, and there are plenty of parts of the law that are designed to make it more difficult for people to engage in political speech in advance of elections”

    I think every political or advocacy ad should reveal who paid for it. If done correctly, this would be a good bill.

    Boyd- This month’s Rifleman has Beck and Palin on the cover. I am seriously considering giving up membership.