Both of West Virginia’s Democratic senators, Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, supported a bill yesterday which would have required organizations spending millions of dollars into campaign ads to disclose their top donors and the amounts they spend.
However, the bill known at the DISCLOSE (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act was blocked by Senate Republicans, with a vote of 51-44. Sixty votes were needed to bring the act to the Senate floor.
Rockefeller, who cosponsored the bill, said that it would make citizens sure who was spending money on elections and limit the role that special interests and secret campaigns play in controlling the political system.
“Americans want to have more faith in the political system, but allowing special interest money and corporate contributors to secretly pay for political campaigns undermines that goal,” Rockefeller said. “It’s the people, not special interests, who should determine the right direction for our country. The Supreme Court’s ruling in 2010 put too much power and influence in the hands of large companies and special interests who don’t have to report to anyone. This bill would reverse that course and restore the confidence and strong voice that everyday Americans deserve in our political process. Congress should not delay this bill any longer.”
Democrats revived the act during a presidential election campaign in which political action committees and nonprofit organizations, funded by deep-pocketed and largely anonymous contributors, are dominating the airwaves with largely negative political ads.
President Barack Obama, in a statement, said he was disappointed and chided Republicans for blocking the bill.
“Instead of standing up for the American people, Republicans stood with big banks and oil companies — special interests that certainly don’t need more clout in Washington,” Obama said. “I’m disappointed Republicans in Congress failed to take action and hold corporations and special interests accountable to the American people.
“I will continue to do everything I can to repair the deficit of trust between Washington and the American people,” Obama said. “I’m disappointed Republicans in Congress failed to take action and hold corporations and special interests accountable to the American people.”
The White House, in a statement, said the bill was needed so Americans would “know who is attempting to influence the nation’s elections.” Without the bill, it said, “corporations and wealthy individuals will continue to be able to shield their donations from disclosure.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Democrats of wasting time on bills “they know won’t pass but which give them a chance to make a fuss about a problem that doesn’t exist and blow a kiss to the unions for good measure.”
Another version of the Disclose Act passed the then-Democratic-controlled House in 2010 but was similarly blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Republicans cite First Amendment rights and say the bill favors unions in opposing the legislation.
The bill, which would not have gone into effect until next January, would have required any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more.
Current election law requires super political action committees, or PACS, to make periodic reports to the Federal Election Commission, but nonprofit groups, including social welfare organizations, labor unions and trade groups, generally do not have to reveal the sources of election-related spending.
Democrats have been pushing for more disclosure since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case that overturned a decades-old law barring corporations, unions and other organizations from spending on advertising and other forms of political activity.
Knowing they were facing defeat, Democratic supporters announced earlier in the day that they would hold a “midnight vigil,” speeches going late into the evening on the need for greater campaign transparency.
“Perhaps Republicans want to shield the handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election,” Reid said.
He said this election was in danger of being bought by “17 angry, old, white men.”
Manchin said in a statement that many West Virginians were troubled with the role that money plays in politics, and that he himself was also concerned about how much anonymous money is influencing the Democratic process.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United campaign finance case, we have seen outside groups unleash an unprecedented flood of money to sway elections — without telling us who their donors are,” Manchin said. “The people of West Virginia believe, as I believe, that we need openness, fairness and transparency to stay informed and keep our democracy strong, and the DISCLOSE Act would do just that.
“This bill makes sure every person and organization plays fairly by the same rules, whether those organizations are in the middle, left, right, forward, backward or upside down. The people of this country have a right to know who is spending large amounts of money to influence elections, and this bill would simply make that information available.”
Monday’s vote was strictly along party lines except for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid changed his vote to “no” in a procedural move that allowed him to bring up the legislation again today.