Senate Democrats launched a rare, all-night debate on Monday that was scheduled to last past midnight, to protest Senate Republicans' opposition to legislation that would require companies, unions and other groups to report their campaign spending.
Democrats warned that they would hold a "midnight vigil" if Republicans blocked the vote on their bill, and they began shortly before 7 p.m., just minutes after GOP did in fact unanimously oppose the bill. Democrats were hoping to end debate on the bill, which needed 60 votes, but the vote failed 51-44.
The bill, S. 3369, is the Democrats' answer to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, which said the government cannot limit campaign spending by companies and other entities. Democrats begged to differ, and throughout the day said that ruling has allowed "murky" and "shadowy" groups to form around money donated anonymously, which can have a significant impact on campaigns.
"For the last two years, our Democracy has been hijacked by powerful special interests, and tonight we had the opportunity to begin repairing the fabric of our nation's democracy before permanent damage is done," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said as the debate began. "Unfortunately, Republicans decided not to put our democracy back on the right track."
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and several others proceeded to the floor to cite examples of how groups are trying to influence elections, without giving voters any way to find out who is behind the message.
"I rise… because the corporations involved and the investors are flooding our elections with campaign money," Brown said. "We don't really know who the money's from. We can guess. In my state, we think it's from oil companies, we think it's Wall Street banks, we think it could be money from Chinese interests."
Democrats were hoping to keep the issue alive and push for another vote to end debate on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against ending debate, which gives him the option of calling it up again, and he indicated afterwards that he would call another vote.
But debate appeared unlikely to sway any Republicans into changing their vote, and the GOP cast the move as an effort to politicize an issue that should be much further down the list of priorities, given ongoing unemployment in the United States. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said just before the vote that Democrats are wasting their time on a bill that he said would give the government a tool to "intimidate" groups, since it would require them to report how they spend money on campaigns.
"Not only should we not be doing this in good times, but to waste the Senate's time on a proposal totally without merit at a time when our economy is in the tank is the ultimate waste of the Senate's time," McConnell said. "I strongly urge a 'no' vote.