By Alexander Bolton - 07/27/10 01:26 AM EDT
Democratic leaders hope to rally their rank-and-file troops this week by dealing with controversial campaign finance legislation just before lawmakers hit the campaign trail.
Liberal voters, who have grumbled over a litany of failures and legislative compromises that have hurt the left’s agenda, will be crucial to Democratic hopes in November.
The vote comes as Congress heads into August recess and the campaign season. It also comes at a time when Democratic strategists and political experts warn there is an enthusiasm gap between Republican and Democratic base voters.
While conservative grassroots enthusiasm has spawned the Tea Party movement, liberal activists have lodged a list of disappointments with their party, including the collapse of the public healthcare option and climate change legislation, the decision to boost troop levels in Afghanistan and the continued operation of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
The campaign finance bill is a top concern for liberals, who want lawmakers to take a strong stand against corporate special interests, such as health insurance companies, investment banks and oil companies.
Obama took a timeout from his messaging campaign on jobs and the economy to hold a Rose Garden press conference Monday urging Senate passage of the Disclose Act.
The vote comes on the heels of a political convention liberal activists and organizers held over the weekend in Las Vegas, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attended.
The legislation, crafted by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would require corporations to make detailed reports on the money they spend to influence elections. It would also prohibit domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations, government contractors and recipients of federal bailout funds from spending on federal races.
It is a reaction to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that struck down laws restricting corporate and union political spending.
Democrats in Congress and liberal supporters have warned of a coming tsunami of corporate-funded political advertising.
“Anyone who opposes the Disclose Act shows their true colors with a total lack of willingness to rein in corporations and their influences in elections,” said Ilyse Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org.
The liberal advocacy group has mobilized its members in Maine and Massachusetts to pressure GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) to support the legislation.
Brown has pledged to oppose the bill, but Democrats say they could still win the support of Snowe and Collins and maybe a few other Republicans.
“We’re working very hard on getting a Republican,” Schumer told reporters. “There are a number of possibilities. You never know until you call the vote.”
To respond to GOP concerns, Schumer eliminated a carve-out that would have exempted unions from reporting some types of transfers between affiliates. That change is different from the legislation the House passed in June, meaning the chambers’ bills will have to be reconciled.
Obama weighed in on the debate Monday.
“Tomorrow there’s going to be a very important vote in the Senate about how much influence special interests should have over our democracy,” the president said, sounding a theme he used during the 2008 campaign.
“You’d think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense,” Obama said. “But, of course, this is Washington in 2010, and the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and maneuver they can to prevent the Disclose Act from even coming up for a vote.”
Hogue said putting Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren, an outspoken critic of the financial services industry, in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would do even more to boost the energy of liberal voters.
“The Warren fight is hugely important to our members,” said Hogue. “A decision on Elizabeth Warren will go a long way in letting our members know the administration is really willing to fight against special interests on Wall Street.”
The party also has an identity problem. A new Gallup poll showed fewer voters are identifying themselves as Democrats.
Nationwide, Democrats hold a four-point party ID edge over Republicans this year, 44 percent to 40. That’s down from the eight-point advantage the party held in 2009 and the 12-point edge it had in 2008, according to Gallup.
“There’s definitely an enthusiasm gap,” said Alan Wolfe, professor of political science at Boston College and author of The Future of Liberalism, discussing the different energy levels between conservatives and liberals.
Wolfe said he personally thought the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan was a bad one.
“In some quarters on the left or liberal end of the spectrum, there’s a sense of perfectionism; we want everything to be perfect, and Obama’s not perfect,” he said.
Shane D’Aprile contributed to this article.