House Democrats say they have votes to pass new campaign finance legislation

Despite opposition from the left and the right, House Democratic leaders are cautiously optimistic they have enough votes to pass a new campaign finance bill.

The White House-backed legislation would change the landscape of the 2010 elections and beyond, but it is still a long way from reaching President Barack Obama’s desk.

ADVERTISEMENT
Yet, in the last week alone, the bill aimed at suppressing  the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling has picked up 14 co-sponsors, The measure now has 114 backers, including 11 members of the business-friendly Blue Dog Democrat Coalition. The number of supporters has continued to grow despite vehement protests from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups that the bill, known as the Disclose Act, would have a chilling effect on free speech.

The AFL-CIO and NAACP have also expressed reservations about the bill.

Campaign finance watchdog groups and the legislation’s main sponsors, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), are still wary about last-minute lobbying blitzes.

Van Hollen sat down with officials from the National Rifle Association (NRA) on Tuesday to try to address their concerns about language that would force groups to reveal the identities of their top donors in political advertisements, among other things.

Earlier this week, Democrats had tentatively planned to hold a floor vote on the bill on Thursday or Friday, but that vote could slip until after the Memorial Day recess, aides said.

Democratic staffers note that House leaders have spent much of this week working on a massive tax/healthcare/jobs bill. But some proponents of the bill are nervous that the NRA’s opposition could peel off conservative Democrats.

Van Hollen and Schumer want to send the bill to the president’s desk by the July 4 recess in order for it to go into effect before the midterm elections. Van Hollen has convinced two Republicans (Reps. Mike Castle, Del., and Walter Jones, N.C.) to co-sponsor his bill, while Schumer is still seeking GOP support in the upper chamber.

Several vulnerable Democrats are standing firmly behind the bill, as is Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the dean of the Democratic delegation and a strong advocate of gun rights.

In addition, Rep. Walt Minnick (Idaho), the only Democrat to win backing from the Tea Party movement and a major GOP target this cycle, said he planned to vote in favor of the measure.

On Tuesday, voters in the Idaho primary chose Tea Party-backed state Rep. Raul Labrador as their candidate in the general election over Vaughn Ward, who was seen as a rising star among the Republican establishment.

Minnick, who voted against the stimulus, healthcare reform and climate change legislation, has taken political donations from the U.S. Chamber in the past and last year won a “Spirit of Enterprise” award for his record in Congress.

“If this is what they want to target me for instead of real votes that would hurt business, then so be it,” Minnick said. “I think voters in my district realize the truth about campaign finance — that there should be less money in politics, not more.”

The high court’s decision earlier this year lifted limits on corporate, trade association and union funding of political advertisements.

Critics of the ruling, including Obama, have argued that it will open the floodgates for funding of political ads by shadow groups taking money from corporations and unions.

The Disclose Act attempts to force the groups to disclose exactly where the money for the ads is coming from by forcing corporate and union officials, as well as their top donors, to stand by their ads and disclose their identities in the ads, just as federal politicians must do.

Rep. Jim Himes, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut who faces a challenging reelection in a district previously held by veteran GOP Rep. Christopher Shays, is a former banker at Goldman Sachs. He says he considers himself an ally of the business community, but does not take kindly to threats by the U.S. Chamber against supporting the Disclose bill.

Himes, who signed on as a co-sponsor, said he’s willing to lose his seat over the issue of campaign finance reform.

“It’s just that important for the integrity of our political system,” he said.