Disclose Act backers push Sens. Collins, Snowe for support

Advocates of campaign finance legislation are stepping up their pressure on Maine’s Republican senators in the hopes of enacting the House-passed bill in time for the 2010 midterm elections.

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have become the final hopes for backers of the legislation, who are battling a rapidly closing time window and the Senate’s 60-vote threshold in their efforts to advance the bill before Congress leaves for its summer recess. While both Maine Republicans have voiced concerns about the bill, known as the Disclose Act, the advocates pointed to their longstanding support for tighter campaign finance regulations.

“We have a really urgent need,” a Republican former member of the Federal Elections Commission, Trevor Potter, said Monday on a conference call held to urge Snowe and Collins to support the legislation. Potter said he had “great respect” for both senators and was “particularly hopeful that they will take a leading role in passing the Disclose Act.”

The bill was crafted by Democrats in response to the January Supreme Court ruling that overturned limits on corporate and union spending on political campaigns. It would add disclosure requirements for that spending, including the publication of some donor rolls and a mandate for CEOs and union leaders to appear on camera in television ads their organizations fund.

The House approved the Disclose Act in June, but its chances in the Senate are dicey, despite a pledge by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the legislation to a vote before lawmakers depart in August. Democrats need at least one Republican to support the bill, and none have come forward thus far. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), another target of advocates, confirmed last week that he would oppose the legislation.

A spokesman for Snowe told The Hill that she was still reviewing the campaign finance bill but that she believed the Senate’s “first and primary focus” should be jobs legislation. The senator herself told The Hill last month she was “leaning no” on the bill. Collins has also expressed concerns.

Still, advocates from groups such as Public Citizen, Democracy 21 and the League of Women Voters said they were not giving up. The senators “have not cut off the possibility of ultimately supporting this legislation,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.

The conference call included officials from the League of Women Voters of Maine, who said they were lobbying the lawmakers locally.

The advocates appealed to Snowe and Collins’s past support for campaign finance reform, even as they acknowledged the pressure both were facing from the right and the left. “They are subject to partisan peer pressure on any number of issues, and I’m sure that is the case with this legislation,” Wertheimer said.

A chief concern cited by Brown was the timing of the bill, which he criticized as a rushed and partisan maneuver by Democrats to gain an advantage in the 2010 elections. “Unfortunately the Supreme Court didn’t really leave us a choice,” Potter said in response, noting that the high court’s ruling took effect immediately.

Critics of the ruling have warned of a flood of corporate and union spending this fall, much of which would be conducted behind the scenes because of lax disclosure requirements. “This is a very special, unique set of circumstances,” said Scott Thomas, a Democratic former FEC commissioner. The Supreme Court decision “dumped on all of us this new wild, wild west approach to campaign finance.”
 
He said the legislation was written in such a way that the FEC would not need to consider complex guidelines for implementation, meaning it could take effect soon if not immediately after the bill was signed by the president. “The reality is that they don’t really have to do anything that would be highly controversial at all,” Thomas said.