Senate fails to advance campaign finance bill

The Senate failed to advance a campaign finance bill Tuesday, dealing a blow to Democrats who were trying to pass a key piece of their agenda before the August recess.

The legislation, called the Disclose Act, would require corporations to make detailed public reports on political spending. It failed on a 57-41 vote that went along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the motion, a procedural move to allow another vote to occur in the future.

The three Republican centrists considered most likely to support the bill, Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.), all voted against it.

They declined to support the bill despite heavy lobbying from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, which has strong membership in Maine and Massachusetts.

Democrats were also missing the vote of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who was absent from the Senate on Tuesday because he was attending a funeral.

Reid said Lieberman assured him that he would vote for the legislation upon his return.

Still, that leaves Democrats one vote short of the 60 they need to advance the bill, meaning that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate sponsor of the legislation, may need to make additional changes to bring Republicans on board.

The House passed the bill last month by a vote of 219-206.

The failure comes one day after President Obama held a Rose Garden press conference to urge Senate passage of the Disclose Act.

“You’d think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense,” Obama said Monday. “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.”

Ahead of the vote, Schumer made changes to the legislation to address Republican concerns.

He eliminated a carve-out that would have exempted labor unions from reporting fund transfers between affiliates.

But that did not satisfy GOP holdouts. Despite the failure of the vote, Schumer promised that Democrats would hold additional cloture votes until the legislation passes.

“And we will go back at this bill again and again and again until we pass it,” he said before the vote. “It’s that vital, not to Democrats, not to Republicans, but to the future of people’s faith in the functioning of this government.”

Schumer did not specify when another vote would take place. Asked by The Hill if he is open to making changes to the bill, the New York senator replied, “Yes.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a strong supporter of the bill, compared the failed vote to a series of failed votes on the financial reform bill preceding its final passage earlier this month.

“I think this is not unlike what we saw with Wall Street reform, where we brought it up and we lost, and we brought it up, then it went down. But ultimately the public was so outraged that our friends on the other side saw the light and we were able to consider the bill,” he said. “I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen here.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) indicated, despite the setback, that Democrats still want the bill passed before the November midterms.

“What we are trying to do is make sure that when Americans go to the polls this fall ... they have some sense of who paid for [corporate- and union-backed political ads],” he said.

Political experts have said the bill needs to be signed into law by August in order to affect the 2010 election. If the Senate passes a version with Schumer’s changes, it would need to be reconciled with the House version. And the House is scheduled to adjourn Friday for the summer recess.

The legislation would prohibit domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations, government contractors and recipients of federal bailout funds from spending on federal races.

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It is a reaction to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that struck down laws restricting corporate political spending. Democrats said that disclosure is needed to keep campaigns transparent.

Republicans claimed the legislation was weighted against groups that traditionally support the GOP and had carve-outs for Democratic groups like unions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday called the bill “a transparent attempt to rig the fall election.”