Dems plan last-ditch vote on Disclose Act

Democrats plan to rally their troops for the final stretch of the campaign season by bringing up a campaign-finance transparency bill.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) on Tuesday announced plans for a last-ditch vote on the measure, dubbed the Disclose Act. A vote on the bill is expected Thursday.

The legislation is intended to roll back a Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year that lifted spending restrictions on political advertisements by corporations and unions. The bill would require them to disclose the financial backers of a political advertisement within the message.  

Other, more controversial provisions in the measure include prohibitions on political spending by companies with 20 percent or more foreign ownership and restrictions on ads by some government contractors.

The vote is designed to crank up the pressure on Maine GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, two longtime champions of greater limits on campaign finance. 

Watchdog groups, including U.S. PIRG, are planning an event in Maine Wednesday morning with representatives of the state’s small business community who support the bill.

Collins came out against the Disclose Act just before the previous vote on the bill, citing what she viewed as imbalances in the way corporations and unions are treated in the disclosure requirements and complaining that the measure was designed to provide Democrats an advantage in the November election. She also complained that the bill did not go through the normal committee process and was introduced and voted on without a single hearing. 

Snowe, meanwhile, said she was focused solely on measures aimed at creating jobs and bolstering the economy.

Collins’ office did not return a request for comment Tuesday. Snowe’s office has yet to respond with a statement.

In the past week, Senate Democrats considered a bare-bones strategy for the measure that would involve stripping the bill down to just the disclosure requirements, effectively setting up a vote for or against transparency. 

With time running out before Senate heads out of town, however, leaders have decided to begin debate with the bill they voted on before the August recess. That vote attracted 58 votes in the Senate, two shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was absent the day of the vote and has told watchdogs he will vote in favor of the bill, so supporters need to flip just one of Maine’s senators to break the filibuster. 

If one of the Maine senators changes her mind, Democrats could switch and move to the bare-bones version of the bill, though that would involve a time-consuming re-filing of the legislation. 

“With all this secret money flowing around, the urgency and real need for this legislation is only becoming more apparent,” said U.S. PIRG’s Lisa Gilbert. “The champions of disclosure in the past — it’s time for them to step up.”

Opponents of the measure argue that the stripped-down strategy would not force a vote on straight disclosure because the disclaimer provisions are excessively onerous and would face an immediate court challenge.

Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes the bill, warned Republicans not to cave to the pressure.

“Senators who support free speech in politics must remain vigilant to make sure these campaign finance restrictions aren’t pushed through on a later vote or in a lame duck session,” he said.