McConnell pushes back against campaign finance reform efforts

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is working to build a firewall in the House against new campaign finance reforms in the face of possible defections within his own caucus. 

McConnell met with the House Republican Study Committee last week to warn conservatives in the lower chamber not to sign on to any bipartisan initiative requiring super-PACs to disclose information about their donors more frequently and 501(c)4 political advocacy groups to reveal their donors.

ADVERTISEMENT
The meeting came at a time Democrats are reaching out to Republican colleagues in the Senate to build support for legislation strengthening campaign finance disclosure. 

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) has been talking with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other “interested parties” about drafting a new version of the Disclose Act, which would require outside political groups to disclose the identities of their biggest donors. 

Murkowski said the legislation could move in the 113th Congress, which begins in January. 

Earlier this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the father of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, entered into talks with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to explore ways to improve and pass the Disclose Act. 

Whitehouse introduced a version of the legislation in March requiring any group that spends $10,000 or more on election ads or other political activity to file a disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours. Reports would detail the nature of expenditures over $1,000 and reveal the names of donors who give $10,000 or more. 

The bill also requires that outside-group advertisements include “stand-by-your-ad” disclaimers listing the biggest donors. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday he could sign on to legislation requiring more disclosure from super-PACs and other third-party groups if it treated Democratic- and Republican-allied organizations equally. 

“I have a lot of concerns about campaign finance,” Corker said. “I didn’t think Disclose hit the mark, but if there’s some other rendition that makes sense, I’m open to looking at something.”

Corker said he introduced campaign finance legislation when he first arrived in the Senate because “third parties were involved in a way — my friends — were involved in a way that hurt me,” referring to his 2006 Senate campaign. 

Signs of Senate Republican support for campaign finance reform recalls the political circumstances that led to the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002. 

Ten years ago, McCain teamed up with then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to pass campaign finance reform legislation through the Democratic-controlled Senate. Proponents of the bill got it passed in the Republican-controlled House by launching a discharge petition that drew Republican support. 

McConnell, who challenged the 2002 campaign finance reform law in court, is now laying the groundwork before the start of the new Congress to ensure any effort to build support among Republicans for a version of the Disclose Act does not gain momentum. 

“His visit was part of a continuing effort to make sure we stay on the same page. He was simply making the point, ‘We’re all in favor of disclosure, so it seems very easy to put your name on something called the Disclose Act, but don’t be confused. The Disclose Act is not about creating more disclosure. It’s about targeting one group, one set of donors and trying to create [a] chilling effect,’ ” said Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who attended the meeting. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said the main thrust of the meeting was to discuss campaign finance rules. 

“One of the things I think we like is a lot of bicameral communication. You see it at the leadership level, but at the rank-and-file level it’s a typical legislative strategy that you don’t allow rank and file to hang out together. It was good to have him there,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said. 

President Obama and Democrats will make a push to impose stricter regulations on third-party political groups, which dominated the 2012 campaigns. 

Super-PACs spent $644 million on the 2012 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks fundraising. Corporations, unions and other groups spent $418 million. 

Whitehouse, who has negotiated with McCain to revive the Disclose Act, said the public strongly supports more regulation of outside groups. He said recent meeting with Republicans on campaign finance disclosure law have happened at the staff level.

When he heard of McConnell’s effort to strengthen House GOP opposition to the Disclose Act, Whitehouse replied, “good,” perhaps interpreting it as sign of his anxiety that reform could gain support.

“This is one of those issues where the public is with us in enormous numbers and where very significant Republicans are on the record supporting it,” he said. “So they have to perform some very contorted pretzel configurations to dodge what they’ve said in the past and is obviously the right thing to do.”

The article was corrected at 5:54 p.m. to reflect the fact that Super-PACs are already required to disclose their donors. The Disclose Act would require super-PACs to report information about their donors more frequently and mandate third-party advocacy groups classified under section 501(c)4 of the tax code to report their donors. A previous version of this article stated the Disclose Act would require super-PACs to report their donors.