Democrats lost a key swing vote on campaign finance legislation Wednesday when Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced he would oppose the Disclose Act.
Brown rebuffed watchdog groups that had attempted to win his support for legislation aimed at blunting the impact of a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that lifted restrictions on corporate and labor spending on advertisements.
In a letter to the groups, including Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen, Brown said he could not support the bill because it was too politically charged and did not go far enough to require “transparency, accountability and fair play.”
“Rather than reform our campaign finance laws and provide increased transparency, the Disclose Act advances the political agenda of the majority party and special interests in an effort to gain a tactical and political advantage little more than 100 days before an election,” he said.
Watchdog groups reacted with surprise and disappointment. Just a month ago, they had hoped Brown would sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor — considering all of his good-government talk during the campaign.
Democrats have fallen behind schedule on their plan to pass the Disclose Act.
Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Lawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills MORE (D-N.Y.), the key sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, had hoped to get it to the president’s desk before the Fourth of July recess. But the bill had a bumpy ride in the House and only passed on a narrow margin after weeks of delay and the addition of several carve-outs for groups like the National Rifle Association and Sierra Club.
“We strongly disagree with him on both his claims that this is partisan legislation and that this is legislation that is being rushed through for partisan advantage,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.
The timing of the bill is the result of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year, Wertheimer said. The decision struck down restrictions on spending on political advertising but noted that rules requiring those who fund the ads to disclose their identities are constitutional.
“The idea of ‘let’s not rush into this and wait until the next Congress’ is an approach that, bottom line, will deny the citizens of this country campaign finance information that is essential to their ability to make considered decisions,” Wertheimer said.
Democrats had hoped Brown would provide key support to move forward with the Disclose Act, which has been criticized by many Republicans and free-market groups as infringing on free speech. With Democrats in control of only 59 Senate seats, they need at least one Republican to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and move forward with the bill.
With their hopes for a Brown yes vote now dashed, Democrats and watchdog groups are training their lobbying fire on GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo MORE, two Maine centrists who along with Brown have played decisive roles in a bevy of controversial summer bills.
The pair have been vocal supporters of past campaign-finance bills but have been tight-lipped about how they plan to vote on the Disclose Act, although Snowe denounced the Supreme Court decision after it was first issued.
Their offices did not respond to requests for comment from The Hill.
Democrats also could lose the support of two centrist Democrats, Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) — who is locked in a tight reelection contest — making Republican support even more crucial to overcoming an expected GOP filibuster.
Brown, who was elected in a surprise upset to the Senate seat previously held by liberal lion Edward Kennedy (D), has disappointed liberals and conservatives with recent votes.
On Tuesday, Brown announced he would support President Obama’s sweeping financial overhaul legislation, joining Snowe and Collins and handing Democrats the required 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles and move the legislation to the floor. A final vote could be held in the Senate on Thursday.
Brown’s support for the financial overhaul measure has Tea Party activists railing against him — even showing up to picket his district office. One day later, however, conservative groups were praising his decision on the Disclose Act.
“No matter what one thinks about the merits of the bill, the fact that they’re trying to rewrite campaign-finance law in the midst of an election is a compelling reason to oppose it no matter your ideology,” said Jeff Patch of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics.
While Brown has stuck with Republicans on most issues, in addition to his support for Wall Street regulation, he has voted in favor of some extensions of unemployment insurance.
Watchdogs were not completely misguided in their hope that Brown would be an important ally in the Senate. In his letter to the groups Wednesday, he seemed to signal support for a more comprehensive revision of campaign finance laws than the Disclose Act provides — and one without carve-outs for special interests.
“A genuine campaign finance reform effort would include increased transparency, accountability and would provide a level playing field to everyone,” he said.