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McConnell pushes back against campaign finance reform efforts

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (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.

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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 MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (Alaska) has been talking with Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainChoking — not cheating — was Trump's undoing Gabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return MORE (R-Ariz.), the father of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, entered into talks with Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (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 WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallMcCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results MORE (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.