Tuesday July 27, 2010

DISCLOSE Act Fails in Senate

By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 24, 2010 ( – Democrat leaders in the U.S. Senate failed Tuesday afternoon to overcome a Republican filibuster on a campaign finance disclosure bill that critics say threatens the ability of grassroots political organizations, and the pro-life movement, to communicate effectively with voters during election cycles.

Democrats in the Senate could not muster all 60 “yes” votes they needed to break the GOP’s filibuster on the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act” (S.3628). The Senate voted 57 – 41 for cloture, giving the bill its first defeat and making it very unlikely the measure will be resurrected before the Senate goes into recess.

Democrats’ hopes were dashed earlier in the day, when they learned today that their attempt to break the filibuster was all but doomed. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced that he had to attend a family member’s funeral on the day of the vote, and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the one member of the GOP caucus Democrats were aggressively courting to break the filibuster, announced she would vote against cloture.

According to FOX News, Snowe described current Senate routine as a “ram and jam” process, and criticized the lack of hearings and attempts at building legislative consensus on the DISCLOSE Act.

The same report also indicates that support for the DISCLOSE Act may be cracking, as the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of trade unions, has now sent a letter to its members “reluctantly” opposing the bill. The letter states that the bill “imposes extraordinary new, costly, and impractical record-keeping and reporting obligations on thousands of labor (and other non-profit) organizations … without any corresponding public benefit.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has denounced the bill as a threat to free speech and crippling to free participation in the political process.

National Right to Life Committee’s (NRLC) Legislative Director Doug Johnson told today that the cloture vote was “very welcome news” and that Senate Democrats would likely not bring it up again until after they go into recess. He said it is now a matter of running out the clock; given the Senate’s busy schedule in the fall, pro-life advocates will have an advantage in pressuring senators to put the legislation on the back-burner.

However, Johnson added that pro-lifers will have to remain vigilant to make sure the legislation does not get resurrected in time for the November elections.

NRLC sent a detailed letter to the Senate before the vote strongly opposing the measure, warning that a vote for cloture would count against individual senators on NRLC’s legislative scorecard.

The bill has been condemned by National Right to Life Committee as “a blatant political attack on the First Amendment rights of NRLC, our state affiliates, and our members and donors.”

The DISCLOSE Act would force grassroots organizations – including most 501(c)4, 501(c)5, 501(c)6, and 527 groups – to list all donors of $600 or more with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Groups must also post a hyperlink on their website to the FEC, where a list of the names of their donors can be accessed. This could possibly expose donors to political retaliation by motivated groups or individuals.

In addition, the bill requires that every time an organization runs a campaign ad, its CEO must appear in the ad and twice state his name and the organization’s name. The top five funders of the organization behind the ad – even if they had nothing to do with the ad’s funding – must also have their names listed in the ad. In addition, the most “significant” donor to the organization must list his name, rank, and organization three times in the ad.

Opponents of the bill say it would frustrate the ability of grassroots entities to communicate effectively with the public about public policy, and level criticism against incumbents. The disclaimer rule has been singled out for criticism by those who say the requirement would devour valuable airtime that would otherwise be used to inform voters about a candidate’s record.

The DISCLOSE Act exempts large 501(c)4 groups – like the 4 million strong NRA and 750,000 member Sierra Club – from having to report their donors if they have at least 500,000 members, over 10 years of existence, chapters in all 50 states, and if they receive no more than 15% of total contributions from corporations.

Should the DISCLOSE Act be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama, it would take effect in 30 days, even if the Federal Elections Commission has not yet crafted new guidelines – just in time for the mid-term elections in November.

Other affected entities under the bill will likely include vocal liberal and conservative groups that communicate through the Internet. While traditional media organizations like newspapers and television stations are exempt from the bill, bloggers, the vanguard of the “new media,” are not.

For contact information for the U.S. Senate, click here.

See previous coverage by

Breaking: Senate Readies Tuesday Cloture Vote on DISCLOSE Act

House Passes DISCLOSE Act: Pro-Life/Grassroots Muzzle Bill Goes to Senate

Breaking: House Dems Preparing Thursday DISCLOSE Act Vote to Muzzle Pro-life, Pro-family Groups

Congress to Vote on DISCLOSE Act – Condemned by Pro-Life, Pro-Family Groups


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