The Senate has failed to advance legislation that would require independent groups to disclose the names of contributors who give more than $10,000 for use in political campaigns.
The measure, known as the DISCLOSE Act, died in a 51 to 44 vote on a procedural motion. It needed 60 votes to move forward.
Its failure was widely expected, but Democrats pushed for the vote, believing that Republicans will be politically damaged by their opposition to bringing new transparency to campaigns. The vote could also serve to energize the Democratic base, which has been exercised over the role they believe secret corporate donations are playing in the campaign.
To press the point, bill sponsor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), will lead Senate Democrats in a “midnight vigil” Monday night, with floor speeches scheduled into the early morning. The goal is to hammer Republicans for blocking the bill and push for another vote on the measure Tuesday.
“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are.”
Republicans say the measure could have a chilling affect on political giving, subjecting campaign donors to intimidation from their political opponents.
The bill is a response to the 2010 Citizens United ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that corporate campaign donations are a form of free speech and cannot be limited by government. Some nonprofit groups and unions are not required to reveal their donors. The bill would require speedy disclosure of big donors.
“There’s no question that the Citizens’ United decision opened the door for big corporations and foreign entities to secretly spend hundreds of millions of dollars to undermine elections, undermining the fairness and integrity of the process,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).
Reid said without change, after the election, “17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they’ve just bought the country. That’s a sad commentary.”
Formally, Reid voted against proceeding with the bill--a procedural tactic that will allow him to call the measure back up for another vote on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has given a series of speeches defending political giving as free speech, said the bill was an attempt by Democrats, who have realized they can’t “shut up their critics” to “go after the microphone instead, by trying to scare off the funders.”
“As a result of this legislation, advocacy groups ranging from the NAACP to the Sierra Club to the Chamber of Commerce — all of whom already disclose their donors to the IRS — would now be forced to subject their members to public intimidation and harassment,” he said.
The House passed a version of the DISCLOSE Act in 2010, when it was controlled by Democrats, but the measure was blocked in the Senate. Even if it could find Senate approval this year, the GOP-controlled House would oppose the measure.