House passes Disclose Act campaign finance bill

By Ben Pershing
Friday, June 25, 2010

House Democratic leaders pushed a far-reaching campaign finance reform measure through their chamber Thursday, overcoming the objections of critics on the left and the right.

The Disclose Act -- written in response to the recent Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on political ads -- is the work of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a priority for President Obama. Democrats think that an effort to curb corporate spending on elections is a political winner for them that will put Republicans in a difficult position.

The bill -- which passed 219 to 206, with three dozen Democrats joining all but two Republicans in opposition -- took an unexpectedly difficult path to approval in the House and now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

It would impose stricter financial disclosure requirements on corporations and most interest groups, with some controversial exemptions, and would restrict political activity for companies that receive federal contracts or got money from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.

The measure would also crack down on campaign-related spending by foreign-owned companies and would require heads of companies and interest groups to appear on camera during their organizations' political advertisements.

"This legislation restores transparency and accountability to federal campaigns," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The bill has the support of many campaign watchdog organizations but has raised the ire of a variety of groups -- from the American Civil Liberties Union and Sierra Club to the Tea Party Patriots and the American Conservative Union -- that oppose the reporting rules.

At the urging of the National Rifle Association, which holds huge sway in Congress, a group of conservative Democrats negotiated a change in the bill's language that would exempt the NRA from its disclosure requirements. Under that deal, long-standing national groups that have more than 1 million members and receive 15 percent or less of their funding from corporations would not have to disclose top donors.

That angered some liberal lawmakers and gun-control supporters, particularly many members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The measure was pulled from the House schedule last week, and it was tweaked again to exempt a wider array of groups.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce led the effort to defeat the bill, and the business group made clear to lawmakers that it would include Thursday's tally as a "key vote" on its annual scorecard.

"Special deals, backroom bargains and political rewards have been the hallmark of this misguided mission to protect unpopular incumbents," said chamber official R. Bruce Josten.

Republican lawmakers also denounced the legislation, arguing that it would impermissibly curb free speech while absolving Democratic-leaning labor unions of some of the restrictions it would place on corporations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to wary House Democrats this week assuring them that the bill has a chance of becoming law.

But although Reid and Schumer committed "to working tirelessly for Senate consideration of the House-passed bill," they offered no firm promise that the measure would ever reach the floor of their chamber. The Senate version has 50 co-sponsors and it is not clear whether they could muster the 60 votes necessary to overcome a likely GOP filibuster.

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