Senate Democrats seek headway on campaign disclosure measure

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 5:47 PM

Senate Democrats are pushing ahead this week with campaign disclosure legislation, hoping that changes to the bill might attract support from one or more wavering moderate Republicans before the August recess.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday unveiled a revised version of the Disclose Act, which would require corporations, unions and nonprofit groups to provide more details about their political spending and fundraising. The legislation, approved by the House last month, is aimed at countering a Supreme Court ruling in January allowing unlimited political spending by corporations and other groups.

The bill introduced by Schumer removes a special exemption for unions from the House bill that had attracted sharp criticism from Republicans and conservative groups, a Senate aide said. The legislation also nixes a House exception for some transfers of political money between separate organizations, but retains a controversial carve-out for the powerful National Rifle Association and other large-membership groups, the aide said.

The changes are aimed at shifting the political balance in favor of the bill in the fractious Senate, where a modicum of GOP support is needed to overcome the threat of a filibuster. Freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) recently came out against the legislation, leaving Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe as the focus of a lobbying blitz this week by liberal groups.

But the revised legislation may also spark opposition from the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, which had pushed hard for language in the House bill that would effectively exempt disclosure of transfers between unions and their affiliates.

The AFL-CIO said in a statement that it was still reviewing Schumer's bill, which the union said "could hamper working families' ability to have a voice in the political process."

The House passed the Disclose Act on June 24 by a vote of 219 to 206, with three dozen Democrats joining all but two Republicans in voting no.

Both the House and Schumer versions of the proposal would impose stricter financial disclosure requirements on corporations and most interest groups -- with some controversial exemptions like the NRA -- and would restrict political activity for companies that receive federal contracts of more than $10 million or that got money from the Troubled Asset 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 groups' political ads.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations were akin to people when it came to political contributions and could therefore spend unlimited amounts of money for or against candidates. The decision drew sharp condemnation from President Obama, and the White House has characterized the Disclose Act as one of its top legislative priorities.

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