DISCLOSE Act Fails Second Time to Get Floor Vote

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The DISCLOSE Act failed for the second time to overcome a filibuster and get a vote on the Senate floor. The cloture vote was 59-39 Thursday afternoon (60 votes are needed).

A cloture vote also failed back in July on the bill, which among other things would require TV and radio campaign ads to feature CEOs and top funders in on-screen disclaimers.

The bill would allow waivers for ads in which the disclaimer was so long as to leave no time for the message, but that did not address the issue of whether such disclaimers effectively chilled political speech.

The bill would also have maintained the ban on direct expenditures by corporations on electioneering communications if they did more than $10,000 worth of contracting work for the government, and for companies with foreign ownership beyond a threshold percentage.

The ban on direct funding of ads advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates in the run-ups to primaries and elections was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last September. Primarily Democrats in the House and Senate have been trying ever since to craft a bill that would take some of the teeth out of a decision they saw as opening the floodgates to corporate dollars and control of elections.

Bill opponents argued the bill was a change to reimpose speech restrictions, while carving out a harbor for unions and special interests.

"The DISCLOSE Act was not a serious attempt at campaign finance reform," said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which strongly opposed the bill. "This bill was written behind closed doors by the majority party to benefit incumbents. Democratic leaders made no serious attempt to pass a bipartisan bill, writing a bill that silences businesses groups while leaving labor unions largely unfettered."

According to the center, Sen. Chuckh Schumer (D-NY), one of the bill's sponsors, had offered Wednesday to amend the bill so that it would go into effect after the mid-term elections--it had been written to take effect immediately in hopes of affecting those elections.

The American Civil Liberties Union has come out against the bill, saying it would inflict "unnecessary damage on speech rights."

"Once the dust settles after Election Day, the Senate would be wise to revisit the DISCLOSE Act," said Meredith McGehee, policy director for The Campaign Legal Center, which backed the bill. "Polls have repeatedly shown that Americans, by overwhelming margins, are strongly opposed to corporations and unions spending unlimited amounts anonymously to elect or defeat candidates and that citizens expect their elected representatives in Washington to act. Public disgust and calls for a congressional response will only increase as Americans nationwide will be forced this election season to sit through endless attack ads paid for by groups with patriotic names and completely anonymous backers."

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