The Democrat-authored campaign finance transparency bill known as the DISCLOSE Act failed to win approval in either the 111th or the 112th Congresses, but its backers have set out to try again in this session.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., reintroduced the legislation on Thursday, calling the bill “a first step to clean up the secret money in politics.” The bill is unchanged from last year’s version; it would require all corporations, unions and super PACs to report campaign expenditures of $10,000 or more. The bill also covers financial transfers to groups that use the money for election-related activity.
At the outset of the 113th Congress, the legislation's prospects appear no better than they were previously.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling ushered in a wave of unrestricted spending that hit the $6 billion mark in the recent elections, including more than $1 billion by super PACs and politically active nonprofits that do not always disclose their donors. Van Hollen is engaged in ongoing litigation aimed at forcing the FEC to write stricter disclosure regulations.
"The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to unrestricted special interest spending in American elections and threatens the very nature of our democracy — the unprecedented secret spending during the last elections makes the need for this legislation even more important," Van Hollen said in a statement.
The DISCLOSE Act’s lead Senate sponsor in the previous Congress was Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who vowed last year to keep pressing ahead despite unanimous GOP Senate opposition. The bill’s backers on and off Capitol Hill have voiced optimism that some in the GOP may now come around to support the bill, following an election that saw outside groups outspend parties and candidates in some key congressional races.
At least one GOP senator has already signaled support for some form of disclosure fix. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recently unveiled a bipartisan disclosure proposal that they plan to introduce early in this Congress, following a public comment period slated to end in mid-January. However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remains strongly opposed to stricter rules, including the DISCLOSE Act, which he has characterized as an assault on free speech.