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Brown’s Vote Seen as the Key on Campaign Bill

Supporters of a controversial campaign finance reform bill are working the Senate floor and the grass roots in Massachusetts to persuade GOP Sen. Scott Brown to break ranks to help give them the 60 votes that they need to pass it.

Despite a crowded agenda, Democratic leaders want to move the DISCLOSE Act this work period in order to blunt the effect this November of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that cleared the way for unlimited corporate and union spending on elections.

Democrats would like to take up the bill as a stand-alone measure, but there has been discussion of attaching it to another must-pass bill if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) doesn’t have enough floor time for a full-on debate before August, aides said.

Reid would need 60 votes to break a GOP filibuster on the bill, and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) have already vowed to oppose it.

Democrats hope that if Brown breaks ranks, GOP moderates such as Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will follow and provide the necessary 60 votes.

“No matter how you slice it or dice it, Scott Brown is probably the make-or-break vote,” a senior Democratic aide said.

Brown hasn’t shown any willingness to support the bill. On Tuesday, Brown spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said that hasn’t changed.

“Sen. Brown views the DISCLOSE Act as overtly political and that it changes the rules midway through the game to provide a tactical advantage just before an election cycle,” Gitcho said.

Backers of the legislation plan to make the case over the coming weeks that opposition is tantamount to supporting the kind of “Swift Boat” ads that helped sink the 2004 presidential campaign of Brown’s home-state colleague, Sen. John Kerry (D).

The message, the Democratic leadership aide said, boils down to, “Is Scott Brown going to be supporting a Supreme Court decision that makes Swift Boat ads permanent?”

The plan for pushing Brown, who has demonstrated a willingness to break with the GOP during his five-month tenure in the Senate, is based on a relatively simple dual-track messaging strategy.

In the Senate, the outreach to Brown will be led by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), who authored provisions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law requiring candidates to include language explicitly endorsing their advertisements, will also be involved.

According to an internal Democratic strategy memo, these lawmakers will weave language specifically aimed at Brown into their messaging. “The path to 60 goes through him,” the memo states, outlining the arguments that Democrats will make over the next several weeks.

The memo notes that his fellow Northeastern Republican, Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), played an instrumental role in passing the bill in the House because of his “willingness to break with his party to impose common-sense limits on the potential for special-interest dollars to flood the political process. In the Senate, the question will be whether Senator Brown can also rise to the occasion or will he blindly follow his party’s leadership.”

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