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Senate Democrats Eye DISCLOSE Act Again

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, said that depending on the court’s actions in a Montana case this week, Democrats would “redouble our efforts.”

The Supreme Court is expected Thursday to decide on a Montana case that could undercut or reaffirm the court’s controversial 2010 campaign finance decision — and don’t think Senate Democrats aren’t paying attention.

Just four and a half months shy of national elections and against the backdrop of super PAC dominance, Democrats still see campaign finance as a winning issue, though admittedly not as important as jobs or the economy.

The Supreme Court is considering American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, a case in which the Montana high court ruled that the national Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling did not require the state to loosen its own campaign finance restrictions. And while a stay has been issued on that decision, most observers believe the Supreme Court will uphold its position that banning corporate political expenditures is a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.

Democrats still disagree with the philosophical underpinnings of the 2-year-old decision, and they’re not afraid to attempt legislative action — for the third time and likely again with little success — to show it.

“It’s sort of the last chance for the Supreme Court to clean up the mess that it’s made and correct the sort of flagrant factual errors that recent history has demonstrated,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “So if they don’t show an inclination to do that, it means it’s really all the more important that we redouble our efforts.”

The DISCLOSE Act would increase transparency in corporate donations to political action committees, allow shareholders to vote on whether a company should be spending money on politics and require CEOs to stand by ads if they are primary sponsors of the PACs running them. Of course, in the current super PAC atmosphere, a handful of wealthy individuals, not corporations, have been behind some of the better-known PAC campaigns.

“A simple disclosure bill is probably the easiest way to go forward, eliminate the complicated, keep it simple,” Whitehouse added when asked whether there is still a legitimate legislative path for a campaign finance reform bill. “It’s an issue where our Republican colleagues have said over and over and over again that they’re for it.”

Whitehouse said he has been in conversations with Democratic leaders about ensuring that the DISCLOSE Act gets put on the legislative docket before the elections. And he has an ally in the Senate Democrats’ messaging chief, Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who is an original co-sponsor.

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