In an era of such sharp partisanship and polarization, it is easy to be jaded about Congressional policy and politics, and hard to be surprised by anything. But I have found two things of late in the Senate to be particularly unsettling and depressing — because they involve in a bad light some of the lawmakers I respect and like the most.
The first is the failure of any Republican Senator to step up and support the DISCLOSE Act, to bring sunlight to the outrageous, anonymous huge funders who played a major role in the 2010 campaigns, hiding behind the cloak of 501(c)(4)s run by groups cynically manipulating weak IRS enforcement of the law.
Voters support disclosure by overwhelming margins. So do Supreme Court justices — by 8-to-1. The only chance to provide it is in the lame-duck session; the bill passed the House in the 111th Congress and has zero chance of making through the 112th House. If the Senate does not act now, disclosure is dead.
The Senate does not have to pass the same bill the House did; if there are problems with DISCLOSE, if it goes too far or has cumbersome provisions, those can be easily excised — and the sponsors have made it clear that they will do so to get at least a streamlined disclosure provision to ameliorate the worst abuses of the post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission world.
So where are the previous champions of campaign finance reform? Where is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose greatest legislative accomplishment was given a sharp stick in the eye by a 5-4 decision on the Supreme Court? Where are previous supporters of reform — and professed supporters of disclosure — such as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.)? And most important, where is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who has always been an independent voice, whose Snowe-Jeffords amendment to the campaign reform law was the provision most assaulted by the Citizens United case, who stood up to immense pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican leaders in 2002 to do the right thing?
Disclosure alone will not stop the arms race that is going to escalate even more in 2012 and motivate every Member up for re-election that year to put pedal to metal in the next two years to raise money every spare minute to counter the likely assault on them over the airwaves by hit groups funded by corporations, unions and billionaires.
The urgent need to raise more and more money will lead inevitably to more and more corruption, trading votes or other favors for campaign cash, or shaking down prospective donors. But disclosure at least can provide some counterweight. It will be beyond disappointing if somehow McConnell can mesmerize or intimidate every one of the erstwhile reformers above to ignore their principles.
As important as campaign reform may be, it still takes a back seat to national security. And nothing is more puzzling, or infuriating, than what is happening to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This treaty is supported enthusiastically by Henry Kissinger, James Baker, George Schultz, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Adm. Mike Mullen, virtually every significant military leader active and retired, and all our NATO allies.