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Senate Democrats Unveil Campaign Finance Disclosure Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse introduces new campaign finance disclosure legislation at a press conference with other Senate Democrats.

A task force of Senate Democrats today introduced a stripped-down campaign finance disclosure bill, reviving legislation that fell one vote short of enactment in the previous Congress.

Led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), the Senators also announced plans for a Rules and Administration Committee hearing next week on the bill, which they advertised as the “DISCLOSE Act 2.0.”

“Money, and often anonymous money, is beginning to dominate the voices in American elections,” said Whitehouse, who was joined by Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.)

Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) also sit on the task force.

Rules and Administration Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who convened the task force, acknowledged that not a single Republican voted for the DISCLOSE Act in the previous Congress. But he said the bill stands a better chance this year, following the spending surge ushered in by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling to deregulate corporate and union expenditures.

The previous DISCLOSE Act was more sweeping and drew fire because it included controversial provisions involving foreign-owned corporations and government contractors. Republicans also objected to exemptions they said created a loophole for labor unions.

The Senate’s latest disclosure bill boils down to two main requirements: All politically active groups that make $10,000 or more in campaign-related expenditures would be required to file reports with the FEC. It also would impose “stand by your ad” disclaimer rules on the top funders of broadcast ads. Labor unions would be covered, a spokesman for Whitehouse said.

“It’s now disclosure and disclaimer, plain and simple, and that makes it have a better chance of passing,” said Schumer. “We think Republicans are going to have a hard time making excuses for not supporting this effort.”

Schumer noted that Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have both criticized the Citizens United ruling.

A similar disclosure bill introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) now has 160 co-sponsors.

Reform advocates hailed the bill’s introduction, but its outlook remains uncertain. Tax-exempt organizations remain wary of provisions that would widen the pre-election window during which disclosure is required for so-called electioneering communications — ads that picture or name a candidate without explicit “vote for” or “vote against” messages.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a staunch opponent of campaign finance regulations, filibustered disclosure legislation in the previous Congress and has given no indication that he has changed his position.

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