White House Puts Weight Behind DISCLOSE Act

Posted June 21, 2010 at 12:35pm

Updated: 1:44 p.m.

House Democratic leaders working to regroup on a campaign finance measure are getting a powerful assist from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House on Monday released its official endorsement of the DISCLOSE Act, calling it “a necessary measure so that Americans will know who is trying to influence the Nation’s elections.”

The bill would roll back a controversial Supreme Court ruling in January that struck down limits on corporate political spending by bulking up disclosure requirements for outside groups shelling out for campaign activities.

House Democratic leaders ran into trouble last week when they added a carve-out from the bill’s sunlight provision that was tailored to earn the neutrality of the National Rifle Association. As other affected groups across the political spectrum cried foul, members of the Blue Dog Coalition and Congressional Black Caucus revolted, forcing leaders to scotch floor consideration last week.

The Obama administration, in its statement, made clear it is no fan of the NRA carve-out — while arguing the broader package is too important to set aside. “This bill is not perfect,” the statement said. “The Administration would have preferred no exemptions. But by providing for unprecedented transparency, this bill takes great strides to hold corporations who participate in the Nation’s elections accountable to the American people.”

President Barack Obama himself denounced the high court decision in dramatic fashion: With Supreme Court justices seated before him in his State of the Union address earlier this year, he said the ruling would “open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”

But the White House statement represents the leading edge of a new push by the administration to get the bill through Congress, a Democratic leadership aide said. “They’re fully engaged,” the aide said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) — chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the lead sponsor of the package — has been hustling to make the case for the bill to his colleagues, logging 50 phone calls to fellow Democrats over the weekend, according to an aide.

Van Hollen’s office on Monday circulated a memo to House Democrats laying out arguments for the bill, which it called the toughest campaign finance measure since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The memo invokes BP’s part in the Gulf spill disaster to help make the pitch.

“Unless we act, there is nothing to stop foreign companies like BP from funneling millions of dollars into some group like ‘Americans for Clean Oceans,’ to secretly fund advertising against every member of Congress — Republican or Democrat ­­— who tried to hold the company accountable,” it reads.

And the memo points to plans by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — one the measure’s most powerful and vocal foes — to spend $50 million to advertise in the midterm elections. “Under the DISCLOSE Act, the American people will know what special interests are underwriting these ads. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” the memo reads.