Every Senate Democrat, taking their House colleagues’ cues, signed on to their chamber’s version of a major campaign finance, voting and ethics overhaul on Wednesday.
The measure, nearly identical to a bill that passed the House earlier this month, serves primarily as a campaign messaging document for the 2020 elections. That’s because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to bring it up for consideration in the chamber.
Republicans and K Street lobbying interests have blasted the proposal, which would establish a voluntary public financing system for federal candidates, would require same-day and automatic voter registration nationwide, and would require nonpartisan commissions to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts. The measure would also toughen ethical standards for administration officials and would require new public disclosures of donations to nonprofit groups that are active in politics.
“Now the ball is in Sen. McConnell’s court,” said Tom Udall of New Mexico, the lead sponsor of the Senate version, during a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday. “We know that K Street lobbyists, special interests and big money donors are calling out the cavalry to defeat this bill. … And I think that means we’ve got ourselves a good bill.”
Udall said Senate Democrats were “seizing” on the momentum from House passage and would seek Republican co-sponsors. In the House, no Republicans voted for the bill, whose floor tally was 234-193 along party lines.
The New Mexico Democrat, who announced this week he would not seek a third term in 2020, said the measure would be a defining issue in the coming elections.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a candidate in the party’s contest for the White House, touted the bill’s inclusion of her measure to require new disclosures for political ads that run on social media platforms. Like House Democrats, Klobuchar tied the overhaul of political money and voting laws to myriad other policy issues including gun control, health care and climate change, saying that the political system was skewed in favor of big donors and corporate interests.
“The fundamental thing we can do to fight for the people of America is passing this bill because it literally is dark money, the gerrymandering, the limits on voting — is exactly why we’re not able to move on climate change or gun legislation or doing something further to protection people’s health care,” Klobuchar said. “You see strong unity in the Democratic party on this bill and so this is the bill I think we should use as our talking points across the country when people are running for president or running for Congress.”
McConnell has said he will not bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate, where he controls what gets to the floor. Just this week he brought up for a vote a climate change measure, dubbed the Green New Deal, which did not pass with most Democrats voting present because, they said, the measure had not yet had any hearings. Some Democrats, though, such as Doug Jones of Alabama, voted against it.
The campaign finance and ethics overhaul, by contrast, does not divide Democrats.
Udall said Senate Democrats may have some opportunity to force a vote on it through a budget resolution, but that is uncertain.
“I believe we can actually win elections against people who vote for this turkey,” McConnell said earlier this month about the bill. He has, in particular, blasted the measure’s public financing system and the creation of a new federal holiday on Election Day.
The Senate’s version of the bill would create a similar public financing system to the House’s bill, but it is not identical. Both versions would set up a voluntary public financing system that would offer a 6-to-1 match for donations up to $200. The House version requires House candidates to forgo donations in excess of $1,000 to participate in the matching program, while the Senate version sets up a state-by-state formula to cap the matching funds, and would not allow donations over $200 to Senate candidates, according to aides working on the bill.
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