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DISCLOSE Act Receives Calls For an Encore

Now that Congress is back in session, so too are calls to revive the DISCLOSE Act, a bill intended to mandate disclosure of the primary donors behind political spending — and one which fell just two votes shy in the Senate before recess. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne notes that this means all eyes will once again be trained on three Republican senators in particular:

They key to its defeat were three Republican senators – Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts — who say they support reform and disclosure in principle but objected to particular aspects of the bill.

One of their objections, that the bill would alter the playing field for November’s midterm elections, is now irrelevant since it’s too late for changes in the law to affect this campaign.

The threesome raised other issues, including supposed imbalances in the way corporations and labor unions are treated under the measure. But [Sen. Charles] Schumer [D-N.Y] has signaled he would be happy to negotiate, and the simplest solution may be a clean disclosure bill that would strip out some of the provisions that the three Republicans don’t like.

Dionne’s claims are generally true, if somewhat imprecise. The bill, as I pointed out previously, says that disclosure requirements would go into effect 30 days after its passage, so a swift enactment in the Senate actually could still impact the tail-end of this election cycle. That said, Schumer has made multiple amendments to the bill in order to please moderate senators with an stated interest in disclosure like Snowe and Collins, and he has repeatedly asked them to bring him further concerns so that a compromise can be reached. Extending the amount of days until the regulations are enacted, for instance, doesn’t seem out of the question.

One change that does seem unlikely, however, is getting rid of the carve-out that was inserted in the House for longstanding nonprofits with large memberships across fifty states like the National Rifle Association. Insiders say it was necessary to gain enough support from moderate House Dems, so it seems like removing that language from the Senate bill would just shift the political hot potato back to the other chamber.

Snowe, Collins, and Brown, meanwhile, are caught between something of a rock and hard place:

If Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has a central cause, it is the principle that money should slosh around freely in our political system. If the members of the threesome vote for disclosure, they will infuriate McConnell. But if they side with McConnell, they’ll be tossing away their reformist credentials.

The three senators really do believe (or at least want us to think they really do believe) in transparency and disclosure in election spending. The issue is a political winner among most Americans and it jives with their New England Republican sensibilities. If they get too much counter-pressure from McConnell and the rest of the GOP, however, they seem more interested in hammering on the small aspects of the measure they dislike from afar than negotiating with Schumer to pass it.

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