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Senate Leaders Exchange Barbs Over DISCLOSE Act

This morning’s Senate session was devoted to a debate surrounding the DISCLOSE Act, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated will likely be put to a vote sometime tomorrow.

Reid and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Democratic Whip, spent the majority of their time ripping the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and reminding Republicans that, once upon a time, they too supported increased transparency and disclosure of campaign spending as an alternative to strict limits on total dollar amounts. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continued to claim that Democrats are raising the issue at at time when they should be focused on jobs and the economy — and that the bill is an attempt to rig the electoral system to their advantage.

Reid began things by surveying the current election spending landscape. “Nameless, faceless individuals are spending huge amounts of money – corporate money and other money — for which there is certainly no transparency whatsoever,” he said. “I repeat, no transparency. That’s what the debate’s about today. It is important the American people know how outrageous the Supreme Court’s decision was.”

Durbin, for his part, turned a portion of his speech into a trivia game of sorts, asking listeners to guess the senator who made the following comment. ”What we ought to have is disclosure. I think groups should have the right to run those ads but they ought to be disclosed and they ought to be accurate, end of quote. Who said that?” Durban asked the Senate. “The Senator from Kentucky who has just come to the floor — the minority leader — in the context of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in 2002.”

The Democratic Whip also went on to quote Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) – “I don’t like it when a large source of money is out there funding ads and is unaccountable. To the extent we can I tend to favor disclosure” — and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) – “I think the system needs more transparency, so people can more easily reach their own conclusions” — in an apparent attempt to publicly shame Republicans for their change of hearts.

Neither Democrat made mention of the Republican Senators from Maine — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — and their previous championing of campaign finance measures, however. As Senators who might conceivably still vote for the measure, Snowe and Collins were clearly deemed off-limits for such rhetorical attacks.

McConnell, meanwhile, spent little time criticizing the specifics of the bill, instead trying to tie the Democrats’ decision to revive the DISCLOSE Act to other efforts in the Senate this week surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act, grouping them all together as an attempt to play politics before the election. “This is a bill that’s back on the floor no other reason than our friends on the other side have decided that this week is ‘politics only week’ in the Senate,” he claimed. “That’s all this is: pure politics.”

The Minority Leader also coined a new name for the bill — “an incumbency protection act for Democrats in Congress” — and argued that, “now, after spending the last year and a half enacting policies Americans don’t like, they want to prevent their opponents from criticizing what they’ve done…. They’re trying to rig the system to their advantage.”

Both parties, in a sense, are engaged in a game of chicken on the DISCLOSE Act. Democrats think the disclosure of political spending is a political winner and a no-brainer for most Americans, so on the campaign trail they’ll be happy to highlight Republican obstructionism if McConnell and his compatriots once again block a vote tomorrow. Republicans, for their part, are gambling that they can convince the public that the bill favors unions and other special interests partial to Democrats, weaving the measure into a tapestry of right-wing election paranoia that stretches back to ACORN and now The New Black Panther Party, chalking it up as once last ditch attempt by Democrats to steal the elections.

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