U.S. Senate Democrats urged Republicans to help advance legislation next week to require more disclosure of donations to groups that spend money on political campaigns.
Republicans oppose the measure, which they say would unconstitutionally limit free speech. Democrats say it is needed to reveal the sources of spending on presidential and congressional campaigns after the Supreme Court in 2010 overturned a decades-old ban on companies using their general funds to run ads supporting or opposing federal candidates.
“We’ve basically entered the Wild West of campaign finance,” Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, told reporters today in Washington. “The scale of the problem we face is enormous, and it is just corrosive on our democracy.”
Democrats’ move renews the congressional debate over limits on political donations as the Nov. 6 election approaches. The measure, known as the Disclose Act, would require corporations, labor unions, super-political action committees and nonprofit groups to report donations of more than $10,000 to the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours of spending the money. In addition, the measure would prevent donors to super-PACs from hiding behind shell corporations to shield their true identities.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today he will seek to advance the bill early next week. Support would be required from at least seven Republican senators to gain the 60 needed votes in the chamber, which Democrats control 53-47.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said yesterday it would take “a breakthrough on the Republican side” to advance the measure.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case led to the rise of political organizations known as super-PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from any source, and an increase in political spending by nonprofit groups, which can keep their donors secret. Super-PACs and nonprofits are spending millions of dollars to try to influence the 2012 presidential and congressional races.
Groups keeping their donors secret spent $138 million in the 2010 midterm election, compared with $1.3 million in the 2006 midterm vote, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.
President Barack Obama supports the measure. Republicans say it could subject political donors to government harassment.
In a June 15 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington group that supports free enterprise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups” would be “far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit.”
Republicans say the legislation, S. 3369, is written to avoid disclosure of donations to labor unions, which generally are structured to fall below the $10,000 threshold. Labor unions are often among Democratic candidates’ most prolific supporters, and they already disclose some of their funding to the Labor Department.
The House passed a slightly different version of the disclosure measure in 2010 when Democrats controlled the chamber. The measure failed by one vote to reach the Senate floor because every Republican voted to block it.
House Democrats today filed a petition to force Republican leaders to schedule a floor vote the measure.
The lack of disclosure helps special interests enforce an “ideological orthodoxy that is served by big money” and is “suffocating the system, suppressing the vote, poisoning the debate,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters today.