Campaign cash disclosures again at center of partisan Senate debate

WASHINGTON—Senate Democrats failed again Monday to pass a bill that would expand disclosures revealing donors to independent political groups.

The latest effort on the Democrats’ measure, dubbed the DISCLOSE Act, fell short of breaking a Republican filibuster. Needing 60 votes, Democrats garnered only 51.

The bill would require big spenders, including unions, corporations, and nonprofits, to disclose donations exceeding $10,000 to independent groups. Democrats contend such rules are needed since the Supreme Court, in its 2010 Citizens United decision, declared that corporations and unions have a constitutional right to spend freely on elections. The decision led to the rise of super PACs and nonprofit groups, which have been major players in national politics, especially the race for president.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Super PACs have limited rules governing disclosure of donors; nonprofit groups face no requirements.

“We’re not here seeking a limitation on spending—we ought to be, but we’re not,” Senator John Kerry, a Bay State Democrat, said in a floor speech before the vote. “We’re here simply to get the American people the right to know who’s giving the money, who’s paying these millions of dollars, in order to affect the debate in America, in most cases, I will tell your frankly, to distort the debate.”

His counterpart from Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown, called the legislation “a cynical ploy masquerading as reform” in restating his opposition. Brown voted against a previous version.

“Rather than treat all sides equally as a true reform bill would, it contains special carve outs for union bosses and other favored interest groups,” he said. Brown’s office asserts that the law treats unions and business associations differently, because of differences in governance and structure.

Brown’s interpretation, however, runs counter to analyses by some supporters of the law, including the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group advocating for transparency in campaign financing.

“Scott Brown needs to read the bill ... there are a lot of misconceptions about the bill,” said Lisa Rosenberg, the government affairs consultant at the Sunlight Foundation.

Rosenberg acknowledged that the bill does not require anyone to disclose their identity if their donations fall under $10,000—including union members.