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Opposition to the DISCLOSE Act shows how far campaign finance debate has shifted

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has just finished speaking from the floor on his DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations, unions, and nonprofits to disclose donations of $10,000 or more to political groups.

Conservative opponents have suggested the bill, which faces a key procedural vote tonight, is merely an attempt to get around the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited political spending by outside groups.

"This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

But as many supporters of the bill have noted, the Citizens United decision, itself, includes a paean to disclosure:

The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

Disclosure seems a pretty minimal sop to democracy. But the DISCLOSE Act will almost certainly fail in the face of Republican opposition tonight. That's as good a symbol, as any, off how far our campaign finance debate has moved in recent years.

Republicans, not long ago, endorsed disclosure as an alternative to Democratic calls for greater curns on campaign contributions. In 2000, the Senate voted 92-6 to approve a measure requiring secretive groups known as 527s to disclose. As the Huffington Post points out, 14 GOP Senators who voted for the 2000 bill are still in the Senate. Any doubt about how they'll vote tonight?

 

 

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