>You can’t say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn’t try. He brought the DISCLOSE Act to the Senate Floor, and the Republican minority continued their filibuster of the bill intended to prohibit foreign corporations from seeking to influence American elections with coffers of cash from undisclosed donors to U.S. candidates and issue groups. [roll call 240]
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reiterated his talking points (1) the bill would inhibit “free speech,” and (2) it’s designed to rig elections in favor of Democrats. The second point is exceedingly difficult to fathom. S. 3628, the DISCLOSE Act, is relatively simple, and a direct response to the Citizens United decision. The Republicans refused to allow an up or down vote.
What The Bill Would Do
The Congressional Research Service summarizes the content of the bill as follows:
“Amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) to prohibit: (1) independent expenditures and payments for electioneering communications by government contractors if the value of the contract is at least $10 million; and (2) recipients of assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) from making any contribution to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office, or to any person for any political purpose or use, or from making any independent expenditure or disbursing any funds for an electioneering communication.
Applies the ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals to foreign-controlled domestic corporations.
Requires the highest ranking official of a corporation, before making any contribution, donation, expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication in connection with a federal election, to file a certification with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), if this has not been done already, that the corporation is not prohibited from carrying out such activity.
Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from establishing, administering, and soliciting contributions to a separate segregated fund, so long as: (1) none of the amounts in the fund are provided by any prohibited foreign national; and (2) no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control the fund.
Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from making a contribution or donation in connection with a state or local election to the extent permitted under state or local law, so long as no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control such contribution or donation.
Declares that nothing prohibits any domestic corporation from making communications to its stockholders and executive or administrative personnel and their families or initiating nonpartisan registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, so long as: (1) none of the amounts used to carry out such activity are provided by any such foreign national; and (2) no such foreign national has the power to direct, dictate, or control such activity.
Treats as contributions: (1) any payments by any person (except a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party) for coordinated communications; and (2) political party communications made on behalf of candidates if made under the control or direction of a candidate or a candidate’s authorized committee.
Defines “coordinated communication” as: (1) a publicly distributed or disseminated communication referring to a candidate or the candidate’s opponent which is made during a specified election period in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party; or (2) any communication that republishes, disseminates, or distributes, in whole or in part, any broadcast or any written, graphic, or other form of campaign material prepared by a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents.
Repeals the prohibition against contributions by individuals age 17 or younger.
Prohibits a communication which is disseminated through the Internet from being treated as a form of general public political advertising unless the communication was placed for a fee on another person’s website.
Revises the definition of independent expenditure to mean, in part, an expenditure that, when taken as a whole, expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, or is the functional equivalent of express advocacy.
Requires any person making independent expenditures exceeding $10,000 to: (1) file a report electronically within 24 hours; and (2) file a new report electronically each time the person makes or contracts to make independent expenditures in an aggregate amount equal to or greater than $10,000 (or $1,000, if less than 20 days before an election) with respect to the same election.
Increases from 60 days to 120 days the period before a general election during which a communication shall be considered an electioneering communication.
Requires mandatory electronic filing by persons making independent expenditures or electioneering communications exceeding $10,000 at any time.
Requires corporations, labor organizations, tax-exempt charitable organizations, and political organizations other than political committees (covered organizations) to include specified additional information in reports on independent expenditures of at least $10,000, including certain actual or deemed transfers of money to other persons, but excluding amounts paid from separate segregated funds as well as amounts designated for specified campaign-related activities. Requires certain additional information in electioneering communication reports.
Sets forth special rules for the use of general treasury funds by covered organizations for campaign-related activity, including both designated and unrestricted donor payments to an organization.
Authorizes mutually agreed restrictions on the use of donated funds for campaign-related activity between a covered organization and a person who does not want his or her identity disclosed in a significant funder statement or a Top 5 Funders list.
Authorizes covered organizations to make optional use of a separate Campaign-Related Activity Account for making disbursements for campaign-related activity. Requires such an Account to be reduced by the amount of organization revenues attributable to donations or payments from a person other than the covered organization who has mutually agreed with the organization that the organization may not use the donation or payment for campaign-related activity.
Requires certain electioneering communications transmitted through radio or television to include an audio statement identifying the name of the political committee responsible.
Prescribes additional information to be included in certain radio or television electioneering communications by persons (including significant funders of campaign-related communications of a covered organization) other than a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or a political committee of a political party.
Prescribes a format for the individual disclosure statement. Indexes certain amounts.
Amends the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 to require registered lobbyists to report information on independent expenditures or electioneering communications of at least $1,000 to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Amends FECA to require Senate candidates to file all designations, statements, and reports directly with the FEC.
Requires covered organizations to disclose to shareholders, members, or donors information on disbursements for campaign-related activity.
Requires a covered organization that maintains an Internet site to post on it a hyperlink from its homepage to the location on the FEC website containing information required to be reported with respect to public independent expenditures, including disbursements for electioneering communications.
Authorizes judicial review of the provisions of this Act by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and on appeal by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Grants Members of Congress the right to: (1) bring an action to challenge the constitutionality of a provision of this Act; or (2) intervene in any action challenging the constitutionality of a provision of this Act, either in support of or opposition to the position of a party to the case.”
The Game Is On
Republicans are betting on the notion that the public hasn’t read the bill or even the CRS summary and can be convinced that the measure favors labor unions and left wing organizations in the run up to the mid term elections. Frankly, there wasn’t much substance to Minority Leader McConnell’s statements on the Senate floor: “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.” [WashInd]
A Summary Of The Summary
Here’s what the DISCLOSE Act does:
1. Prohibits contributions to federal campaigns from large firms that get government contracts. The idea here is to prevent corporations from donating funds to candidates who promise to steer lucrative government contract their way.
2. Prohibits recipients of TARP funding from making political contributions in federal elections. Once again, the idea is to prohibit campaign donations from large financial corporations which might seek another bailout from members of Congress who accepted banking industry donations.
3. Prohibits foreign corporations, or domestic corporations controlled from outside the U.S., from engaging in political activities in U.S. elections. This seems clear on the face of it.
4. Requires Senate candidates to file campaign donation reports directly with the Federal Election Commission.
5. Does NOT prohibit political activities by domestic U.S. corporations so long as the share-holders are informed, and the CEO signs off that the share-holders have been informed, and nothing illegal has been done.
Republicans are counting on the efficacy of a “sound bite” assault on this bill. Voters will be told it “inhibits” free speech — but without much, if any, explanation. Voters will be told that the bill favors labor unions and community organizations — which it obviously does not. Voters will be told this is “an incumbent protection act.” It isn’t. The Republican Tea Party is evidently so afraid of disclosing the extent of its ties to multi-national and foreign corporations that its representatives and candidates will be perfectly willing to lie about the bill in order to defeat it?