Debra Saunders / July 29, 2010

Only in Washington Is This Transparency

The Senate Democrats’ “DISCLOSE” Act – “DISCLOSE” stands for “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” – represents perhaps the baldest, if failed, power grab attempted this year. But you wouldn’t guess it reading news stories on the bill.

As The New York Times reported, “The Senate on Tuesday refused to take up a bill that would require more disclosure of the role of corporations, unions and other special interests in bankrolling political advertisements, after Democrats failed to persuade even one Republican to support it.”

The Washington Post began, “Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked legislation requiring fuller disclosure of the money behind political advertising, derailing a major White House initiative and virtually ensuring an onslaught of attack ads during this year’s midterm election season.”

So … it’s the Republicans’ fault if there are attack ads in November?

The leads to these stories have one thing right. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., failed to garner a single Republican supporter and hence failed to reach the 60-vote mark needed to bring it to a floor vote. Thus, it died with 57 votes in favor and 41 against.

But don’t let the first paragraphs fool you. The bill isn’t simply a spending disclosure reform; the DISCLOSE Act also would bar “electioneering communications” by corporations that have government contracts worth more than $10 million, received TARP funds or are controlled by foreign entities. So it’s not simply about disclosure; it’s also about suppressing free speech.

You also would not know that while proponents frame the bill as a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling, which lifted restrictions on independent political advertising by labor and corporations, the House version of the bill imposed restrictions on the above corporations – with no parallel restrictions on labor.

On the disclosure front, Schumer made a nod toward fairness. Unlike the House bill, Schumer’s measure would require that union heads, like CEOs, disclose contributions to political ads or mailers. Hence his claim that the bill promotes transparency. Quoth Schumer, “All we’re saying is that if you attack us, put your name on the ad.”

Facing the same spotlight that Schumer would shine on corporations, the AFL-CIO now “reluctantly” opposes the bill.

Other special interests fared better. Both the House and Senate bills exempted powerful special-interest groups, including the National Rifle Association and Sierra Club, from their disclosure rules.

Perhaps the most naked provision in the bills was language that would have made the DISCLOSE Act federal law within 30 days of President Obama’s promised signature. Clearly, the Dems were trying to skew the rules before the November elections.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, hit it when she said, “We have not had hearings, no vetting, no attempt, I think, to bring people together to work on an issue that responds to the Supreme Court’s decision.”

The Democrats tried to sneak this so-called reform onto the books like a midnight pay raise.

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