Senate Dems Fail on Campaign Finance Bill

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In a vote that could have a tangible effect on midterm elections in November, the Senate today denied cloture to the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase transparency of corporate spending in political campaigns. With the August recess drawing nearer and midterm elections around the corner, this vote has been built up as a political play for both sides. Democrats want to discourage corporate backing of Republican candidates, and Republicans want to smooth the way for corporate donors as midterm campaigns heat up.

Obama rallied for the bill in a Rose Garden speech yesterday, chiding Republicans for obstructing its passage. "You would think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue," Obama said. "But of course this is Washington in 2010."

Democrats needed 60 votes today to ensure that the bill would reach the floor for debate. Nebraska's Ben Nelson, who voted against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act in 2002, had his fellow Democrats on their toes until his spokesman announced this morning that he would vote yes. Republicans Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown were all potential yes votes that did not come through. John McCain, despite his prior advocacy of campaign finance reform, voted no. Without a single Republican vote, Democrats could not reach 60.

Anticipating this result, the White House launched an offensive yesterday framing Republicans as willfully in thrall to corporations that are swindling average Americans with deceptive advertising. After Obama spoke in the Rose Garden, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said that Republicans face "a choice between the public and big corporations and the Republicans seem poised to vote en masse for the corporations." This line will play heavily in the Democrats' election-season narrative against the GOP.

Republicans, in turn, will stress that Democrats took the Senate's attention away from the small jobs bill in order to schedule the DISCLOSE Act vote. Judging from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's floor remarks, Republicans will frame the vote as diverting precious time from saving average American jobs to saving Democratic politicians' jobs.  


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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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