Democrats Likely to Fall Short (Again) on Campaign Finance Bill

The Senate will vote today on the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would increase disclosure requirements for corporations contributing to political campaigns. In July, Democrats fell two votes shy of cloture, which would have made the bill immune to a Republican filibuster. Since then, they have gained the vote of Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who was not present at the last vote, but remain one vote shy of the cloture-ensuring 60.

They were hoping to rope in moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins, but Hotline On Call's Jeremy Jacobs reports that she is most likely not on board. With Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, whom the Democrats targeted in July, also a no, Majority Leader Harry Reid is left to nag the usual swing vote: Collins' colleague from Maine, Olympia Snowe. While it's possible she'd flip, just as it's possible the District of Columbia could be struck by an 8.0 earthquake today, it is unlikely.

Since the Supreme Court ruled on the First Amendment right of corporations to engage in political speech in its Citizens United decision this past January, Democrats in Congress have been scrambling to pass a campaign finance bill that would increase corporate disclosure requirements. Obama has invested heavily in the effort, from chastising Supreme Court justices during his State of the Union speech to plugging the necessity of the DISCLOSE Act -- and lamenting that damage has already been done -- in his weekly radio address on Saturday:

What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein points out, "a lot more people will see ads funded by corporations this November than will ever hear or read a word of this radio address."

Already, the airwaves have been flooded by ads from advocacy groups registered as nonprofits, which are subject to less strict reporting requirements than political action committees. Just last week, the conservative American Future Fund made a $2.3 million TV ad buy across seven House districts. Though the group has a political action committee, this PAC reported a mere $12,572 in 2010 disbursements as of September 19.  

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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