This vote was on whether to begin debate on a bill that would require chief executives whose companies fund campaign advertisements to appear during those advertisements, as well as preventing companies that have received federal aid, those owned by more than 20 percent foreign interests, and those with large government contracts from election-related spending.
The bill is a direct response to a recent Supreme Court ruling that found that corporations have the same free-speech rights as individuals and can spend their funds to influence voters. The case is known shorthand as “Citizens United.” Democrats and other advocates for campaign finance overhaul have said this will allow deep-pocketed companies to make unlimited donations in order to sway elections.
Typically bills are brought to the floor through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he has to do is remove his consent – which was the case with this bill. Instead, the Democratic leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill, which is what this vote was on.
Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said the bill as written would not be fair to corporations, which are in most cases under U.S. law treated as individuals.
“I pointed out in the past and repeat as a reference that prior to the Supreme Court's decision, it was possible for Michael Moore to produce a movie that would attack George W. Bush and be completely acceptable, completely legal. But it was not possible for the people who formed Citizens United to produce a movie that attacks Hillary Clinton and have that be legal. The difference was Michael Moore was acting as an individual. These people were acting collectively. Because they chose the corporate form of organization for their collective action, the previous law said: You cannot do this,” Bennett said. “The Supreme Court ruled--I think accurately--that if Michael Moore has a right to make a movie, so does Citizens United. If Michael Moore has a right to attack George W. Bush, Citizens United has the right to attack Hillary Clinton.”
Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the bill is intended to “preserve the ability of individual Americans to be heard in a political process that could be swamped by a flood of corporate money.”
“By establishing these requirements, we will not prevent corporations from engaging in the activities the Supreme Court has allowed. We are simply giving Americans the ability to see how these companies, unions and other groups are seeking to influence the political process. This should not be an issue of Republicans and Democrats,” Levin said. “We should all agree that our democracy is best served when its election campaigns are conducted transparently. The American people are depending on us to defend the integrity of the political process. We should not fail to uphold that responsibility. I urge my colleagues to debate and adopt this vital legislation.”
By a vote of 59-39, the motion to begin debating the bill failed. Though more voted yes than no, this type of vote requires 60 in order to consider it approved. Every Democrat present voted to begin debating the bill. Every Republican present voted against opening debate on the bill. The end result is that a vote to begin debating a bill to tighten campaign expenditure rules for corporations failed, pushing further consideration of the bill back indefinitely.