This vote was on a motion to end debate and hold a final, up-or-down vote on legislation requiring disclosure of the identity of wealthy donors who help corporations, labor unions, nonprofits, and other organizations influence elections.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the bill, known as the “DISCLOSE Act,” in an attempt to unmask the wealthy donors who fund groups that seek to influence U.S. elections. Sen. Whitehouse’s bill would have affected organizations that spent more than $10,000 on political campaigns. Those organizations would have been required to disclose donors who give more than $10,000. However, before the Senate could vote on the bill, members would have to pass a motion for “cloture,” which sets a time at which the otherwise unlimited debate would come to an end. Senate Republicans had blocked passage of the cloture motion the previous day, but Democrats sought to hold another vote to pressure them to allow the bill to move forward.
Supporters of Sen. Whitehouse’s bill argued that requiring disclosure of wealthy donors was a small but vital step toward protecting the integrity of American democracy. Americans have the right to know the identities of millionaires and billionaires who fund political groups in an attempt to sway the electorate, they argued.
“By passing the DISCLOSE Act, we can restore transparency and accountability to campaign finance laws by ensuring that all Americans know who is paying for campaign ads,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said. “It is a crucial step toward restoring the ability of Vermonters and all American voters to be able to speak, be heard and to hear competing voices, and not be drowned out by powerful corporate interests. For any of us who are in an election, we expect our opponent to be able to speak out, and the public expects it. They want to hear from both of us. And they should. That is why we have debates. That is why we have candidate forums. But it all becomes irrelevant if you have a huge megaphone, paid for by anonymous donors, anonymous corporations.”
Republicans argued that the bill was actually an attempt to silence critics of Democrats and President Obama. They argued that the bill was soft on labor unions; since most union money comes from mandatory dues from members, few donors would rise above the $10,000 mark, they said.
“In its current form, the DISCLOSE Act is closer to a clever attempt at political gamesmanship than actual reform,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. “By conveniently setting high thresholds for reporting requirements, the DISCLOSE Act forces some entities to inform the public about the origins of their financial support, while allowing others – most notably those affiliated with organized labor – to fly below the Federal Election Commission's regulatory radar.”
Even though the motion to end debate and hold a vote on the campaign donation disclosure bill received 53 “yea” votes and only 45 voted “nay,” the motion failed because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 53 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 45 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to end debate and hold a final, up-or-down vote on legislation requiring disclosure of the identity of wealthy donors who help corporations, labor unions, nonprofits, and other organizations influence elections.