Parties At Loggerheads Over Campaign Finance; Senate Dems May Not Have Votes

The partisan divide over last January's 5-4 Supreme Court decision that reversed the ban on unlimited corporate spending on campaigns continues in the Senate today.

Democrats have scheduled a 2:45 p.m. vote on the DISCLOSE Act*, a bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would require corporations and unions to disclose their spending on political campaigns.

The House passed similar legislation last month by a vote of 219-206.  Just two Republicans, Mike Castle (Del.) and Joseph Cao (La.) voted for it.  Thirty-six Democrats, a grouping that included Blue Dog Dems and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted no.

But it is a grouping of interest groups that opposes the legislation as well, such as the National Right to Life Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is among those groups lobbying the hardest against the bill.  Chamber President Tom Donohue accused the Democrats of trying to force through a bill "that clearly violated the Constitution as well as basic principles of fairness and equity."

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill is designed to "protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment."

President Obama, on the other hand, is making the opposite argument.  Speaking yesterday in the Rose Garden, Obama — who made his displeasure at the Court ruling clear during his State of the Union address —  laid out why he thought the bill was a necessity:  "Corporate lobbyists will be able to tell members of Congress, if they don't vote the right way, they will face an onslaught of negative ads in their next campaign.  And all too often, no one will actually know who's behind those ads."  More Obama:

"You'd think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense, particularly since they primarily involve just making sure that folks who are financing these ads are disclosed, so that the American people can make up their own minds.  Nobody is saying you can't run the ads; just make sure the people know who in fact is behind financing the ads."

But the odds of Democrats getting the required 60 votes to end debate seem daunting.  Fox News' Speaker's Lobby blog notes that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will be away, attending the funeral of a friend, and that Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Mass., two of the Republicans the White House has been wooing, have said they will vote no.

And on the Democratic side, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) are unhappy the legislation includes an exemption for the National Rifle Association, a move House leaders made to attract more votes.  But Democrats say they expect all of their members to vote for cloture.

(For the record, the AARP and the Sierra Club also have such an exemption.)

But even if the Democrats lose today's vote, as many expect, the White House "remains confident that public opinion is on its side."  That's the sense of the New York Times' Jackie Calmes & Carl Hulse, who write today:

"Mr. Obama turned his lectern in the Rose Garden into a bully pulpit to define the debate for the so-called Disclose Act on his terms, and to make it part of his election-year portrayal of Republicans as obstructionist. ...

"Just as with legislation to extend unemployment compensation and to provide tax credits and lending assistance for small businesses, “the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and every maneuver” to block a vote, Mr. Obama added. 'On issue after issue, we are trying to move America forward, and they keep on trying to take us back.'”

At the same time, Calmes & Hulse note, Republicans are feeling "emboldened":

"A fragile economy and stubbornly high unemployment have helped to drag down support in the polls for the president and Congressional Democrats, threatening their party’s control of Congress this November."

*DISCLOSE:  Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending In Elections.

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