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But as NPR's David Welna reports, Senate Republicans closed ranks to block the bill.
DAVID WELNA: Democrats call it the DISCLOSE Act - that's short for the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act. It's been passed by the House, and yesterday, President Obama urged the Senate to do the same.
BARACK OBAMA: A vote to oppose these reforms is nothing less than a vote to allow corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections.
WELNA: But not one Republican voted to let the bill come up for consideration. And while Democrats did vote to move ahead, the measure fell shy of the 60 votes needed to break the GOP filibuster. Shortly before the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid portrayed his fellow Democrats as following the will of the American people.
HARRY REID: I believe the majority of the Senate believes and the overwhelming majority of the American people believe the Supreme Court made a mistake with their decision in Citizens United. We cannot reverse its decision, but we can make sure that those who spend millions of dollars telling us how to vote publicly stand by their efforts.
WELNA: But Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said what the bill really boiled down to was an attempt by Democrats to protect their incumbents in this fall's midterm elections.
MITCH MCCONNELL: This is a transparent effort to rig the fall election. There've been no hearings, no committee action written by Senator Schumer, the former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Riddled with special advantages for Democratic-leaning groups and punishment for Republican-leaning groups.
WELNA: But not all the groups favored by the bill are closely aligned with Democrats. As Utah Republican Bob Bennett pointed out, House Democrats earlier altered the DISCLOSE Act to carve out some strategic exemptions.
BOB BENNETT: The DISCLOSE Act listens to the outcry of some corporations such as the National Rifle Association and says, well, we won't make it apply to you. And thus, demonstrates that it's responding to political pressure from people who say, we will punish you at the polls if you take away our right of free speech.
WELNA: New York Democrat Charles Schumer, who sponsored the campaign finance bill, said today's vote by no means spells the bill's demise.
CHARLES SCHUMER: We will go back at this bill again and again and again until we pass it. It's that vital. Not to Democrats, not to Republicans, but to the future of people's faith in the functioning of this government.
WELNA: Claremont McKenna College congressional expert Jack Pitney says Democrats clearly intend to make today's vote a campaign issue this fall.
JACK PITNEY: Although, ultimately, the issue is probably not going to have much impact. As we've learned in recent years, campaign finance reform just is not a high priority for most people.
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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