WASHINGTON (BP)–Senate Democrats again failed to bring to the floor Sept. 23 a campaign finance bill that many pro-family groups say would limit their ability to get their message out and possibly lead to the intimidation of donors.
The White House-backed DISCLOSE Act needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster but fell short in a 59-39 roll call. All 39 votes against invoking cloture — a procedure that overcomes the delaying tactic known as a filibuster — were from Republicans. Two Republicans, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, did not vote. The House of Representatives had approved the measure in a 219-206 roll call.
The Senate’s Democratic leaders also fell short in July in their first effort to bring the bill to the floor. Then the cloture vote failed 57-40.
A host of pro-life and pro-family groups oppose the legislation, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Family Research Council Action, National Right to Life Committee, Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage. On the left side of the spectrum, the Americans Civil Liberties Union also opposes it. The bill would apply not only to nonprofits but also to corporations, and its supporters said it was intended to shine more light on campaign ad spending.
After the latest vote, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a written statement the DISCLOSE Act “is no more popular today than it was when it tanked in July. Not surprisingly, the doomed legislation which was designed to expose (and thereby scare) top donors of organizations like FRC, isn’t playing well with Americans who are still waiting for action on the recession, unemployment, and tax relief.”
If passed and signed by President Obama in time, it would have impacted this election cycle.
The bill’s restrictions would kick in when an ad mentions a candidate or a member of Congress. Such restrictions could severely hamper nonprofit-issued advocacy ads that, for example, promote or oppose a specific bill and urge viewers to contact their legislator.
The National Right to Life Committee sent a letter to senators a few days before the July cloture vote detailing what it sees as the bill’s problems. Among them:
— The bill’s requirement to release publicly every donor who gives more than $1,000. “Our members and supporters have a right to support our public advocacy about important and controversial issues without having their identifying information posted on the Internet, exposing them to harassment or retribution by those who may disagree with their belief,” National Right to Life said. FRC Action said, “We have seen intimidation employed time and time again against Christians in states like Massachusetts, California and Maine for merely voicing their belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
— Its requirement that the top donor actually appear in the television ad, similar to how candidates do today. Radio ads would be subject to similar restrictions. National Right to Life said it is wrong for the government to require, for instance, a “75-year-old woman with health problems, who holds strong religious convictions and who wishes to promote” a pro-life bill to appear in a TV ad.
— Its exemption of large organizations such as the National Rifle Association. While the NRA and organizations like it would be exempt, small nonprofits — such as state-level pro-life groups — would not be. National Right to Life asked why “much smaller state-level organizations” that have far fewer “financial, administrative, and legal resources” would be required to go through legal traps and layers of reporting requirements when larger organizations are not.
— The fact that it would apply 120 days prior to a general election, twice as much as is the case now. “For example,” National Right to Life wrote, “an organization that sponsors a single radio ad costing $10,000 or more that says no more than, ‘Call Senator Jones — urge him to support the First Amendment by voting no on S. 3628’ — would be required to publicly identify every donor of more than $1,000 to the organization (whether or not the donation was spent on the ad) throughout the year.”
The bill is S. 3628 in the Senate, H.R. 5175 in the House. The full name of the legislation is the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, and Michael Foust, an assistant editor for Baptist Press.