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Democrats renew bid to require big campaign donors to disclose

DISCLOSE Act would require corporations, labor unions, and other groups to disclose campaign donations of more than $10,000, but it faces a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

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The initiative, which advocates say has garnered bipartisan – if private – support, is likely to face an uphill battle in the Senate, as Republicans have pledged a filibuster to thwart its progress. Among its staunchest opponents is Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly cast disclosure laws as infringements upon First Amendment rights to free speech. Mr. McConnell led the lawsuit that succeeded in rolling back key features of the the 2002 campaign finance law, known as McCain-Feingold.

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DISCLOSE and other similar measures are “nothing less than an effort by the government itself to exposes its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies,” McConnell said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on June 15. “And that should concern every one of us.”

McConnell also charges that the DISCLOSE Act is more burdensome for corporations than for unions, who traditionally throw their support behind Democratic candidates. Because unions are traditionally built like pyramids, local affiliates could each spend less than $10,000, exempting them from disclosure, said Michael Brumas, a spokesman for McConnell's office.

Democrats dismissed that argument Thursday, saying Republicans have not identified specific clauses pointing to such an advantage.

“There is a universal standard for everyone – individuals, corporations, nonprofits, NGOs, labor unions – at a $10,000-giving threshold,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island, who introduced the Senate version of the legislation at a press conference Thursday.

In the House, top Democrats led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland are urging members to sign on to a discharge petition that would force the chamber to take up the act. The Republican-held House is not expected to take any action on the measure.

At a press conference on Thursday, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back against claims that the newest focus on disclosure grew out of Democrats’ significant fundraising lag behind Republicans ahead of the November elections. In June, Mitt Romney raked in $106 million to President Obama’s $71 million, marking the second month the presumptive Republican nominee has outraised the incumbent.

“Democrats have been on record for a long time wanting to reform the system,” Ms. Pelosi said. 

Mr. Van Hollen, a longtime proponent of the act, invoked Wednesday’s 33rd health-care repeal vote to assert that disclosure deserves a shot at consideration by the House.

“Let’s have one vote on allowing voters the right to know who’s financing these campaigns,” Mr. Van Hollen said.


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