Democrats are preparing to put on a two day campaign finance floor show in the Senate, scheduling a handful of votes and a “midnight vigil” for increased disclosure of who, exactly, is donating to the outside groups underwriting both Barack Obama's and — to a larger degree — Mitt Romney's campaigns for president.
The bill has virtually no chance of passage – a fact of which its sponsors are keenly aware. But Democrats hope to use the legislation to point a finger at Republicans on the new flood of cash.
Led by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Chuck Schumer, Democrats this evening will force a the first of two votes on the Disclose Act, legislation designed to force Super PACs to disclose large dollar donors.
Once that vote fails, Democrats will then hold court on the Senate floor well into the night as part of their planned “Midnight Vigil” for the legislation.
“Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow,” Whitehouse’s office said in a statement announcing the vigil.
Then, on Tuesday, Democrats will again force a second vote on the bill that is also expected to be filibustered by Republicans.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision undid most of the nation’s campaign finance controls on corporate donations, Schumer has repeatedly pushed his colleagues to use the bill to paint Republicans as shills of corporate interests.
And on Monday, Democrats were doing exactly that.
Schumer called the lack of transparency “one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”
“Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system,” Colorado Democrat Michael Bennett said in a statement.
Majority Leader Harry Reid directly into Republicans – and Mitt Romney – suggesting that “perhaps Republicans want to shield the handful of billionaires willing to contribute nine figures to sway a close presidential election”
“These donors have something in common with their nominee. Like Mitt Romney, they believe they play by their own set of rules,” he added, pointedly noting that “Mitt Romney has refused to release his tax returns.”
Republicans, angered that bill only targets wealthy donors and would not require disclosure by unions for the vast majority of their donations, cried foul.
“Just five and a half months away from a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts already being referred to around the world as America’s fiscal cliff, Senate Democrats want us to waste our time on the Disclose Act, a bill that has only two discernible purposes: to create the impression of mischief where there is none, and to send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch declared the looming Kabuki theater of “little consequence for the American people,” while senior GOP operatives in the House and Senate simply rolled their eyes at the clearly political nature of the Democrats’ strategy.
And Republicans are right. Democrats are not operating under some delusion that their theatrics this week will suddenly win over the hearts of the nine or 10 moderate Republicans needed to break the GOP filibuster.
But with the bulk of $272.5 million raised by Super PACs so far going to the coffers of GOP-leaning groups, Democrats believe they must continue to press the issue with the public.
“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” Whitehouse said in a statement Monday. “We are committed to continuing the debate on the Disclose Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round,” he added.
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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