By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA — It had all the elaborate trappings of election year political theater: A bill that couldn’t pass, corporate boogeymen and campaign managers eager to show their candidate’s mettle.
Much like House Republicans voting more than 30 times to repeal the national health reform law, U.S. Senate Democrats on Monday staged a doomed vote on the DISCLOSE Act; the vote failed to clear the 60-vote threshold to break a GOP filibuster threat.
Montana’s senators, Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester, supported the act, which would have required certain federal nonprofits engaging in election communications to disclose certain donor names to the Federal Election Commission and to the general public. Federal law does not require the groups, typically 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, to disclose donors.
Democrats say big corporate money is flowing into these groups, which are running issues ads targeting politicians – typically those on the left – across the country, thereby ruining the Democratic process.
Senate Republicans said the bill was phony reform and that it exempted labor unions from some critical disclosure mandates. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the act ensures “target speech suppression” while Democrats “blow a kiss to the unions.”
The DISCLOSE Act is Democrat-backed response to the 2010 Citizens United case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of free speech and thus protected by First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The federal non-profits are a byproduct of the Citizens United case.
For Tester, the vote was a move to strike back against a looming election-year foe in Crossroads GPS, a Republican-supporting nonprofit targeting the first-term incumbent and a handful of other vulnerable Democrats nationwide.
Tester blasted his November foe, GOP U.S. House Rep. Denny Rehberg, for not supporting the legislation. Rehberg’s camp says the congressman wants political spending transparency, but that the DISCLOSE Act would go too far in its reporting requirements.
“We encourage Dennis Rehberg to follow Jon’s lead in supporting this simple measure to bring accountability and transparency back to our elections,” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy wrote on the senator’s campaign website.
While working to eliminate a political enemy in Crossroads GPS, the measure would have struck a blow against some of Tester’s biggest backers, too.
Montana Hunters and Anglers Action and Citizens for Strength and Security Fund are federal non-profits set up within the past year specifically to aid the Democrat in a tough re-election contest. Both groups have close ties to former Tester aide Barrett Kaiser, and neither group is required to disclose its donors.
Federal Election Commission data suggests, however, the two groups are closely aligned with organized labor and left-wing environmental groups.
Outside spending groups have pitched in more than $6 million to the race so far, with millions more to come in the run up to November.