Party Line Vote Stops DISCLOSE Act

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On Tuesday, July 27, 2010, the U.S. Senate rejected a motion to consider S. 3628, the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act (DISCLOSE Act). The DISCLOSE Act would have imposed burdensome new requirements on businesses seeking to speak on elections.

Previously passed by the House, the legislation was introduced by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as a response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down prohibitions on corporate expenditures. The DISCLOSE Act would have increased the time period during which the government regulates "electioneering communications" to 120 days before a general election. The bill would also have prohibited U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations, and domestic corporations in which a foreign corporation or foreign national owns more than 20%, from forming political action committees (PACs) or running political ads.

One of the more controversial provisions would require that the CEO appear in every broadcast political ad to state aloud that their organization approves the message. Television ads would have also had to show a Top Five Funders List on the screen for at least six seconds, with some exceptions. Another provision of the bill would not only have expanded disclosures to the FEC, but also mandated that the same information provided to the FEC be published on the homepage of their internet site, including in some instances, the name and amount of anyone donating over $600. Further, the substance of all expenditures would have been required to be included in any regular shareholder reports.

Opposition to the bill was based in part on the failure of the bill to equally regulate political expression by labor unions, and that by virtue of the sponsors of the bill being the chief fundraisers for the Democratic Party in both the House and Senate, the intent was to give a partisan advantage to Democrats in upcoming elections. The bill failed on a party-line vote. It is likely, however, that the measure will be considered again, particularly if members of Congress find themselves in a lame-duck session in December.