Senate Democrats pledged to hold a Tuesday vote on broad changes to campaign finance disclosure, despite a growing belief that the party lacks the votes necessary to break a filibuster.
In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the key author of the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, pledged to bring the legislation up for a cloture vote on Tuesday, even with a trio of Republicans either hesitant or promising to oppose it.
"This vote will really show the true test of our Republican colleagues," the New York Democrat, his voice hoarse, said during a conference call with reporters. "I regard this legislation as one of the most important we will be voting on over the next decade going right to the root of our democracy."
"We are working very hard on getting a Republican and there are a number of possibilities," he added. "You never know till you call a vote. This is a tough vote. There is a lot of pressure... I believe there are a lot of members who believe this is the right thing to do."
The remarks from the New York Democrat are meant to signal that the party is taking the political offensive even with the DISCLOSE Act's fate in doubt. Not coincidentally, soon thereafter President Obama gave a short address, likewise extolling the passing of new disclosure laws and demanding congressional action.
"There is a legislative process and then there is a vote and in a vote you get to decide what side you are on," spokesman Robert Gibbs said, previewing Obama's remarks. "Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there is corporate interest and special interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn't."
But even as Democrats ramped up their efforts to get DISCLOSE Act passed, doubts emerged behind the scenes about legislative strategy. A failed cloture vote, one Democratic Hill aide suggested, "could have the effect of dissuading lawmakers" from addressing the campaign finance reform issue down the road -- as opposed to, say, making life uncomfortable for those obstinate Republicans (Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
That said, operatives and aides working on the bill pledged that Tuesday's vote -- should it fail -- will not be the last attempt to move the bill forward.
"This is not going to be the final decision point on this legislation," said one operative who is working on the DISCLOSE Act's passage. "If cloture is not achieved, this battle is going to go forward and there will continue to be a major lobbying effort with the view that we think there are real possibilities that we can get a negotiated agreement by the end of this process."
At the heart of the holdup are a host of varying political and legislative concerns. While DISCLOSE was able to pass the House last month with the granting of exemptions to groups like the NRA, Senate Republicans have demanded even more negotiations, including the tightening of legislation to make sure that union groups are subjected to the same provisions as corporations. Schumer has done that. He has also removed a provision from the House's bill that would prohibit companies with leases in the Outer Continental Shelf from making campaign-related expenditures. The Senate bill also deletes provisions in the House-passed bill requiring that a CEO list the local jurisdiction in which they reside as part of the disclaimer they must put on the ads they sponsor. The Senate bill also deletes the provision in the House bill that would require radio ads to list the two top funders of the ad.
"We have changed it from the House side so it is completely balanced," Schumer said.
UPDATE: The president -- with sharper digs at Republicans than he normally delivers -- made the following remarks in support of the DISCLOSE Act.
...The DISCLOSE Act would simply require corporate political advertisers to reveal who's funding their activities. So when special interests take to the airwaves, whoever is running and funding the ad would have to appear in the advertisement and claim responsibility for it -- like a company's CEO or the organization's biggest contributor. And foreign-controlled corporations and entities would be restricted from spending money to influence American elections -- just as they were in the past.
Now, you'd think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense, particularly since they primarily involve just making sure that folks who are financing these ads are disclosed so that the American people can make up their own minds. Nobody is saying you can't run the ads -- just make sure that people know who in fact is behind financing these ads. And you'd think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue. But of course, this is Washington in 2010. And the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and every maneuver they can to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from even coming up for an up or down vote. Just like they did with unemployment insurance for Americans who'd lost their jobs in this recession. Just like they're doing by blocking tax credits and lending assistance for small business owners. On issue after issue, we are trying to move America forward, and they keep on trying to take us back.
At a time of such challenge for America, we can't afford these political games. Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn't be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret, special interest advertising. The American people's voices should be heard.
A vote to oppose these reforms is nothing less than a vote to allow corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections. It is damaging to our democracy. It is precisely what led a Republican President named Theodore Roosevelt to tackle this issue a century ago.
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