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That Was Then, This Is Now

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In 2000, a number of 527 groups were engaging in undisclosed campaign finance activities to influence federal elections. Congress moved quickly to enact comprehensive disclosure requirements to cover the 527 groups.

Reflecting a longstanding consensus in the country and in Congress, the campaign finance disclosure legislation passed with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House.

In the Senate, the 527 disclosure legislation passed by a vote of 92 to 6.

Forty-eight of the 54 Republican Senators voting, or 89 percent, voted for the legislation.

Senator Mitch McConnell was one of only six Republicans who voted against the legislation to require 527 groups to disclose the contributions they received and expenditures they made to influence federal elections.

Last week, ten years later, the Senate faced another vote on campaign finance disclosure.

This time the legislation, known as the DISCLOSE Act, was designed to require disclosure of similar campaign finance information by corporations and labor unions spending money to influence federal elections. These activities were unleashed by the radical and destructive Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

Once again, Senator Mitch McConnell, now Senate Republican Leader, voted against campaign finance disclosure.

This time, however, so did every other Senate Republican who voted -- all 38 of them.

Senate Republicans went from 89 percent support for campaign finance disclosure in 2000 to 100 percent opposition to campaign finance disclosure in 2010.

That was then.

This is now.

It was clear by the time of the vote last week on the DISCLOSE Act that Senate sponsors were prepared to limit the legislation to contain only campaign finance disclosure provisions.

Nevertheless, Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins who voted for disclosure by 527 groups in 2000 voted to block disclosure by corporations and labor unions in 2010. The Maine Senators did so in the face of a Maine poll of Maine voters that found that "85% of voters feel it is important to know who paid for the political campaign communications they see or hear."

Ten years after Congress passed campaign finance disclosure for 527 groups by overwhelming bipartisan votes, the campaign finance disclosure issue hasn't changed nor has the national consensus in the country in favor of disclosure; the votes of Senate Republicans, however, have changed.

In 2000, Senator McConnell was a lonely Senate Republican voice against campaign finance disclosure. In 2010, Senator McConnell had 38 Republican Senators voting in lockstep with him to block campaign finance disclosure and to deny citizens information they have a basic right to know.

The Republican Senators said no to corporate and labor union campaign finance disclosure, furthermore, despite an 8 to 1 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United holding that such disclosure requirements "do not prevent anyone from speaking," and serve governmental interests in "providing the electorate with information" about money spent to influence elections so they can "make informed choices in the political marketplace."

The DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House in June, failed to reach the Senate floor for consideration and action last week by just one vote, 59 to 39. If even a single Republican Senator had voted yes, the disclosure legislation could have been enacted.

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