After clearing some political hurdles, the U.S. House on Thursday passed the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act (DISCLOSE Act).
The bill seeks to regulate certain political spending by amending the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA).
The bill is a response to the Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v FEC. In the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections could not be limited under the First Amendment. The DISCLOSE Act would require outside organizations to file additional campaign finance disclosures when they run political advertisements.
The political hurdle for this legislation came when word broke that Congressman Chris Van Holllen (D-MD), the bill’s chief sponsor and Chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Committee, had made a deal with the NRA to basically exempt them from the measure in exchange for their support, which presumably freed up much needed votes from House Democrats in conservative districts where NRA approval is helpful in re-election bids. Whatever the reasoning or consequence, the insertion of the clause caused many liberals like the Congressional Black Caucus to rethink their support of the measure and the vote on the bill had to be rescheduled.
After some additional deal-making, the bill passed by a margin of 219-206.
Congressman Van Hollen said of the bill, “The DISCLOSE Act will provide the most transparency and disclosure of political expenditures in the history of our elections. This will help ensure that the American people know who is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to influence their vote and prevent a takeover of our democracy by powerful special interests.”
As with almost any piece of legislation, not everyone shares Van Hollen’s enthusiasm over the passage of the DISCLOSE Act. Critics have several problems with the bill. First, they contest that the law is specifically structured to target only certain political expenditures, almost exclusively those made by supporters of republican candidates while popular democratic candidate supporters like unions and their political action committees, which represent the single largest contributors to political campaigns, would not be subject to the increased regulation.
Critics are also upset at the rapid pace by which this legislation was hurried through the House and assert this was done solely in the hopes of impacting this falls’ elections which may be difficult for Democrats.
From a practical political level, some charge that the bill will leave the up-coming season in chaos and turmoil rather than bathed in transparency.
The bill had its fair share of critics from the left as well – especially after the inclusion of the NRA provision, when liberal groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Sierra Club, and the ACLU all made their criticisms of the bill known.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue issued the following statement on the bill’s passage, “The Democratic majority in the House jammed through a piece of legislation that clearly violates the Constitution, as well as basic principles of fairness and equity…They only achieved passage of this bill by making backroom deals and exempting some of the most powerful special interest groups in the country—and specifically allowing unions to mask the movement of their political money. Citizens are appalled that with a faltering economy, massive unemployment, and an unfolding environmental disaster, Congress is focusing on protecting their own jobs first.”
What comes next in terms of legal challenges as well as putting this new law into practice remains up in the air. As Jonathan Strong noted, “For new reporting requirements, the FEC probably won’t be able to even issue reporting forms, leaving would-be campaign spenders in the dark about how to report the newly required information.” Additionally, “Democrats left a legal rats’ nest for courts to struggle to untangle. The bill assigns jurisdiction in a complicated way that is at odds with other campaign spending laws.”
The bill, which is being hailed as the most far-reaching U.S. campaign finance reform measure since McCain-Feingold, will next move to the Senate for consideration.