Campaign Disclosure Bill Hits Wall

Article excerpt

Byline: David Espo Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans blocked legislation imposing new restrictions on political activity by special interest groups Tuesday, likely dealing a fatal blow to a drive by the White House and congressional Democrats to rewrite campaign rules in the run-up to the midterm elections.

The 57-41 vote was three short of the total needed to advance the measure, which calls for greater disclosure on campaign advertising funded independently by corporations, unions and other organizations, but included an exemption for the National Rifle Association and a small number of other groups.

Less than 100 days before the elections, the debate was highly political -- and the outcome widely anticipated.

Anticipating defeat, Democrats swiftly unleashed a coordinated attack employing one of their emerging campaign themes.

"After a year of defending big banks, big insurance, big oil and other special interests, Republicans might want to drown out the voices of Americans who don't have the financial resources of big corporations but want to have their say in this year's elections," the party's chairman, Tim Kaine, said in a statement.

Republicans, anticipating big gains in the fall, folded the day's Senate events into their own election-year argument -- that Democrats have been unsuccessful in easing double-digit unemployment.

"Today was a rebuke to congressional Democrats who need to put aside their electoral self-interest and start addressing our struggling economy, which continues to be the primary concern among American voters," GOP Chairman Michael Steele said.

Democrats drafted the bill in response to a Supreme Court ruling last winter that said corporations and unions were free to spend their own money on advertising, mass mailings and other forms of political activity. A companion measure cleared the House last month on a near party-line vote over vociferous Republican protests.

Under both bills, nearly all organizations airing political ads independently of candidates or the political parties would be required to disclose their top donors and the amounts they paid. The group's CEO or other top official would be required to appear on screen taking responsibility for the commercial.

Additionally, any business, union or other entity holding a government contract worth more than $10 million would be banned from a variety of political activity, as would firms in possession of federal bailout funds and corporations in which foreigners own more than a majority of voting shares.

Corporations, labor unions and others engaging in certain types of independent political activity would be required to report donations, dues or other contributions from all donors who have given $600 or more. …