GOP senators all-too transparent in DISCLOSE Act vote

For the past few days, we’ve worked really hard to understand the objections raised by Senate Republicans to the DISCLOSE Act, common-sense legislation that would have brought a ray or two of sunlight to the dark world of political contributions in the post-Citizens United age.

But after considering the arguments put forward on how the bill would impose restrictions on free speech, intimidate big-time donors into silence, etc., we came to a simple conclusion.

We don’t buy it – and neither should you.

This coordinated campaign, orchestrated shamelessly by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was all about money, pure and simple. Of all the efforts concocted to give cover to deep-pocketed donors to conservative causes, the one that played out this week on Capitol Hill might be the least transparent of all.

On Monday (51-44) and again Tuesday (53-45), Senate Democrats fell shy of the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster and advance the bill to the floor. The measure, introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., failed to attract a single Republican vote, even though more than a dozen GOP senators had supported similar legislation in the past.

Under the bill, nonprofit organizations that engage in political campaigns – corporations, unions and other groups – would have to disclose all political expenditures of $10,000 or more within 24 hours. They also would have to identify those donors who contributed $10,000 or more.

The DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) was the latest response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010. That controversial 5-4 decision ended the longtime prohibition against corporations and labor unions spending money from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates.

Coupled with a federal court decision that same year, independent groups were able to form super PACs – political action committees that can raise unlimited money – and spin-off 501(c) groups that do not have to disclose donors.

Now, it’s bad enough that Senate Republicans voted in lockstep to do the bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – “an unconstitutional attempt to silence free speech,” it argued – and roughly 80 other business groups.

But adding insult to injury is that six of those senators each raised at least $1.5 million during their 2010 campaigns from so-called “dark money” – contributions from organizations that don’t disclose donors – according to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group committed to transparency in government.

Coincidentally, sitting at the top of the list was New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who raised $3.7 million from these sources two years ago. That was more than Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri ($2.9 million), Marco Rubio of Florida ($2.7 million), Ron Johnson of Wisconsin ($2.6 million), Rand Paul of Kentucky ($1.8 million) and Scott Brown of Massachusetts ($1.5 million.)

When the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision two years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, addressed the importance of transparency in government.

“With the advent of the Internet,” he wrote, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.”

When the time comes, we suspect some voters will consider doing just that – prompt disclosure or not.