The DISCLOSE Act: 'Central to the Functioning of Our Democracy'

Tuesday night at the JFK Library Elizabeth Warren addressed a crowd of supporters and donors, but also had some words for the media.

After a speech chronicling her involvement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was interviewed on stage by Christopher Lydon, a Boston media personality and former WBUR host. During the discussion, Warren brought up Scott Brown’s opposition to the DISCLOSE Act, which has been on the Senate floor this week (and which Warren supports). She turned to the audience and asked if anyone had read about Brown’s vote in the papers or heard about it on the radio. The crowd shook their heads. Of the media’s lack of coverage, Warren said, “These (are) stories that are central to the functioning of our democracy, these are not the stories that are front and center.”

Though some outlets have been covering the vote (h/t to, Warren was right in noting the bill’s absence from much of the local headlines. Heeding Warren’s call, here’s what you should know about the DISCLOSE Act:

The full name of the bill is “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections,” and its first incarnation was proposed in 2010 in an effort to reinvigorate some campaign spending laws that had just been decimated by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. That version of the law got held up in the Senate, and this year Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is sponsoring a very similar proposal, the DISCLOSE Act of 2012. The most notable aspect of the bill is that politically active interest groups (think Super PACs and the like) must reveal every donor who gives more than $10,000 in an election cycle.

Cue the bitter partisan divide (because, really, is there any other way to legislate these days?). Republicans oppose the bill because they believe the $10,000 figure is put in place to favor Democratic-leaning groups such as unions, who draw on small donations from large memberships. While the bill has no language that favors or exempts unions, the Republicans believe the resulting legislation would inherently favor those groups, based on the nature of their fundraising. On Monday the Senate put the DISCLOSE Act to a cloture vote, which would squash a filibuster, but could not reach the needed 60 votes, falling nine senators short. On Tuesday the Democrats tried again, but could not convince a single Republican Senator to join them and, again, were well short of the 60 votes. The bill remains in limbo.

Scott Brown has opposed the act since he entered the Senate and the original bill was up for a vote. His website clearly states his position:

“The DISCLOSE Act is a cynical political ploy masquerading as reform and I continue to oppose it. Rather than treat all sides equally as a true reform bill would, it contains special carve outs for union bosses and other favored interest groups.”

Though the DISCLOSE Act continues to get stonewalled in the Senate, the bill’s struggle deserves media attention, especially in a political climate so concerned with Mitt Romney’s personal taxes and elections in the wake of Citizens United. The DISCLOSE Act may never pass, but it’s one story Massachusetts voters should keep in mind this November.


Update, 07/19/2012 11:25 a.m.: Edited to clarify the language of the bill and Republican interpretation of its impact. We regret the error.