Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., frames this year's bill, which failed to win a floor vote in the Senate on Monday, as a reform made necessary by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision to allow independent expenditure campaigns to spend unlimited money from corporations, plutocrats and unions.
Problem: In the name of good government, DISCLOSE authors used every dirty trick in the dirty trick book. They deserved to fail before and deserved to fail Monday.
Whitehouse even dubbed his bill "DISCLOSE 2.0" in order to distance himself from the 2010 DISCLOSE bills. The 2010 Senate bill barred "electioneering communications" by corporations with federal contracts worth more than $10 million -- which suggested a mind frame more committed to censorship than transparency. The 2010 House version imposed restrictions on corporations but exempted labor unions. After powerful lobbies complained, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., exempted the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club from their bills.
Also, the 2010 bills would have made DISCLOSE the law in 30 days -- in time to help Democrats before the 2010 elections.
Whitehouse wisely stripped down the bill. Gone are the NRA exemption, the too-soon starting date and the ban on contractor donations. Instead, Whitehouse's bill requires organizations that spend $10,000 or more during an election to identify big donors to the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, starting in 2013. It seems simple.
But it's not that simple. In a letter, the ACLU explained two big problems in the new bill: One, it strips donors to public advocacy groups of their anonymity, "subjecting them to harassment and potentially discouraging valuable participation in the political process."
Californians may recall that some donors to the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign, which banned same-sex marriage, were subject to harassment.
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington doesn't buy the ACLU's argument. "There is no First Amendment right to be free of the consequences of what you say," Sloan said. "There's just the right to say it."