US Senate fails to advance campaign finance reform bill

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Tuesday failed to end debate over the campaign finance reform legislation [S 3628 materials]. The vote of 57-41 [roll call vote] fell short of the supermajority required to overcome a filibuster [Senate backgrounder], and reportedly makes passage before the November elections unlikely [POLITICO report], despite statements to the contrary by supporters. Supporters argue that the legislation is a necessary response to the January US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [JURIST report], which eased restrictions on political campaign spending by corporations. If signed into law, the bill would prohibit corporations receiving federal contracts worth more than $7 million from spending money on "electioneering communications" and would also prohibit foreign-controlled domestic corporations from financing campaigns. The legislation was unanimously opposed by Senate Republicans, who have criticized the bill as an attempt by Democrats to influence the coming election in their favor. In leading the Senate Republicans in opposition to the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] criticized the legislation, contrasting it with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) [text, PDF], which he said "made [sure] that everybody would have to play by the same rules." Unlike the current legislation which he said:

[I]s not an effort to promote transparency. It is not a response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United. ... This bill is a partisan effort, pure and simple, drafted behind closed doors by current and former Democrat campaign committee leaders, ... aimed at ... protecting incumbent Democrats from criticism ahead of November. The supporters of this bill say it's about transparency. To that, I say it's transparent alright. It's a transparent effort to rig the fall elections. And they're so intent on their goal that they're willing to launch an all-out assault on the First Amendment in order to get there.
On Monday, President Barack Obama [official website] came out in favor of the bill [statement], stating that a 'no' vote on the legislation would damage democracy and "allow corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections."

Last week, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) [official website] introduced an amended version of the campaign finance bill [JURIST report] in order to gain support from moderate Republicans in the hope of increasing the chance of the bill's passage. The new version of the bill removed several provisions included in the version passed by the House of Representatives [JURIST report] last month, including exemptions in the bill that may benefit unions over corporations and requiring organizations funding political advertising in states where they do not do business to disclose the location of the organization. Senate Democrats first introduced their version of the Disclose Act [JURIST report] in April after the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held hearings [JURIST report] in March on the effects of the Citizens United decision. In Citizens United, the court struck down § 203 of the BCRA, which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate on First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] grounds.

 

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