The Senate is expected to hit the ground running Monday when it takes up the DISCLOSE Act, the kind of campaign finance legislation senators on both sides of the aisle once rallied behind.
Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse introduced the legislation Tuesday with 28 co-sponsors and promised to move quickly through the Senate. [Analysis: Most Outside Spending in Politics Comes from Unknown Sources]
The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 would require Super PACs, nonprofits, unions and other special interest groups to disclose within 24 hours anytime they donate $10,000 or more to a political campaign. The organizations are also required to report the names of the individuals who donated the money.
The bill is a response to many Democratic legislators' concerns over Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to give unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.
"The flood of secret money unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision threatens to drown out the voices of middle class families in our democracy," Whitehouse said at a press conference Thursday. "The DISCLOSE Act will uphold every citizen's right to know where this secret money is coming from."
"In tough times like these, it matters who has a voice in our elections," says Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken. [See Who's Driving the Political Race.]
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy says there was a time when members of both parties supported full disclosure in the elections.
"I can't understand somebody's motivation in supporting secret money in campaigns," Leahy says. "In Democracy, there should only be one secret thing, and that should be a voter's right to a secret ballot in an election."
Leahy says back home, his constituents are deeply troubled by not knowing who is behind all of this election money.
"We are all hearing from people that they are so turned off by these anonymous groups, I don't care what side they are on," Leahy says. "People say 'Who is paying for these? Who is behind them?' and I have to tell my constituents 'I really don't know.' "
With 2012 being an election year, it appears bipartisan campaign finance reform is an unlikely proposition.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised a Republican filibuster, the same tool that did away with the similar but more comprehensive 2010 DISCLOSE Act.
Lisa Rosenberg, the Government Affairs Consultant at the Sunlight Foundation, a group that supports government transparency, says Republicans are likely opposing the bill because not disclosing donors benefits them.
"The republicans see a political advantage from dark money coming their way," Rosenberg says. "They think most of this money is going to their candidates and they don't want to shut off the spigot."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, which represents the interests of businesses across the country, has argued the law's disclosure requirement would create an unsafe environment for donors and corporations who might be harassed for their political beliefs.
The Sunlight Foundation estimates that in the 2012 election cycle, Super PACs have spent nearly $140 million on political campaigns.
Rosenberg says that's just the beginning, adding that corporations, unions and wealthy individuals have poured millions more into affiliated nonprofits that aren't required to disclose their donors or the total amount of money they receive.
"There is no way a corporation is giving $500,000 in an ad out of the goodness of its heart," Rosenberg says, "They want something for that. They are not in the business of making expenditures for altruistic reasons."
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