Voters might have to show identification to vote in the presidential election, but if people would rather have an impact in an election by signing a check, the law currently doesn't require you to identify who you are.
That prospect is making a few U.S. Senators so livid that they aren't just voting once on the DISCLOSE ACT, which would require corporations, Super PACs, nonprofits, and unions to disclose any donations or political expenditures of $10,000 or more within 24 hours, they are voting for the act twice over the course of 34 hours.
"We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept," Colorado Democrat Sen. Mark Udall said. "Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets—if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide."
After the bill failed to pass in the Senate Monday by a 51-44 vote, legislators held a "midnight vigil" and pledged to try again Tuesday.
A handful of Senate Democrats, including Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu took shifts to stay on the Senate floor until about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday
"We recognize that you don't win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing," Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.
"Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can't let the special interests off the hook after just one round."
The bill is unlikely to pass on a second-round vote, however, unless Senate Democrats can convince a handful of their Republican colleagues to change their minds in the next few hours. The bill's supporters need 60 votes to overcome the Republican filibuster led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. McConnell and his Republican colleagues, such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, argue the bill is an attempt to intimidate Republican donors.
"The purpose of this legislation is totally clear," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "After Citizens United, Democrats realized they couldn't shut up their critics, so they decided to go after the microphone instead by trying to scare off the funders."
Hatch, one of the few debating senators up re-election this year, backed up McConnell's claims. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Hatch has benefitted from $95,000 of outside spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest anonymous spenders in politics and a target of the DISCLOSE Act.
"The Constitution protects the right of all groups, including businesses and labor unions, to petition the government and engage in the political process," said Blair Latoff, a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce. "It is unfortunate that certain groups and politicians want to single out and stifle the speech of a group whose opinion they disagree with, under the guise of 'disclosure.' These efforts are a transparent, politically-motivated effort to seek out and punish a competing viewpoint in the political discourse."
Supporters continue to press the chamber on the influx of anonymous, outside spending in politics since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, a ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
Among them was Massachusetts Democrat Senator John Kerry, who gave a fiery, seemingly extemporaneous defense of the bill.
"All the DISCLOSE Act would do is shed light on who's giving money—transparency—and it oughta receive unanimous support," Kerry said.
"I know what I'm talking about when I talk about the power of the lie with a lot of money behind it," he said, referring to his own presidential campaign, in which an outside group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, spent more than $23 million criticizing his military record, according to the FEC.
Democrats have rallied around the campaign finance reform, and specifically disclosure this election, in part because they have been on the losing end of the Supreme Court's decision. Outside groups, especially secretive 501(c) nonprofits, have consistently spent on behalf of Republicans. In 2010, these groups spent considerably more than Super PACs, and spent five times more benefitting conservative candidates than liberal ones, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In that election, the Center estimates 45 percent of all outside spending came from unnamed donors.
Watchdog groups like the Sunlight Foundation say the amount of anonymous donations in elections creates an environment where voters don't even know who is behind the ads they are inundated with.
"The messenger is as important as the message," says Lisa Rosenberg, a government affairs consultant for the Sunlight Foundation.
Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
Lauren Fox is a Congressional reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.
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