Brown's No on DISCLOSE Act could mean its end

Democrats in Congress wanted desperately to find some way to mitigate the damage to its campaign-finance regulatory structure from the Citizens United v FEC ruling earlier this year, and hoped that the DISCLOSE Act would find enough GOP votes to pass.  Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) has committed to voting against it, and with no GOP sponsors in the Senate, the bill looks like it may die before the summer recess:

In a letter to groups that urged him to back the legislation, Brown said the DISCLOSE Act did not go far enough in requiring “transparency, accountability and fair play.”

“Rather than reform our campaign finance laws and provide increased transparency, the DISCLOSE Act advances the political agenda of the majority party and special interests in an effort to gain a tactical and political advantage little more than 100 days before an election,” Brown wrote.

Brown’s support was seen as crucial to the bill’s success. The DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), passed the House by a narrow margin last month, but chief Senate sponsor Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been unable to find a GOP partner for the bill. Senate Maj. Leader Harry Reid has promised floor time for the bill before the Aug. recess, but without Brown’s vote it faces dim prospects.

Finance reform advocates at the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters and Public Citizen sent Brown a letter last week urging his support for the bill. So far, Schumer hasn’t been able to win over Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) orSusan Collins (R-ME), 2 other Dem targets who have supported new campaign finance reforms in the past.

The problem for Brown and other Republicans is the nakedly political tilt of DISCLOSE.  It would limit spending by corporations, but unlike previous campaign finance reform, would allow unions to spend without limit.  It also exempts large politically-motivated groups while burdening grassroots organizations with regulations that would unfairly put them at risk for legal action, simply on the basis of size.

Not only does DISCLOSE favor sources of funding for the Democratic Party, it also favors traditional media outlets over New Media.  As two former FEC commissioners noted in May, the DISCLOSE Act has exemptions for media corporations on political speech — but remain silent on bloggers.  The question of undue influence hardly favors that tilt, especially when one considers the relative size of the audiences involved.  Mort Zuckerman’s claim to have ghost-written an Obama speech makes that perfectly plain.

In truth, Congress has no business limiting political speech, as the First Amendment makes specifically clear.  But this effort has been grossly cynical and self-serving even for those engaged in campaign finance reform, which has taken the form of incumbent protection since McCain-Feingold first floated to the surface.  Brown’s opposition is most welcome, and with any luck, DISCLOSE will get flushed out of the Beltway this summer.