A Democratic push to limit campaign spending in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is under siege in the Senate.
The bill’s top proponent in the Senate, New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, has been targeting Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown to obtain enough votes to pass the bill, key lobbyists on both sides of the issue say.
But Brown provided Schumer a rude awakening in an interview with The Daily Caller on Tuesday.
“He should look somewhere else,” Brown said, “It’s a bad bill. It’s being used strictly for tactical advantage for the majority party. It’s inappropriate.”
A key concern of Brown’s, and other Republicans, is that the bill’s implementation – 30 days after enactment during the height of campaign season – would cause mass confusion as to how to implement the law’s new standards.
Brown, the lobbyists say, has sought to push the bill’s implementation into the next election cycle, avoiding the uncertainty that would come with rushing to install the new rules now.
“If they want to do something next cycle, that’s great. But to use it for a tactical advantage less than 112 days from the election is inappropriate,” Brown told TheDC.
The Federal Election Commission, which would implement the law, declined to comment on how difficult it would be to implement it. “It’s safe to say the agency is studying the bill,” spokeswoman Judith Ingram said.
However, Ingram did forward a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report voicing concerns about the bill’s rapid implementation timeline.
“It is unlikely the commission could fully implement the act before the 2010 November general elections,” the CRS report says.
Proponents of the law, including two former FEC commissioners, Democrat Scott Thomas and Republican Trevor Potter, say even a deadlocked FEC will be able to facilitate compliance with the bill. In a June 22 op-ed, Thomas and Potter said the FEC could provide reporting forms – allowing organizations some means of complying with the new disclosure requirements – in only two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Disclose Act is also under fire following what proponents admit was a public relations disaster when House Democrats finagled passage in the lower chamber in part by granting loopholes for some of Washington’s most powerful special interest groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club.
“My problem is, either everybody is included, or I won’t vote for it. The NRA and any other group that’s exempted – there should be no exemptions,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, told TheDC Tuesday.
Key stakeholders said Feinstein was pushing for a hearing in the Senate rules committee, of which she is a member – as opposed to a plan of Schumer’s and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s to bring the bill straight to the Senate floor. Not true, she said. “No. I would be delighted if there were a hearing. I’m happy to push for it, but I haven’t been.”
If they were to bring it to the Senate floor, Schumer and Reid would first need to garner the necessary support, including placating Democratic discontents like Feinstein finding at least one Republican to break an expected filibuster.
Besides Brown, Maine Republicans Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are also thought to be potential supporters. Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Snowe, offered a more open-ended take on her boss’s position on the bill than Brown. “We are currently reviewing the legislation,” she said.
Some proponents admit the bill faces difficulties and that concede its rapid implementation would be a challenge.
“I’m not saying [the implementation schedule is] ideal. I’m saying it is better than not having the information” required to be disclosed by the bill, said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, a key group backing the bill.
McGehee said in meetings on Capitol Hill, her group has encountered serious reservations from senators, including “a lot of misinformation.”
McGehee said the top three fixes Schumer needs to make to the bill to make it more palatable to critics were to first, fix the loopholes given to the NRA, Sierra Club and other top special interest powerhouses, second, to eliminate any provisions that appear to give unions a special advantage, and third, to trim provisions from the legislation that aren’t essential and could cause unnecessary controversy.
The Disclose Act includes a range of provisions that critics charge would tilt the playing field in favor of unions and against business. For instance, restrictions on companies that received government bailouts during the financial crisis apply to businesses, but not unions: Under the Disclose Act, General Motors can’t tell you who to vote for, but the United Auto Workers union can.
The bill was also assailed for the grimy backroom politics that surrounded it. Besides the unseemly loophole for some of Washington’s top special interests, sources close to the crafting of the bill said there was a high degree of secrecy around early drafts of the legislation.
In fact, in private conversations, House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady revealed that even he was being kept in the dark as the White House and Democratic leaders crafted the bill.
While critics continue to slam the bill for its pro-union tilt, organized labor groups have been quietly moving behind the scenes, some say to push for further exemptions. But labor’s role remains murky, even to those who follow the bill closely.
“Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it in secret,” McGeehee said.
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