"I hope that the Senate will stand four square behind disclosure and sunlight and against the uncheck process of these [outside] electioneering ads that have certainly I think transformed the political landscape in ways that we could not possibly desire or embrace," thundered Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), in a speech imploring her colleagues to vote on an amendment to force campagin disclosure. But that was eleven years ago, during debate over McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation.
Last night, Senator Snowe, along with every single Republican US Senator, voted to filibuster the Disclose Act, a legislative item designed to add transparency in the post–Citizens United campaign finance landscape. The Disclose Act accomplishes essentially the exact same goal as Snowe's amendment over a decade ago. But her party has changed, and she along with it. I used C-SPAN’s archives to pull together a quick video showing half a dozen GOP senators giving impassioned speeches in support of full campaign transparency. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the leader of the opposition to any new campaign disclosure, as the Washington Post has noted, once supported providing transparency for outside money groups. Here are six senators who voted last night to kill the Disclos Act—Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Snowe, Thad Cochran (R-MS), McConnell, Pat Roberts (R-KS)—all speaking out on behalf of disclosure over a decade ago. Take a look:
“Campaign finance reform used to be an arena where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground,” said Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on the floor this morning. Indeed, the GOP once supported unlimited spending and full campaign transparency. Now that Citizens United has allowed unrestrained corporate, individual and union donations in elections, the party has flipped, voting lock-step for secrecy.
The US Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and other 501(c)s have concealed hundreds of millions in corporate and individual donations to run ads since the Supreme Court decision. The GOP, knowing full well that these groups boost Republican and big-business candidates, are now firmly against any effort to add disclosure. The Chamber’s lobbyists are so concerned about disclosure, that one even compared going to war with the Obama administration on the issue to killing Qaddafi. "We will fight it through all available means,” the Chamber’s Bruce Josten told the New York Times. Referencing the effort to depose Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, Josten said, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”
And McConnell knows full well about the benefits of secrecy. Though he has suggested to the press that he’s afraid of donors being “intimidated” through exposure, he’s probably more motivated by pure partisan advantage. His former chief of staff, Steven Law, is the head of Crossroads GPS, the well-funded 501(c)(4) group that is dedicated largely to electing more GOP members to the US Senate. Anonymously funded attack-ad organizations like Crossroads GPS would be directly affected by the Disclose Act. (Notably, Democratic backers of the Disclose Act watered down the legislation voted on last night, revising it to take effect starting next campaign cycle.)