WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked legislation requiring disclosure of so-called “dark money” in elections, which has exploded in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The Disclose Act, authored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.), would require all groups spending money in elections or in support or opposition of a judicial nominee to disclose donations of $10,000 or more. Democrats tried to pass it before but ran into similar GOP opposition.
Every Republican senator present voted against advancing the bill on Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a speech on the Senate floor, said the proposal would “erode the First Amendment and make political speech more difficult.”
“Instead of trying to address the root causes of their unpopularity, Democrats are attacking the American people’s ability to speak out against them,” McConnell added.
Candidate and party committees, PACs and super PACs and 527 nonprofit groups are already required to disclose their donors under current campaign finance law. But nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) of the tax code that spend money to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal election candidate are not.
Political nonprofit groups have spent heavily influencing elections in the past decade. And while secret spending on elections was initially dominated by Republican-allied groups, including by billionaire fossil fuel titans Charles and David Koch, Democratic-allied groups have since taken the lead in the past two election cycles.
“Anonymous influence over our elections and government has cost Americans dearly, from the full decade of inaction on climate change perpetrated by fossil fuel interests to the sweeping, coordinated assault on voting rights to the takeover of the Supreme Court by special interests,” Whitehouse said .
Democrats knew the bill stood little chance of passage given long-standing GOP opposition to tightening campaign finance rules. But they advanced it ahead of the coming midterm elections anyway, citing its popularity across the political spectrum.
“It’s one of these questions when polled, it’s overwhelming. People are sick of these campaigns and how much money is being spent,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told HuffPost. “It’s a red hot issue in the polls.”