WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama implored the Senate Monday to pass a campaign finance law that Republicans and business groups are attacking as political censorship and an effort to limit the number of ads aimed at Democratic incumbents in November's elections.
In a White House Rose Garden speech, Obama blasted GOP resistance to the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would impose strict campaign donation disclosure requirements on unions and corporations that sponsor political ads.
"And you'd think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections would not be a partisan issue. But of course, this is Washington in 2010," Obama said. "And the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and every maneuver they can to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from even coming up for an up or down vote."
Senate Democrats said they intend to seek Tuesday to end debate on the bill, authored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., though they may not have the 60 votes they need to do so.
Democrats crafted the DISCLOSE Act after the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in January that struck down decades-old laws barring corporations and unions from directly supporting campaigns. The case was Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
The bill would require most independent groups, including labor unions and corporations, to disclose the names of the top five donors whose money helped fund political ads. It also would require corporate and union executives to appear in political ads that their organizations help pay for and state that that he or she "approves this message," as candidates currently do in campaign commercials.
The bill also would prevent the use of federal TARP money in elections and curb foreign nationals and countries from contributing to campaigns.
Republicans responded to Obama's criticism even before the president spoke, declaring in statement after statement that the bill is unconstitutional and an obvious attempt to protect vulnerable congressional Democrats in November.
"The mere suggestion that a bill designed to save politicians' jobs should take precedent over helping millions of Americans find work is an embarrassing indictment of Democratic priorities," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment."
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill on a 219-206 vote last month despite opposition from liberals over a disclosure exemption that was added to allay the National Rifle Association so it wouldn't pressure moderate Democrats to vote against the measure.
Senate Democrats have modified their version of the bill — striking a union-friendly exemption but keeping the NRA carve-out — in hopes of attracting Republican support, with little success so far.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the Republican opposition Monday by unveiling an ad that will appear in Washington-area publications Tuesday that declares "DISCLOSE is censorship, not democracy."
"The fact that this assault to the First Amendment is being considered as millions are desperately looking for work is a complete outrage," said Thomas Donohue, the business lobby's president. "Despite their best efforts, there is no back room dark enough, no partisan motive strong enough, and no cynicism profound enough, to barter away Americans' 'freedom of speech.'"
Obama, cited the nation's struggling economy as a primary reason to push forward with the DISCLOSE Act.
"At a time of such challenge for America, we can't afford these political games," he said. "Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn't be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret, special interest advertising. The American people's voices should be heard."
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