Despite what you may think from that title, this article has nothing to do with Mitt Romney. Or, at least, not directly.
For the past two days, Democrats fought in the Senate to pass the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act," otherwise known as the DISCLOSE Act. Today, they failed to break a Republican filibuster attempt, and while a majority of 53 senators voted for it, 45 voted against it -- including 14 Republicans who had previously voted for it the last time the bill came before the Senate.
The DISCLOSE Act would force political donors of $10,000 or more to (as the name suggests) disclose their political expenditures publicly. This should not be a partisan bill -- it applies equally to unions, corporations, and individuals. It would not change any campaign finance laws (who is allowed to give what to whom) -- it would merely shine some disinfecting sunlight on the process.
Democrats in the Senate, led by folks such as Sheldon Whitehouse, Al Franken, and Carl Levin (as well as plenty of others), held a late-night vigil last night to force a vote. Today, they held a second vote. Both times, Republicans killed the legislation on party lines.
Below are some reactions to the failure to pass the DISCLOSE Act:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Today, Senate Republicans had yet another opportunity to promote transparency in our political system; yet, for the second day in a row, Republicans chose to protect the special interests and allow secret corporate dollars to dominate our elections.
Americans have already seen the widespread impact of unlimited corporate dollars flooding our airwaves. All voters deserve to know who is behind these advertisements, who is influencing candidates and campaigns, and who is hiding behind the Republican effort to keep donors in the shadows.
In the past, Democrats and Republicans have agreed that 'sunlight is the best disinfectant.' Now, it's time to back up those words with deeds. We must pass the DISCLOSE Act to restore accountability to our campaigns, ensure a level playing field in our politics, promote fairness for our middle class, and let the voters decide the outcome of our elections.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [from his floor speech]
More than 100 years ago, moneyed special interests had already tested the integrity of this country's political system.
In 1899, Copper billionaire William Clark was elected to the United States Senate by the Montana state legislature. The contest was considered so blatantly swayed by bribery, the Senate refused to seat him.
Clark famously responded: "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."
Incensed Montana voters went on to pass the Corrupt Practices Act via referendum.
Less than a decade later, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt reined in unlimited corporate giving to political candidates at the federal level as well.
This nation has a long history of curtailing the corrupting influence of money in politics.
But with its Citizens United decision, the United States Supreme Court erased a century of effort to protect the fairness and integrity of American elections.
That disastrous decision opened the door for big corporations, anonymous billionaires and foreign interests to secretly spend hundreds of millions of dollars influencing voters.
. . .
The DISCLOSE Act would require political organizations of all stripes -- liberal and conservative alike -- to disclose donations in excess of $10,000 if they will be used for campaign purposes.
Safeguarding fair and transparent elections used to be an area where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground.
As far back as 1997, the Republican Leader said, "Disclosure is the best disinfectant."
In fact, 14 Republicans now serving in this body voted to support stronger disclosure laws in 2000.
Yet last night those 14 Republicans did an about-face. And every one of my Republican colleagues voted to block the DISCLOSE Act.
It is obvious Republicans' priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires -- billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.
But today they'll have an opportunity to reconsider that backwards priority and stand up for the average voter instead.
I hope they join Democrats as we work to ensure all Americans -- not just the wealthy few -- have an equal voice in the political process.
Former Republican Senators Warren Rudman and Chuck Hagel
We believe that every senator should embrace the Disclose Act of 2012. This legislation treats trade unions and corporations equally and gives neither party an advantage. It is good for Republicans and it is good for Democrats. Most important, it is good for the American people.
Senator Al Franken [from a Huffington Post article he wrote yesterday]
[N]one of this spending is transparent, none of these spenders (or the candidates who profit from their spending) can be held accountable. We simply don't know who is wielding all this financial power in this year's elections. We just know it isn't us, the people. That's a system in need of disinfecting.
Which brings me back to the DISCLOSE Act. This bill doesn't overturn Citizens United. It doesn't limit how much money individuals or corporations can spend on independent expenditures. All it does is require that this spending be disclosed publicly. It reflects what used to be a bipartisan consensus around the effectiveness of transparency and disclosure in avoiding corruption.
But today -- unless, again, I'm pleasantly surprised -- all the Republicans in the Senate, including those who have specifically called for more disclosure in our system, will once again block it from proceeding.
In our country, a few have a lot more money than the rest. In our political system, money is power. And that means a few can have a lot more power than the rest. That's bad news for everyone else -- and for our democracy itself. And although we've always argued over how best to prevent that from happening, today's vote is yet another sign that some have decided to embrace that shift instead.
Senator Carl Levin [from his floor speech]
The remarkable system the Founders created has endured through war, crisis, depression and doubt. But we should not mistake that endurance for automatic permanence. Democracy requires that we maintain the vital connection between the people and their elected representatives. It must be the voters, and not the influential few, who choose our nation's leaders. If the people begin to doubt their central role in our government, it will be corrosive to democracy.
In recent months, there has been reason for just such doubt. A Supreme Court ruling has opened our system to a flood of unlimited and secret special-interest money. Inexplicably, a one-justice majority of the Court decided in the Citizens United case that such unlimited donations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."
Now, many of us believed from the moment that decision was handed down that the Court's majority was badly mistaken. But events since that day have left little doubt. We have in recent months seen the dangerous consequences of the Court's ruling: a deluge of unregulated funds that has threatened to upend the election campaign for our nation's highest office, a flood whose organizers vow will upend congressional campaigns across the nation this summer and fall. Through "Super PACs" and through supposedly regulated, but in fact, actually unregulated nonprofit organizations, the conduits through which this flood of secret money flows, millionaires and billionaires already have made massive donations to fund a barrage of attack ads drenching, smothering the voices of those who are to make the decisions in our democracy -- the people.
. . .
This is not the democracy that men and women have fought to protect throughout our history. It's not the democracy the Founders adopted in our Constitution. As Adlai Stevenson, once put it: "Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal chords." Yet this torrent of unregulated money threatens to strangle the voice of the people.
Mistaken though it may have been, the Supreme Court's decision stands until it is reversed. We are committed to uphold the rule of law even when we disagree with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law. But we must be equally committed to the fight for a vibrant, open, representative democracy, one in which elections are determined not by the secret spending of billionaires, but by the will of the people.
The bill we seek to vote on would take an important step toward mitigating the damage of the Citizens United decision. The DISCLOSE Act of 2012 would help shine the light of day on what has been, since the Court's ruling, an underground sewer flow of hundreds of millions of dollars. It would require nonprofits engaged in partisan political activities to disclose their major donors and their expenditures. It would not stop the flow of unlimited money, because we cannot under the Citizens United ruling, but it would at least ensure that the people know who is trying to influence elections.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
I'm disappointed that so many of my Republican colleagues, many of whom have clearly supported disclosure in the past, chose today to once again defend secret spending by special interests rather than stand up for the voices of the middle class. However, I'm also optimistic that ultimately, we will pass this bill, or something like it, to end secret spending and defend the voices of the middle class.
I'm optimistic because throughout this debate, the American people made their voices heard loud and clear: they support the DISCLOSE Act, and they detest the secret spending that is poisoning our elections. Through phone calls, emails, online petitions, tweets, and more, people in Rhode Island and across the country joined Senate Democrats in shining a bright light on this issue and demonstrating a groundswell of popular support.
As I have said many times, I am cognizant of the fact that not every fight is won in the first round, or even the second or third round. But ultimately, history has shown that the will of the people always shines through.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant