For decades, when Republicans made the case against campaign-finance reform, they invariably touted disclosure as the panacea that made restrictions unnecessary. As Fred Hiatt explained, "Republicans always dangled this apple in the most alluring way. Political money will find a path, they would insist. Give up! Give in! We will post every donation on the Web, instantly! We will give you transparency! Sunshine! Accountability! What could be more democratic?"
Except, of course, that the right never really meant it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a staunch opponent of campaign-finance reform, spoke at the American Enterprise Institute the other day and condemned the Obama administration's efforts to "silence" political speech.
"It is critically important for all conservatives -- and indeed all Americans -- to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so," McConnell told AEI.
And what are the "efforts" that have McConnell so outraged? The senator "cited a Democratic proposal to require corporations and unions to disclose their spending on political advertising."
Yes, in Mitch McConnell's mind, the DISCLOSE Act is "nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies."
As far as the Senate Minority Leader is concerned, there's nothing wrong with wealthy interests buying American elections -- the real scandal is a proposal to let American voters know who's doing the buying.
In reality, the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) is a fairly modest proposal. In the wake of the Citizens United ruling, Democrats thought it made sense to require corporations, unions, and other interest groups that pay for campaign ads to identify themselves, allowing the public to know who's saying what.
It wasn't even a partisan initiative, at least not completely -- in the House, the proposal even had a Republican co-sponsor.
It would have become law in 2010 were it not for a Republican filibuster. When the bill reached the floor, it had 59 supporters and 39 opponents, which in the broken Senate, means the legislation failed. Proponents only needed one GOP vote, but every Republican in the chamber, including alleged "moderates" like Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) refused to give the bill an up-or-down vote.
But McConnell is still afraid the bill might make a comeback, and has taken a firm stand in support of front groups that keep donations secret. This, as far as the Minority Leader is concerned, makes him a champion of the First Amendment.
Because nothing says "freedom" like secret billionaires quietly buying elections out of public view.