Leadership To Blue Dogs In Campaign Finance Fight: Get With The Program

This morning at the Democratic caucus, the message from leadership to Blue Dogs unwilling to support a new campaign finance measure requiring more disclosure in political advertising — wise up.

The bill — a response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — passed this afternoon, 219-206. There were 36 Democrats — members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Blue Dogs — who voted against it. Many Blue Dogs feared retribution from the business community in an already tough election year if they had voted for the legislation.So in a huddle with rank-and-file members this morning, Democratic leaders told Blue Dogs they should ignore threats from the bill’s chief opponent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber endorses the occasional Democrat, albeit infrequently, but leaders made the case that Blue Dogs aren’t likely to be rewarded by the usually pro-GOP group for blocking the bill.

“The Chamber is playing hardball to derail this bill,” a Democratic leadership aide told TPMDC. “Why give them an upper hand in elections by not forcing them to disclose who is funding their ads?”

Leaders also have been telling members privately they should be on the same side as President Obama, “not Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh,” the aide said. The bill would require CEOs to stand by their ads, in addition to other transparency measures, and Democrats believe it will be an election-year victory to show that they side with the people while GOP tries to protect corporations.

Officially, the CBC supports the measure, called the DISCLOSE Act. Thanks in part to a change of heart by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) last night, Democrats think that’s one way they won enough votes to pass the measure.

“This was a decision that took a lot of deliberation, but in the end it is clear that in the absence of supporting H.R. 5175, we run the risk of witnessing the greatest deluge of unreported cash from the richest corporations and special interests that has occurred throughout the history of American politics,” Jackson Lee told colleagues in a letter.

“Without some mechanism to ensure that the American people know who is spending potentially millions to influence their vote, we threaten the fundamental core of our democracy – the result will amount to a corporate special interest takeover of our elections,” she wrote. “This is the reality. This is what is at stake.”

One aide said this letter was a turning point as the bill reached the floor. It faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Republicans had hoped to exploit the majority party’s differences and cause the measure to fall apart, as it did last week in the House when leadership was forced to pull it from the floor.

This issue has sparked some unlikely alliances. Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) is a chief sponsor (Rep. Joseph Cao (LA) is the only other Republican to back it today). As we reported, the NRA backs the bill thanks to a deal they struck with Speaker Nancy Pelosi earning a carve out exemption.

Right after the bill passed, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement calling the bill “fundamentally flawed,” given the NRA and other groups with 1 million paid members or more are exempted. “[It] likely can’t survive judicial scrutiny, and should be rejected by the United States Senate as currently written,” the Brady campaign said.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist reliably came out against it yesterday, saying it violates the right to free speech.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the main author of the bill in the House, told me in an interview last week the Democrats would keep trying if this attempt founders, noting it took “years” to pass the McCain-Feingold legislation.

“If the bill fails, the special interests win,” said Van Hollen.

Late Update: Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) is among the Blue Dogs to vote “Nay” today. He was endorsed by the chamber yesterday.