Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted unanimously Monday and again on Tuesday to block adoption of the Disclose Act, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s legislation to require disclosure of political donations of more than $10,000 within 24 hours of the money being spent. The votes were no less remarkable for having been predictable. For years, congressional Republicans had vowed that disclosure of donations and spending was the one sure route to an honest campaign-finance system. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the field general who for two decades has organized the party’s attacks on campaign-finance regulation, including the McCain-Feingold reforms, once spoke eloquently of the sanctity of the First Amendment and of the merits of disclosure. What’s more, because McConnell in the 1990s had also come around to opposing constitutional amendments against flag burning, he had credibility as a First Amendment champion.
Democrats have often supported Rube-Goldberg-inspired campaign-finance regulations, some based on a conviction that all political money is bad, others based on the belief that only the way their opponents raise money is bad. The Disclose Act, by contrast, is a fairly straightforward effort to subject political donations to sunlight, and keep the political bagmen at bay. It’s what Republicans for years had said they wanted.
Hypocrisy is a bipartisan affliction. But congressional Republicans have escaped the outer orbit of expediency with this week’s votes. Perhaps once you decide it’s acceptable to label the health-care policies you previously supported — individual mandate, health-care exchanges, etc. — as the trappings of dictatorship, your inhibitions disappear. Although McConnell’s full reversal on disclosure is well known, he has lots of company, including the three top leaders in the House of Representatives. What follows is a sampling of words, compiled with help from the pro-disclosure Campaign Legal Center.