This vote was on whether to begin debating a bill that would require CEOs of companies or unions which pay for campaign-related advertisements to appear in those ads. The bill also would prohibit certain companies from contributing to elections, including companies that have received government assistance or large government contracts, and companies where foreigners have a more than 20 percent ownership stake.
The bill is in response to a Supreme Court decision that nullified portions of a sweeping campaign finance overhaul law enacted in 2002. The Supreme Court ruled that the law violates companies’ free speech rights and overturned limits on corporate political donations.
Typically bills are brought to the floor of the Senate through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he or she has to do is remove consent – which was the case with this bill. Instead, the Democratic leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill. This was necessary because Republicans had threatened to hold up the bill’s consideration indefinitely with a filibuster, causing Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., to file what is known as a “cloture motion,” which, in essence, is a vote on bringing debate on a bill or amendment to a close, which is what this vote was on.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of senators.
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the bill is about bringing transparency to politics.
“We know what is going on here. There are visions—visions in people’s heads of Karl Rove spending $50 million, funded by people we don’t know, to attack candidates for reasons we are not sure of, and never putting their name to it. If you believe in transparency, you believe in [this bill]. If you believe in transparency, you believe that someone who has the ability through their wealth, whether they be a corporation or an individual or a candidate, should put their name on the ad they are putting forward over and over and over again,” Schumer said. “I would challenge any of my Republican colleagues to come forward with a bill that pierces through the veil of secrecy the Supreme Court decision allows. As for that great Constitution which we revere, eight of the nine Justices said disclosure was certainly constitutional, and they even went out of their way to say it is the right thing to do. We know why the other side doesn’t want to do it. They are talking about Democrats not wanting to be attacked. No one wants to be attacked. All we are saying is, if you are going to attack us, put your name on the ad. And the other side is resisting that. We know why. Because with some of the ads that are run—by everybody—if you don’t have to put your name on them, there is less of a reason to stick to the truth and stick to the facts.”
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in fact the aim of the bill is not to increase transparency and is not a response to the Supreme Court decision. McConnell noted that the decision was handed down seven months before this debate took place.
“This bill is a partisan effort, pure and simple, drafted behind closed doors by current and former Democratic campaign committee leaders, and it is aimed at one thing and one thing only. This bill is about protecting incumbent Democrats from criticism ahead of this November’s election—a transparent attempt to rig the fall election,” McConnell said. “The supporters of this bill say it is about transparency. To that, I say it is transparent all right. It is a transparent effort, as I said, to rig the fall elections. They are so intent on their goal that they are willing to launch an all-out assault on the first amendment in order to get there.”
By a vote of 57-41, the motion to begin debating the bill was rejected. All but one Democrat present voted to begin debating the bill (Harry Reid, D-Nev., who likely voted no in order to preserve his right to call for a revote later). Every Republican present voted against beginning debate on the bill. The end result is that the Senate was unable to officially begin debating a bill that would require CEOs to appear during political advertisements funded by a company or union.