House Committee Approves DISCLOSE Act

With a 5-3 vote, the Committee on House Administration approved an amended version of the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections), H.R. 5175. The committee adopted a manager's amendment offered by Chairman Robert Brady (D-PA), and incorporated additional changes voted on during the meeting.

Some key changes to the bill include a modification to the disclaimer rules for ads if the disclosures would take up too much time. It also makes clear that U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies could continue to have political action committees as long as the company is not controlled by a foreign national. Opponents charged that the DISCLOSE Act as introduced could have done away with many corporate political action committees of U.S. subsidiaries.

Originally, the bill prohibited corporations that receive federal contracts worth more than $50,000 from spending any money on elections. The panel adopted an amendment by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) that changed the threshold to exempt government contractors whose contracts total up to $1 million. Critics said that previously this provision would affect more than 56,000 corporations.

Another change addressed coordination rules. In particular, discussions between organizations and a candidate would not be considered coordination as long as the organization provides information about their positions on legislation or policy matters, and there is no talk of the candidate's election for federal office.

Ranking member Dan Lungren (R-CA) offered multiple failed amendments and many addressed the treatment of corporations compared to labor unions. For example, one would have banned labor unions from making political expenditures if they have entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the government.

The committee also voted against an amendment by Gregg Harper (R-MS) that would have delayed the date the measure goes into effect until Jan. 1, 2011, with the intention of avoiding the 2010 elections. Another amendment offered by Harper would have prohibited government grant recipients from spending money to influence elections. One Republican amendment that was agreed upon, offered by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), ensures that political activity on the Internet is protected.

An unopposed amendment introduced by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) requires disclosure reports of independent expenditure of $10,000 or more, to be filed electronically with the Federal Election Commission.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) offered amendments to incorporate the Shareholder Protection Act and public financing of congressional elections, but later withdrew them because they were not germane. Capuano said, "Unless we do this, we'll constantly be on the money train." The committee did approve a Capuano amendment requiring a disclaimer of the top two funders of ads aired on the radio.

BNA Money and Politics ($$) reported that even "[t]hough the bill's main focus is on disclosure, none of the amendments offered by its critics directly targeted the disclosure provisions. However, many of the most influential sponsors of political ads, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, continue to object to providing greater details about their financing."

Meanwhile, RollCall ($$) reported that some House Democrats are worried about "powerful political groups that could mobilize to defeat vulnerable lawmakers who help put the measure over the top. Democratic leaders have stepped up their outreach to outside groups across the ideological spectrum in recent days to explain the measure and give assurances against unintended consequences."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she "looks forward to bringing this bill to the House floor soon."

You can watch video of the mark up here.

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