The DISCLOSE Act, a bill designed to prevent individuals and groups from anonymously funneling millions into campaigns, was blocked by Senate Republicans last week after Republicans looked around and realized they get the one-sided benefit of all this money.
There is profound risk of corruption when candidates can be bought and sold in secret. Ironically, Mitt Romney is campaigning against Barack Obama on the grounds that Obama has been too cozy with donors — an attack that would be impossible to make in the shadowy world of secret, unlimited money that Senate Republicans seek.
Most Republicans have defended their vote against the DISCLOSE Act as a defense of “free speech” which they argue requires the right to anonymously finance candidates. Obviously, this is a tried and true rhetorical move, aligning a cause with an understood and laudable concept. Free speech is, to many, a consummate American cultural symbol. Moreover, by aligning a conservative cause with a commonly accepted “liberal” concept, it conveys reasonability — “how can you vote against this…even we conservatives who support the PATRIOT Act and flag burning bans think this is a free speech issue.”
But Alaska Senator and President of the “Screw Sarah Palin” club, Lisa Murkowski has bucked this trend, explaining that she voted to stop the DISCLOSE Act because it did not go far enough. OK Murkowski, I see what you’re doing here.
Murkowski believes that disclosure should be required for all donors who give over $5,000, instead of the $10,000 cutoff in the bill because she feels that donors to traditional PACs who give in the $5,000-$10,000 range should be subject to the same regulations as SuperPAC donors. Placing herself on the side of campaign finance, while still voting down the bill is a clever move because it suggests to me that Murkowski is seeking to pick up the “Republican Maverick” mantle long held by John McCain (who also voted against the DISCLOSE Act because he’s given up on campaign finance reform), a popular image in a frontier state like Alaska. If this is a sign of things to come, it may soon be Murkowski, rather than McCain, that Senate Democrats look to when trying to forge the legislative agenda. If Murkowski sticks to her principles on this issue, she tremendously improves her influence in the Senate.