In the 2012 election cycle, individual contributions to candidates are capped at $2,500 and may not come from corporate or union treasuries. Contributions to candidates that come from traditional political action committees cannot exceed a $5,000 annual limit. But the Citizens United ruling spawned the creation of "super PACs", which can accept unlimited donations from any source to influence elections, so long as they do not coordinate spending with campaigns. In principle, super PACs must disclose donors, but in practice that has meant disclosing the names of politically active nonprofit groups, which are not required to disclose donors.
Since Citizens United, Democrats have sought to force disclosure of donors, including those giving to politically active nonprofit groups. Super PACs and nonprofits spent $204 million to influence the 2010 campaign cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission. The DISCLOSE Act is a diluted version of a 2010 bill that pinned the disclosure threshold at $600 and fell one vote short of overcoming a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
The initiative, which advocates say has garnered bipartisan – if private – support, is likely to face an uphill battle in the Senate, as Republicans have pledged a filibuster to thwart its progress. Among its staunchest opponents is Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly cast disclosure laws as infringements upon First Amendment rights to free speech. Mr. McConnell led the lawsuit that succeeded in rolling back key features of the the 2002 campaign finance law, known as McCain-Feingold.
DISCLOSE and other similar measures are “nothing less than an effort by the government itself to exposes its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies,” McConnell said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on June 15. “And that should concern every one of us.”
McConnell also charges that the DISCLOSE Act is more burdensome for corporations than for unions, who traditionally throw their support behind Democratic candidates. Because unions are traditionally built like pyramids, local affiliates could each spend less than $10,000, exempting them from disclosure, said Michael Brumas, a spokesman for McConnell's office.