Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Sen. Dean Heller was widely expected to vote no on the Disclose Act Monday night. Instead, his campaign spent the evening not quite disclosing where the senator had been when he should have been voting.
Heller was one of five Republican senators who didn’t show for Monday evening’s vote on the Disclose Act, a bill to require any group that airs election ads -- unions, corporations, non-profits and PACs -- to disclose the identities of donors that give at least $10,000 for political purposes. It would also require those same groups to report within 24 hours every time they spent $10,000 or more.
Heller missed the vote for a “previously scheduled campaign event this evening,” his spokesman and chief of staff Stewart Bybee said.
But neither Bybee nor any of Heller’s campaign principals would respond to questions inquiring what the nature of the campaign event was, or whether Heller was in Nevada or Washington, DC.
The legislation, which was supported through a procedural motion by 51 senators but failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster, is the narrowest attempt yet to regulate corporate spending since the Supreme Court ruled in its 2010 Citizens United decision that restricting the political expenditures of independent groups is a violation of the right to free speech.
Heller, who opposed a June 2010 version of the legislation while a member of the House, was expected to join his Republican colleagues in voting against the bill. Bybee called the it “nothing more than another political vote by Senate Democrats that everyone knew would fail.”
Republicans have seen more support from the outside groups targeted in this bill than Democrats have this election cycle, thanks in no small part to a handful of deep-pocketed donors like Nevada’s own Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to donate as much as $100 million during this election cycle to defeat President Barack Obama. The influence of a few wealthy individuals on this year’s election has been a rallying cry for Democrats to push legislation like the Disclose Act, so they can accuse Republicans of siding with the wealthy.
“Senate Republicans showed that their top priority is protecting a handful of anonymous billionaires, giving them an outsized advantage over regular American voters to sway close elections,” Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday, after warning that “if this flood of outside money continues, the day after the election 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country.
“Judging by Republicans’ vote today and Governor Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns,” Reid added later, “Republicans have clearly decided that secrecy is more important to them than being straight with the American people.”
Reid scheduled the vote last Thursday night to take place Monday immediately following a confirmation vote for a federal judge.
The bill has strong support among Democrats, including Heller’s 2012 opponent Rep. Shelley Berkley, who said in a statement Monday that she was “proud to co-sponsor the 2010 Disclose Act last Congress, and would do so again if it comes up for a vote in the House of Representatives this Congress, in order to shine a light on who is funding outside groups spending millions on attack ads.”
She likely will not have the opportunity, as Republicans are opposed to the legislation, which they argue is a distraction that infringes on the right to free speech.
Both Berkley and Heller have missed a handful of votes this year for various campaign appearances and other obligations.
Heller has missed 10 of the 179 votes the Senate has taken this year, while Berkley has missed nine of the 468 votes cast in the House.
Candidates are not required to disclose their campaign activities, only the dates of their receipts and disbursements, which are documented in quarterly reports.