Unanimous and lethal Republican opposition to the most elemental of reforms - a measure that would require disclosure of secretive donors who give more than $10,000 in political campaigns - shows the immense distance that reformers must travel to get a handle on today's unbridled campaign finance system.
It will take, Republican Sen. John McCain said last night, a tide of scandal and corruption to spur significant action. American political "reform moves in cycles," he told Influence Alley. Shock and loathing will mount, public outrage will intensify, and, eventually, politicians will come to fear voters more than they covet six-and-seven-figure campaign checks.
It could take years.
A stripped-down, pared-back, bare-bones version of the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act was rejected by the Senate last night, when it failed to get the necessary 60 votes. The tally was 51 to 44, along party lines but with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid voting with the Republicans as a parliamentary maneuver so he could call the measure up today, for further partisan jousting.
The bill would not have capped campaign spending or donations, merely required that they be disclosed - so that those Americans who want to make the effort can discover which special interest is paying for the negative attack ads and snide mailings and nasty phone calls and emails that arrive with each election season.
DISCLOSE does not try to eclipse or evade the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion in that case, endorsed full disclosure as the best constitutional safeguard against corruption.
Nor can it be said, as some Republicans charged, that the bill was a tool for Democrats to change the rules in this fall's elections. The date for implementation was January 1, 2013.
What the bill does is cast light on a relatively small number of wealthy campaign donors who are exploiting the IRS code to make huge donations in secret via "social welfare" organizations. Reid called them the "17 angry old white men" who will wake up on the morning after Election Day, and discover "they've just bought the country."
And as of now, there is no requirement that the public know their names.