The Senate has precious few legislative days this year to finish the important business of the American people, and there is no time for a meaningful debate on campaign finance reform. I think that even my colleagues on the other side would concede that there are not sixty votes on substantive issues like the antiquated hard money limits and the soft money question. In fact, after two weeks of discussions, neither the House nor the Senate could cobble together a majority for broad and meaningful disclosure.
But I do commend Senator Gordon Smith for his efforts to find a reasonable middle ground. His bill, the Tax-Exempt Political Disclosure Act, sought a compromise between the McCain-Lieberman 527-only bill and the broad bill reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee that went so far as to cover tax-exempt social welfare organizations like the AARP, the NAACP, and the Disabled American Veterans.
The Smith bill targeted the key tax-exempt groups in America: labor and business organizations set up under sections 501(c)(5) and (c)(6) of the tax code, like the Chamber of Commerce, the Teamsters and the National Education Association. Recent news stories underscored the need for meaningful disclosure of tax-exempt labor and business organizations. Documents reviewed by the Associated Press demonstrate that the National Education Association has spent millions of tax-exempt dollars to influence elections while simultaneously reporting to the IRS that the organization has spent no money on political activities. This gross reporting disparity has prompted the filing of formal complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission against the NEA. And, I think we all can agree to the obvious: neither the National Education Association nor any labor union will be covered or affected in any way by this legislation. They can continue to spend millions of dollars on political activity with no meaningful disclosure.
Nevertheless, I have chosen to allow this matter to move forward for a vote without offering amendments or extended debate. The Senate needs to focus on the important business of the American people and return to our first priority of ensuring that all of our appropriation bills are passed on time.
I plan to vote against this legislation because I believe that the best and most constitutionally sound solution is to require 527 issue advocacy organizations to file public returns with the IRS similar to those filed by issue advocacy organizations organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Such public returns would include, among other things: the name and address of the organization, including an electronic mailing address; the purpose of the organization; the names and addresses of officers, highly-compensated employees, members of its Board of Directors, a contact person and a custodian of records; and the name and address of any related entities.
I also would require the Secretary of the Treasury to make this information publicly available on the Internet within 5 business days after receiving the information. However, Mr. President, I would not cross the constitutional line of requiring that the organizations' confidential donor lists be made public.
Again, Mr. President, I think this is an important debate, but respectfully disagree with my colleagues on the constitutional propriety of requiring public disclosure of confidential donor lists for groups that do not contribute to federal candidates or engage in express advocacy.
With that, I yield back the remaining amount of time.