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Amid Push For Election Reforms, Sen. King Clashes With McConnell Over Dark Money Donations

Angus King
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, arrives as the Senate holds the final vote to confirm Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden's pick to be secretary of Health and Human Services, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate have taken a small step toward advancing a sweeping campaign finance and election reform bill that they say is necessary to restore confidence in the nation's political system and to combat restrictive voting proposals around the country.

In a contentious mark up of the legislation on Tuesday, the Senate rules committee deadlocked in a 9-9, party-line vote, setting up a floor battle over what provisions, if any, are adopted.

The sweeping proposal contains provisions to create automatic voter registration, rein in big money’s role in politics, strengthen enforcement of existing election laws and limit congressional redistricting.

Republicans call it a "power grab" and say it will make the voting system more vulnerable to fraud, but Democrats say there is no evidence to support that claim.

Independent Maine Senator Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, urged members of the committee to focus on the bill's intent.

“It does say you can’t do things that are designed to make it harder to vote in your state. It seems to me that's really what this is all about," he said.

But on disclosure of donors to so-called "dark money groups," King clashed with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

King argues that the public has the right to know who is contributing to groups that seek to influence elections, but McConnell says such a disclosure would stifle the free speech of donors. In the evenly divided Senate, the bill is considered unlikely to win final passage.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.