PUBLIC INFORMATION/FREE SPEECH — A new Congressional bill responding to the Supreme Court's recently declared right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts in campaign contributions would limit corporate power to swamp other political funders' voices by requiring the leader of the largest corporate contributor to a broadcast ad to appear in that ad and state the corporation's support for the candidate or issue.
As reported by Kim Geiger and Clement Tan in the Los Angeles Times,
A group of Democratic senators on Thursday proposed a legislative solution to the controversial Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited corporate spending on advertising and other efforts to influence election campaigns.
The bill is aimed at curbing any uncontrolled role that corporations could play in financing elections following the high court's ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission earlier this year. That ruling struck down federal limits on corporate spending in elections as a violation of freedom of speech.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill would "shine a light on the flood of spending unleashed by the Citizens United decision." The influential senator hopes to win passage of the bill by July 4, in time to curb any flow of corporate money into the 2010 midterm congressional elections. Sponsors have dubbed the bill the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act'' for "DISCLOSE.''
The bill would require the CEO or head of an organization that is the primary financial sponsor of a political ad to claim responsibility for the ad by appearing on camera. Corporations and advocacy groups would be required to create traceable campaign accounts and disclose within 24 hours the source of donations that exceed $1,000.
"I welcome the introduction of this strong bipartisan legislation to control the flood of special interest money into America's elections,'' President Obama said Thursday. "Powerful special interests and their lobbyists should not be able to drown out the voices of the American people.''
The bill also would ban expenditures by any corporation with at least 20% of its stock owned by foreign nationals, or if foreign nationals play a dominant role in the corporation's leadership.
Schumer was joined in his announcement staged at the steps of the Supreme Court — by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).
"No longer will groups be able to live and spend in the shadows," Schumer said, adding that the bill "levels the playing field so that special interests do not drown out the voice of the average voter."
Democrats have been concerned that the Citizens United ruling could give the Republican Party an unfair advantage, as major corporations tend to support Republicans over Democrats. Republicans counter that Democrats enjoy the favor of powerful labor unions — also big political spenders .
Schumer said the bill had been drafted to "fastidiously" avoid an advantage for either political party.
Schumer said "a good number'' of Republicans "have told us that they are very favorably disposed to the legislation." Yet Republicans were noticeably absent from the morning announcement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ky.) called the announcement "beyond suspicious," and charged that the bill is "about election advantage plain and simple."
In the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will be joined by two Republicans, Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in unveiling a similar bill this afternoon.
Among those absent from the senators' announcement was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who with Feingold had sponsored campaign financing limitations enacted in 2002.
"Twenty-one Republicans voted for McCain-Feingold and still serve in Congress," said Bradley Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who now heads the Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes the bill. "The fact that Democrats were only able to persuade two Republicans to join their gimmicky bill indicates that the DISCLOSE' Act would serve the interests of incumbents, especially the Democratic majority not the public interest."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been criticized for providing an avenue for corporations to finance political ads without assigning the corporate name to the ad, is a specific target of the legislation.
"They want to hide, so they give the money to the Chamber of Commerce," Schumer said of large corporations. "It will not be the Chamber of Commerce getting up and saying they paid for this ad. There will be no hiding."
Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue called the bill to be introduced in the House "a thinly veiled attempt to hijack the political playing field on the eve of midterm elections."
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, Obama strongly criticized the court for its ruling, and pressed Congress to take legislative action. If passed, the legislation could hold sway long enough to limit spending in 2010, but would almost certainly face an eventual court challenge.