Democrats push to stem corporate campaign money

By David Morgan and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation to blunt the impact of a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited funds on political campaigns.

Unveiled by Senator Charles Schumer on the steps of the court, the White House-backed initiative calls for the unprecedented disclosure of money in politics three months after the court ruled 5-4 that long-standing campaign finance limits violated the free speech rights of corporations.

The court ruling is expected to unleash a flood of money from the traditionally pro-Republican business community to campaigns designed to favor or oppose candidates in this year’s congressional elections and the 2012 presidential contest.

Schumer, who is spearheading the legislative counterattack with House Democrat Chris Van Hollen, said the Supreme Court stacked the deck against average Americans and predicted its ruling would be a factor in President Barack Obama’s upcoming choice for the Supreme Court.

New measures require corporations, unions and other groups to disclose their financial roles in political TV campaigns including those that favor or oppose specific candidates.

“This legislation will stop the funneling of big money through shadow groups in order to fund ads that are virtually anonymous,” said Schumer, who wants a Senate vote by July 4.

Obama welcomed the legislation as “the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending” and urged swift consideration by the Democratic-led Congress.

“Passing the legislation is a critical step in restoring our government to its rightful owners: the American people,” said Obama, who took the unusual step of criticizing the court’s decision in his State of the Union speech in January.

Van Hollen, chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a similar version of the bill later on Thursday.

The measures require corporate, union and advocacy group leaders to disclose their names in TV ads. The measures also ban election spending by government contractors, companies with over 20 percent foreign ownership and bank bailout recipients.

TOO TIMID?

Some Democrats believe companies and organizations will be too timid to risk adverse publicity if they are required to identify themselves as sponsors of political campaigns.

But Van Hollen said that was not the legislation’s intent. “The premise is that voters have a right to know who is spending money to influence elections,” he said. “This requires disclosure, it requires sunshine, and with sunshine and transparency come accountability.”

The long-anticipated legislation already has weathered opposition from Republicans, business interests including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other critics who have labeled the requirements unconstitutional and partisan.

“An effort to disregard the First Amendment and defy the Supreme Court in order to limit the speech of those who may disagree with you is an effort that has no place in this country,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The advocacy group Citizens United, which was at the center of the Supreme Court decision, said in a statement that the new legislation would have a chilling effect on free speech and burden legitimate organizations with unnecessary costs.

To win passage before the November election, Democrats need at least one Republican vote in the Senate to override partisan blocking measures. The initiative has been backed so far by only two Republicans, both from the House.

“I don’t see why this issue is a partisan one that should divide us. There is equal treatment and requirement of all interest groups included in this bill,” said House Republican Mike Castle of Delaware.

Schumer said Republican senators have privately favored the legislation. “We believe, when we put it on the floor, we will have Republican votes,” he said.

Democrats have named Republican senators Susan Collins and John McCain as possible supporters.

“There may be a few brave souls,” said Senator Evan Bayh, who joined Schumer along with fellow Senate Democrats Russ Feingold and Ron Wyden. “It’s pretty hard to stand up in public and defend unlimited, secret, possibly foreign, floods of money coming into the U.S. political system,” Bayh added.

Obama is expected soon to nominate a successor to retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s leading liberal who wrote a sharply worded dissent to the January decision. “The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation,” Stevens wrote.

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(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Democrats push to stem corporate campaign money