Congressional Democrats are continuing to gather ideas for limiting corporate involvement in elections as they prepare legislation responding to last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, headlining a hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee, laid out a slew of proposals he thinks Congress should take up. They include requiring shareholder preapproval for corporate spending, limiting spending by federal government contractors, and allowing states to pass laws prohibiting spending by out-of-state corporations.
Witnesses called by the subcommittee’s Democratic majority warned that corporations will now be able to influence lawmakers simply by threatening to use their general treasuries.
“Every member will be forced as a practical matter to consider this consequence when acting on legislation,” said Donald Simon, a partner in the Washington office of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry.
Simon, who also serves as general counsel to Democracy 21, testified that Congress should require increased disclosure, especially by trade associations that accept money from multiple corporations. Monica Youn, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, urged Congress to develop a fuller factual record about the influence of money in politics.
Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, was called to testify by the subcommittee’s Republicans. He warned lawmakers against trying to revive “through the back door” restrictions that existed before the 5-4 decision in Citizens United. For example, he said, Congress would again be trying to chill political speech if it tried to forbid companies from being listed on stock exchanges if they spend money for or against a candidate.
“It is important to note that there are some things Congress simply cannot do,” Parnell said.
Click here for Monday’s special report on Citizens United from The National Law Journal.