A congressional response to the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling in January moved a little closer to reality today with the introduction of the so-called DISCLOSE Act in the House and Senate.
The Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission lifted a ban on the use of corporate general treasury funds for independent expenditures in federal elections. The ruling triggered an unabated torrent of words between its corporate supporters and its campaign finance reform opponents.
That verbal battle continued today. The DISCLOSE Act (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) was introduced in the House by chief sponsor Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and in the Senate, by chief sponsor Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The lawmakers said they hoped Congress would act on the legislation by the end of July.
The main focus of the legislation is disclosure. It would impose comprehensive new disclosure requirements on corporations, labor unions, trade associations and non-profit advocacy groups that spend money for independent expenditures or electioneering communications to influence federal elections.
Among the requirements, the CEO of a corporation or head of any other “covered” organization would have to personally appear in the organization's independent expenditure or electioneering communication TV ads and take responsibility for the ad by stating that the corporation or other organization approves the message. The same statement must be read by the CEO or head of the organization in a radio ad. The legislation also requires the top funder of a TV or radio ad also to appear in the ad and take responsibility.
Foreign corporations with domestic subsidiaries, federal contractors, and TARP recipients who have not repaid their funds would be banned from spending their money on politics. Here are some of the statements today by business and reform groups reacting to the legislation:
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue: “With unemployment near 10% and millions of Americans out of work, Congress should be more concerned about creating jobs than protecting their own. It’s no coincidence that Rep. Van Hollen is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Sen. Schumer is immediate past chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Sen. Schumer even admits his legislation is designed to ‘impact’ this fall’s elections ‘as much as possible.’”
Theodore Olson, partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and winning counsel in Citizens United: “Though it comes wrapped up in language of ‘transparency,’ the plain intent of the Schumer and Van Hollen legislation—the purpose invoked by its sponsors—is to discourage people from exercising their constitutional right to free speech. One can understand why today's party leaders may want to silence discussions on their continued fitness for office, but the First Amendment simply does not tolerate it.”
Center for Competitive Politics President Bradley Smith: “The First Amendment says ‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,’ not ‘Congress should protect some speech, but feel free to hyper-regulate the political speech of businesses and nonprofits.’”
Brennan Center for Justice attorney Ciara Torres-Spelliscy: “A key piece of Schumer -Van Hollen's bill is disclosure -- which is the least that we can ask of corporations in the new post-Citizens United era. Another important piece of legislation now moving through Congress is the Shareholder Protection Act, which would give shareholders a chance to see how their money is being spent in a political context they may or may not support.”
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer: “The Chamber of Congress has attacked the legislation introduced today, claiming it will
muzzle and or demonize independent voices from the election discussion.’
As the Supreme Court said in the Citizens United case, however, disclosure and disclaimer requirementsdo not prevent anyone from speaking,’ and disclosure `permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.’”
People For the American Way President Michael Keegan: “Only a constitutional amendment or new ruling can truly 'fix' Citizens United, but the DISCLOSE Act goes far in mitigating its corrosive effect on our democracy. Americans want government by the people, not corporations. But as long as corporations have the ability to pour money into elections, Americans have the right to know how that money is being spent.”