US Chamber Lashes out at Democrats' Campaign-Finance Restrictions

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USA Today

US Chamber Lashes out at Democrats' Campaign-Finance Restrictions

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A bill requiring more disclosure of campaign spending by
corporations and unions hasn't been introduced yet, but it already is
drawing fire from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which plans to pump at least $50 million  into November's congressional elections.

Legislation
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., plan to
introduce next week would sharply limit the ability of foreign
corporations to help underwrite independent ads that call for the
election or defeat of candidates.

But, in a move directed at the
chamber and other non-profit groups that have been heavy hitters in
federal politics, the legislation also would require disclosure of
major donors to nonprofits if their money is used for campaign-related
expenses. Currently, nonprofits, such as the Chamber, don't have to
publicly identify their underwriters. 

The bill, backed the Democratic leadership in Congress, comes in response to a January Supreme Court ruling, allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on independent political ads.

In
a statement issued Friday, Chamber President Tom Donohue called Van
Hollen's proposal a "thinly veiled attempt to hijack the political
playing field to his advantage on the eve of mid-term elections."

House
Democrats, he said, face "significant losses in the House this fall,
and nothing in this ill-conceived and one-sided piece of legislation
would change that. We will fight any and all attempts to muzzle and or
demonize independent voices from the election discussion."

Doug Thornell, a Van Hollen spokesman shot back:

 "It's
not really surprising that powerful special interests based in
Washington would be throwing temper tantrums over efforts to curb their
influence and increase transparency so the American people know who is
spending money on our elections. They may feel comfortable making their
decisions behind closed doors, but the American people want sunlight in
our democracy."

The broad outlines
of the bill have been known for months, but lawmakers have labored in
recent weeks to craft detailed disclosure provisions and to win
Republican support. Earlier this week, Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.,
announced he would back the legislation.

(As we've previously noted,
Democrats are gearing up to make the campaign-finance bill and proposed
Wall Street regulations a key part of their November campaign message.)

The bill also would:

  • Require
    the CEO or the head of an organization funding a political ad to appear
    in the ad. The organization's top five contributors also would be
    listed.
  • Shield donors to nonprofits, such as the Chamber, from
    public disclosure if they bar the nonprofit from using their
    donations for political activity.
  • Bar companies with 20% foreign ownership or a foreign-controlled board of directors from spending in U.S. elections.
  • Prohibit
    political spending by companies with federal contracts of more than
    $50,000. Companies that received federal bailout money -- and have not
    repaid the government -- also would be barred from political spending.

(Posted by Fredreka Schouten)

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