WASHINGTON — Corporations and unions would have to identify
themselves on political ads they bankroll, and the CEO or top official
would have to make "I approve this message" statements under legislation
being introduced in Congress Thursday.
The measures are a direct
response to a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in January that upheld the
First Amendment rights of such groups to spend money on campaign ads — a
decision that greatly enhances their ability to influence federal
"At a time when the public's fears about the influence
of special interests were already high, this decision stacks the deck
against the average American even more," Sen. Charles Schumer told a
news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court building.
New York Democrat was joined by other Democrats, including Russ Feingold
of Wisconsin, a campaign finance legislation veteran. He said the
ruling in the Citizens United case was "one of the worst decisions in
the history of this distinguished body."
The bill had no
Republican sponsors, but Schumer said Democrats were talking to GOP
lawmakers and "a good number" were favorably disposed.
group led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the
Democratic leadership, and two Republicans, will hold a similar news
conference later in the day.
Opponents of the ruling say it
overturned established law and that it dangerously tilted the power
balance away from individual candidates and voters and in the direction
of deep-pocketed corporations and unions. Supporters argue that in
addition to abridging the freedom of speech, those seeking to limit
campaign spending are serving the interests of better-funded incumbents.
Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last February, said the
ruling "reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special
interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in
Saying "sunlight is the best disinfectant," Obama
urged Congress in a statement Thursday to act quickly "so the American
people can follow the money and see clearly which special interests are
funding political campaign activity and trying to buy representation in
The proposed bill would also bar
foreign-controlled corporations and government contractors from spending
money on U.S. elections, and prohibit political spending by companies
that received government bailout money.
The top financier of an ad
would be required to record a stand-by-your-ad disclaimer message to
prevent organizations from funneling money through shell groups to hide
their identity. Corporations and unions must also disclose
campaign-related spending on their websites and report that spending to
shareholders and members.
Schumer said he expected the case to be a
factor in considering Obama's pick to replace retiring John Paul
Stevens on the Supreme Court. "The next nominee must be someone who will
understand how the court's decisions affect people in the real world.
Because, in the Citizens United case, the current court didn't."
lawmakers say their goal is to have the legislation enacted by July 4,
in time for it to be put into effect before the November election. They
said the measure could significantly reduce the anticipated flood of
special interest spending on ads.
"There will be no hiding,"
Schumer said. "Once sunlight occurs they shrivel up and don't do them."
expect a major battle," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign
finance watchdog group Democracy 21.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
has said it will "fight any and all attempts to muzzle and or demonize
independent voices from the election discussion," and the Republican
leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has long been a
fierce opponent of putting limits on campaign spending.
Wertheimer said the Supreme Court was clear that laws requiring greater
disclosure are constitutional. "We think we have a powerful case," he
McConnell noted in a statement that both Schumer and Van
Hollen have been leaders in party efforts to elect Democrats to
Congress. "Make no mistake about it, the campaign finance bill
introduced this morning is not about reform, transparency,
accountability or good government. It is about election advantage, plain