By William Fisher
This week will see the introduction of legislation in both houses of Congress designed to blunt the impacts of the recent Supreme Court decision that held that corporations are people and thus have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns for or against any candidate.
The DISCLOSE Act will be introduced by two powerful Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
Disclose stands for "Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.”
According to the National Law Journal, the proposed law will require the head of a corporation, union, or not-for-profit organization to say he or she "approves this message" in any campaign ad and the top contributor to "stand by" the ad; require any covered organization to disclose within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) not just its campaign-related activity, but also transfers of money to other groups that then can be used for campaign-related activity.
It will also require covered organizations to disclose their donors; prohibit corporations controlled by foreign entities or foreign nationals from spending in U.S. elections; mandate disclosure by corporations, unions, and other groups to their shareholders and members in their annual and periodic reports; prohibit federal government contractors with a contract worth more than $50,000 from spending money on elections; and ban coordination between a candidate and outside groups on ads that reference a candidate and then run in the time period beginning 90 days before a primary and ending with the general election.
Firms that received government bailout money would be barred from spending on political ads.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked the proposed legislation, calling it "nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to hijack the political playing field to his advantage on the eve of mid-term elections."
The Chamber said it was "no secret" that Van Hollen's campaign committee was facing "significant losses" in the House. "We will fight any and all attempts to muzzle and/or demonize independent voices from the election discussion," said Chamber President Thomas Donohue.
A Van Hollen spokesman told The National Law Journal, "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."
The conservative Center for Competitive Politics said, “It's clear that the real intent and purpose of the bill is to harass and intimidate those who might criticize members of Congress into silence during the midterm elections and beyond.”
Van Hollen, who also serves as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, said he has received Republican support for the legislation from one Republican, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware. No Republicans have as yet signed on to Sen. Chuck Schumer's version.
The new rules would also apply to labor unions and other organizations purchasing campaign ads and mailers.
The White House reportedly played an "active role" in working with Capitol Hill regarding the Congressional response to the court’s decision. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed varying degrees of disapproval of the court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United v. FEC overturned two decades of precedents that prohibited corporate and union expenditures in political campaigns.
Democrats generally believe that the Supreme Court's ruling amounts to “a takeover of our democracy and elections by powerful special interests.” They contend that it “allows big money interests to spend tens of millions of dollars on elections, which will undoubtedly drown out the voices of average Americans.”
As with the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, the position taken on the Disclose Act by Sen. John McCain will be closely watched. The Arizona senator, who is generally regarded as the father of campaign finance reform, is currently locked in a potentially game-changing challenge from the right wing of his state’s Republican Party. Pressure from the right has caused McCain to endorse Arizona’s new anti-immigration law, abandoning his former position in favor of immigration reform.