April 29th, 2010
02:49 PM ET
10 years ago

Democrats propose new campaign finance law

 Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday that is designed to mitigate the impact of a controversial Supreme Court campaign finance ruling from earlier this year.

Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday that is designed to mitigate the impact of a controversial Supreme Court campaign finance ruling from earlier this year.

Washington (CNN) - Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Thursday that would ban foreign-controlled companies and most firms receiving either government contracts or federal bailout funds from spending money on U.S. elections.

The bill also would require the head of any corporation running a political ad to appear in the commercial to say that he or she "approves this message" - just as candidates themselves must do today.

The measure is designed to mitigate the impact of a controversial Supreme Court campaign finance ruling from earlier this year that overturned a long-standing ban on corporations and unions using their treasury funds to run presidential and congressional election ads.

The 5-4 decision - a victory for the high court's conservative majority - also rejected a prohibition on companies and unions running campaign ads 30 days before a primary election or 60 days prior to a general election.

Democrats have slammed the decision as a win for traditionally Republican-leaning corporate interests.

In a statement Thursday, President Barack Obama said the proposed legislation would establish "the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests, 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 our government.

"This bill will also prohibit foreign entities from manipulating the outcomes of American elections and help close other special-interest loopholes," Obama's statement said. It added that congressional approval of the legislation would be crucial to overcoming the harm caused by the Supreme Court's campaign finance ruling.

Conservatives argue that the ruling was an affirmation of First Amendment rights, and that the new proposal would infringe on freedom of speech.

"Though it comes wrapped up in language of 'transparency,' the plain intent ... is to discourage people from exercising their constitutional right to free speech," Theodore B. Olson, who presented the winning oral argument to the Supreme Court, said in statement issued after the legislation was unveiled.

Republican leaders say that rather than providing reform, the bill is designed to give Democrats an advantage in election tactics. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the bill "is not about reform, transparency, accountability or good government. It is about election advantage plain and simple."

Democrats have pledged to pass the bill before the July 4 recess so that it will take effect before the 2010 midterm elections. Among other things, the bill - introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland - would require:

- The names of the top five contributors to any organization created for political purposes that purchases advertising to be listed at the end of the ad;

- The top funder of any political advertisement to record a separate "stand-by-your-ad" disclaimer;

- Certain business and unions to establish "political activities" accounts - monitored by the Federal Election Commission - for the purpose of receiving and spending political funds;

- Any political expenditure made by a company to be disclosed within 24 hours on the company's Web site;

- Any political expenditure made by a company to be disclosed to shareholders on a regular basis;

- A ban on corporations and unions coordinating election ads with federal campaigns if those ads promote or oppose a specific candidate.

- A ban on coordination between a candidate and outside groups on ads that reference a candidate from the time period beginning 90 days before a primary and running through the general election.

Foreign companies would be defined in the bill as those with a foreign ownership of 20 percent or more, or those in which a majority of the board of directors is composed of non-U.S. citizens.

In addition, a company would be defined as foreign if its U.S. operations, or its decision-making regarding political activities, are directed by a foreign entity, including a foreign government.

During his State of the Union address, Obama warned that the Supreme Court's decision would allow American elections to be effectively "bankrolled" by "foreign entities." Justice Samuel Alito, part of the high court's conservative majority, was seen at the time apparently uttering the words "not true" in response.

The court's ruling did not specifically address the question of whether restrictions on political spending by foreign-based companies would be lifted.

Filed under: Campaign finance • Supreme Court
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. one voice

    The Corporate leaning supreme court is to blame for this RIDICULOUS DECISION. How do they think this is fair for both parties? The Democrats have to fight for what's right to try to keep a fair and balanced playing field. That terrible Supreme Court decision should be overturned.

    April 29, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  2. Bobbie in Maryland

    Absolutely an essentialpiece of legislation. How about if we try to pass it on a BIPARTISAN basis...see if we remember how that works, eh Congress???

    April 29, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. Jay

    The Supreme Court pretty much screwed all Democrats and educated people again. Are these idiots who call themselves "Judges" for real? Eminent domain, gun ban reversals, corporations buying Republican wins in elections, etc.

    Hey, idiots, you are supposed to protect us from wrongs, incase you "Judges" don't remember whose side you're supposed to be on.

    Oh and by screwed all Democrats and educated people again mean how they handed the 2000 election to Crawford's village idiot. We all know how well that presidency went for most non-rich people.

    April 29, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. Jeff Clemetson of San Diego

    I would hope that any company that receives tax credits or subsidies would be included in this bill as well. Corporate spending on elections is ridiculous, as individuals that work at the corporations already have the right to contribute. What bothers me most about corporate spending in elections is that as an investor in mutual funds, I may be inadvertantly investing my money into corporations that may promote a political agenda that is against my personal beliefs. In essence, I'd be funding the very people who I oppose. For example, part of my 401k may be invested in health insurance companies who then use their new political clout to support candidates who repeal coverage for people with pre-existing conditions – which I have. I hope this legislation passes so that Big Money is taken out of the political process and ideas rather than profit are the focus of legislators.

    April 29, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  5. annie s

    Every ruling made by the conservative activist judges on the Supreme Court has been in favor of Republican interests. Hell, they gave us George, didn't they?

    April 29, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  6. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Oh yes! Pass this bill. The people need to know all of the special interest groups swaying our elections. Take that Alito.

    April 29, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but...

    Hmm... that's all well and good but how about term limits and kicking all lobbyists out of DC? Anything less is just meaningless posturing. Have a nice day!

    April 29, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    "is not about reform, transparency, accountability or good government. It is about election advantage plain and simple." "

    Translation: "This bill would destroy the advantage the GOP currently enjoys by providing transparency, accountability and good government, so we've chosen to mischaracterize it as giving the Dems an adavantage."

    It applies to corporations AND UNIONS equally (so shut up conservative whiners). The problem the GOP has with it is that corporations are able to outspend EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING (even unions), and they do NOT want to lose that monetary advantage by having it tempered by those corporations having to actually "own" the ads they buy...with the CEO having to come front and center and admit they bought that advertisement in a bid to purchase a particular candidate and his votes/support if elected. That's not a deterent to free speach unless you were trying to get away with sliding something by right under our noses. Rather, it's simply a requirement that your free speach be open and honest...truth in advertising...which of course is the LAST thing the GOP wants. People are turned off by lobbyists, so they should be similarly turned off by giant corporations or unions spending millions to buy a candidate his seat, spreading their policy positions and viewpoints (and frequently misinformation) on that candidate's behalf in an attempt to overpower the voices of individual voters. Plain and simple: the GOP knows that a CEO (or union head) coming on camera and saying he bought that message is a majojr turn off, and with good reason, and they don't want Americans recognizing the fact that the message came from a party who is trying to buy favors.

    April 29, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  9. Marc

    To those who may cry that the Government is trying to overturn the SCOTUS ruling, they are following a precedent and the Constitution by doing that way.
    Back in the mid 1850's the then Justices issued one of the lamest SCOTUS rulings ever, it was so bad that it would have (had it not be overturned long ago) made Dwight Eisenhower, JFK and Barack Obama ineligible for POTUS (yes, the birthers tried to use that ruling as if it still was applicable) among many others.
    How they repealed it? With laws, an Ammendment to the Constitution (the XVIII if I am not mistaken) and a new ruling.
    So if you think that it was a good ruling and that the government should NOT try to vacate its efficacy, then pass the ball to your senator and representative.

    April 29, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  10. REG in AZ

    It is really only a start and we will have to wait and see where it goes. What we desperately need is real political reform and while term limits and strictly enforced strong ethics rules would help, getting the money out of politics is the only way to have any real success. The candidates have to be able to run on honest, responsible and conscientious platforms that represent the interests of all of their constituents and not just give the majority subterfuge to sway and control public opinion while they cater to the money people who enable them to compete.

    April 29, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  11. Jeff in Virginia

    This is one of the most responsible things that I have seen out of our current congress. And the Republicans are going to do everything that they can to stop it.

    April 29, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  12. PalmReader

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the bill "is not about reform, transparency, accountability or good government. It is about election advantage plain and simple."

    No, Mitch, it's about disclosure. Disclosure to we the people who have been systematically blind sided by political party pay-offs, bribes, and special interest groups lobbying against our best interests.

    April 29, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. johnnyhouse

    Why are the two engineers of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiasco still up there in Congress still making laws concerning our finances?They should be rode out on a rail and they know very well who they are.We can not fix anything until the deadwood is kicked out of Washington and all perks taken from them.Wall street is not the cause of the problem but these two jerks that caused the mortgage problems started all of the mess by forcing banks to make loans they knew were bad risk.. Why is there no one grilling them? Why does the news media let these things die and keep putting the heat on the financial center of the world?Why are the investigations of wrong doings in congress covered up?Next time you need a job ask a bum and see how far you get.

    April 29, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  14. Patty Patriot

    Taxing our checking accounts has nothing to do with cleaning up the corruption in 'some' financial institutions or the horrible amount of corruption in our gangster govt. Taxing our checking accounts however does put a little more cash in the democrats pockets. How about ALL of you politicians give back ALL of the money the institutions contributed to your campaign funds?

    April 29, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. D. Bunker

    While this bill is a good start, we won't fully win the battle to take America back from the corporatist elite until corporate "personhood" is removed from the law. Publicly funded elections would also remove a ton of dirt from our political system.

    April 29, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  16. Jim

    So Republicans want corporations and special-interest groups to be able to advertise on their behalf, without restriction and with complete anonymity? Did I miss anything?

    April 29, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |