Congress Prepares Response to "Citzens United" Ruling

Sen. Schumer and Rep. Van Hollen draft a framework for a bill after Supreme Court decision
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As promised, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have unveiled a legislative "fix" for the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case that includes enhanced ad disclaimers and lowest unit rate requirements.

That was the decision to allow direct corporate and union funding of campaign TV and radio ads in the run-up to primaries and elections, one which Schumer and Van Hollen pilloried soon after its release.

"We have a multipronged approach to restrict the corrosive influence of special interests and to ensure that corporate activities in campaigns are fully disclosed to the public," said Van Hollen said Thursday in announcing the "legislative framework."

If a corporation did spend money on a political ad, the CEO would have to appear on camera to say he or she approved the ad, and top donors to "shadow groups" would have to do the same.

The bill would stipulate that the newly-allowed direct corporate expenditures on ads that support or oppose a specific candidate trigger the lowest unit radio or TV ad rate for the candidate at issue. It also requires broadcasters to make sure those candidates have "reasonable access to airtime," which the legislators further define as insuring that candidates and parties "are not forced to run their advertisements at, say. 2 a.m. when no one is watching..." The lowest unit rate is a preemptible rate, meaning it can be bumped to another time period.

The legislation, which they outlined Thursday, would also ban corporate spending on U.S. elections by foreign companies, defined as at least 20% foreign ownership, majority of the board members from outside the U.S., or U.S. operations or "decision-making with respect to political activities" is controlled by a foreign entity.

In addition, government contractors and any corporate beneficiaries of the financial bailout would also be barred from political expenditures, the legislators argument being that taxpayer money should not be directed to political expenditures.

The bill would also 1) prevent "corporations and others"--the others presumably including unions, from coordinating activities with candidates or parties; 2) require registered lobbyists to disclose their campaign expenditures; 3) boost disclosure requirements of campaign-related expenditures.

Campaign finance reform groups have called for a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizen's United decision, a call seconded by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) at a Senate Rules Committee hearing in which Schumer, chairman of that committee, telegraphed some of the elements in Thursday's proposal.

Campaign finance reformer Lawrence Lessig, who has pushed for the constitutional amendment was unimpressed by the legislative fixes.
His word for them: "Hopeless," according to an e-mail circulated Thursday afternoon.
"The package the Democrats are proposing is filled with ideas that either won't work or that, if they worked, would only invite the Supreme Court to strike again," he said.
Lessig instead is backing the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826), which would set up a system of small-donation matching federal funding of elections.


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