- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Buoyed by polls showing the public is fed up with money influencing politics, Democrats are beginning to settle on options for curbing the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that freed corporations and unions to enter the political fray with unlimited ads.

While lawmakers have proposed solutions ranging from amending the Constitution to creating a voluntary public-financing system for congressional campaigns, Democratic leaders are instead leaning toward a list of more manageable tweaks they say can be in place before November’s congressional elections, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat.

Party leaders tasked Mr. Van Hollen to work with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to write a bill to walk back parts of the 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which extended free-speech protections to corporate and labor group political ads.

The court’s ruling has galvanized Democrats, who say it’s another example of big-moneyed interests gaining an upper hand over average citizens. They see an opportunity to pass a popular and potentially bipartisan bill in the near future, delivering a much-needed legislative win.

“I support a constitutional amendment, but that will not be part of the legislation that Sen. Schumer and I introduce. We are very focused on trying to pass something that will blunt the impact of the court’s decision; but again, our goal is to get something that can be implemented sooner rather than later,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

He said they are looking at several approaches: banning foreign-controlled corporations from being able to run political ads; trying to curb the ability of companies that take federal contracts from running ads, since taxpayer dollars would in essence be used to campaign; and to require either approval or notification of shareholders before corporations run ads.

Mr. Van Hollen also said they will try to beef up disclosure requirements to make sure corporations and unions can’t hide behind sham front groups.

The Jan. 21 ruling overturned several Supreme Court precedents and held that corporations and unions are entitled to First Amendment protections, just the same as an individual would be. Corporations and unions still cannot contribute directly to candidates or parties, but they can now run ads on their own without having to form political action committees and meet strict fundraising requirements.

The Federal Election Commission announced recently that it would no longer enforce its rules on union and corporate political advertising, bringing it into compliance with the decision.

The ruling has sent some states scrambling, since about half also banned corporate and union political spending.

Colorado will ask its state Supreme Court to review the ruling and decide what parts of the state’s Constitution must be thrown out to bring the state into compliance, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Those who defend the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision say states that don’t ban corporate and union ads aren’t more corrupt than the other states, signaling that the court’s ruling will not usher in a campaign-finance apocalypse.

Stephen M. Hoersting, vice president of the Center for Competitive Politics, told a Senate committee that federal law already bans foreigners from participating in U.S. elections. He warned that any “fixes” Congress tries to make “are unconstitutional violations of speech, association or equal protection.”

Still, the legislative momentum is on the side of those looking to walk back parts of the ruling, with President Obama criticizing it in his State of the Union address - and drawing a reproachful look from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who was part of the majority in the ruling.

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