- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2010

President Obama on Monday aimed a new arrow at Republicans who he said are beholden to special interests, arguing that their expected filibuster this week of a new bill to rein in corporate spending on political ads is the latest in a line of votes in which the GOP has tried to protect special interests.

The broadside comes as Mr. Obama has sought to paint the fight over new campaign finance rules as yet another choice between businesses and average Americans — much as the president did in the fights over health care, new financial regulations and extended unemployment benefits.

Mr. Obama timed his remarks one day before senators vote Tuesday on whether to proceed with the legislation — dubbed the Disclose Act — which has passed the House. Democrats need at least one Republican to support the contentious measure for it to clear procedural hurdles.

“A vote to oppose these reforms is nothing less than a vote to allow corporate and special-interest takeovers of our elections. It is damaging to our democracy,” Mr. Obama declared in a brief statement to reporters in the Rose Garden.

The legislation is a response to a Supreme Court ruling in January that struck down limits on corporate and union spending in elections on the grounds that they violated the First Amendment. That case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, prompted Mr. Obama to chastise the court during his State of the Union speech this year.

The bill calls for new donor- and contribution-disclosure requirements on most groups that spend money on political ads but are not affiliated with a candidate or political party. The sponsor of the ad would be required to appear in the ad and claim responsibility for it.

Democrats tout the bill as a fair, common-sense approach, but critics have seized on loopholes that would exempt powerful lobbies such as the National Rifle Association and the AARP from the stiffened disclosure requirements. With fewer than 100 days until midterm elections, other opponents have cited the timing of the effort as proof that Democrats are trying to save their political futures.

“The Disclose Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment. In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decried the measure as unconstitutional, and the business lobby has warned lawmakers that it plans to score how senators vote.

In some ways, fierce opposition from corporations has played into Democrats’ strategy this fall to frame the elections as a choice between Mr. Obama’s policies and what he says is a GOP still tied to Bush-era policies that favor special interests.

“You’d think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense,” he said Monday. “But of course, this is Washington in 2010. And the Republican leadership in the Senate is once again using every tactic and every maneuver they can to prevent the Disclose Act from even coming up for an up-or-down vote.”

But with the economy the overriding issue this year, foes of the Disclose Act have responded by noting that it won’t have any impact on unemployment.

“America faces serious problems: near double-digit unemployment, two difficult wars, and cleaning up the environmental disaster in the Gulf. But today, President Obama is pushing a bill to improve Washington Democrats’ electoral prospects, with the American people asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ How out of touch can he get?’” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

It’s far from clear whether all Senate Democrats will go along with Mr. Obama and his allies Tuesday. In the House, 36 Democrats joined all but two Republicans in voting against the measure, which passed by a 219-206 vote a month ago.

Polls show voters are skeptical of corporate influence in elections. A Quinnipiac University survey taken in April found that 79 percent of Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. A Washington Post-ABC poll taken soon after the decision in late January said 72 percent of voters support legislation that would reinstate the spending limits struck down by the court.