- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Senate Republicans launched a successful filibuster Tuesday to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year that allows corporations and unions to spend freely on campaign ads.

Democrats had sought to undo much of the ruling by adding strict disclosure requirements for those who run ads, and banning any ads from companies that have federal contracts. They argued the court’s ruling would amount to letting corporations buy elections.

But they fell shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster and begin debating the bill.

“This bill is a partisan effort, pure and simple, drafted behind closed doors by current and former Democrat campaign committee leaders, and it’s aimed at one thing and one thing only: This bill is about protecting incumbent Democrats from criticism ahead of November,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Democrats said they are indeed worried about Republicans — and in particular Karl Rove, the political strategist for former President George W. Bush — spending millions of dollars on ads to influence elections this year.

“With today’s vote we are picking sides,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a former chief of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, who led the push for the bill.

Mr. Schumer said his legislation is not about denying corporations, unions and other organizations the right to run ads, but rather making them disclose who is funding them.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said he will now introduce a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in January that said corporations and unions have a right to spend money on “electioneering communication.”

The ruling overturned several precedents, something the majority acknowledged, but said restraints on corporations were unwarranted. The ruling does not affect the ban on corporations and unions making direct contributions to the candidates themselves.

Democrats, including President Obama during his State of the Union address this year, have blasted the ruling. They argued that companies upset over the direction of Mr. Obama’s policies will flood the airwaves this year to try to oust lawmakers who oppose them.

But faced with the court’s ruling, they decided rather than a direct challenge they would write new regulations they said would at least bring transparency to corporate spending.

The Democratic bill would place new ad restrictions on corporations that took financial bailout funds, who have federal contracts totaling $10 million, or who are controlled by foreign investors. The measure also imposes strict reporting requirements so voters would know who is sponsoring the ad.

The House last month passed its version of the bill 219-206, almost exclusively on the strength of Democrats’ votes.

But in the Senate, where the minority has the power to filibuster, Republicans prevailed.

The vote was 57-41 to proceed, and was mostly straight party line. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, voted “no” for parliamentary reasons in order to preserve the right to ask for a revote later.

Still, the party-line breakdown hid bitter divisions. One Democratic senator literally held her nose as she voted with her colleagues to advance the bill.

And Mr. Schumer said he thinks many Republicans would have liked to vote for the legislation, but they were pressured by their leaders to oppose it.

Indeed, four Republicans who voted for the major 2002 campaign-finance overhaul voted against Tuesday’s bill, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who led the fight for the earlier bill.

Mr. McCain said that 2002 effort was designed not to pick winners and losers and also had a delayed enactment so it went into effect after the next election. He said the new legislation instead picked sides.

“The provisions of this bill would become effective 30 days after being signed by the president. This bill is clearly designed to silence American businesses while allowing labor unions to speak and spend freely in the elections this November,” he said.

 

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