Friday, April 30, 2010

Corporations and unions would have to identify themselves on political ads they bankroll, and top corporate officials would have to make an explicit pledge that they approved the ad they finance under legislation introduced in Congress Thursday.

The measures are a direct response to a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in January that upheld the First Amendment rights of such groups to spend money on campaign ads - a decision that greatly enhances their ability to influence federal elections.

“At a time when the public’s fears about the influence of special interests were already high, this decision stacks the deck against the average American even more,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said at a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court building.

The bill had no Republican sponsors, but Mr. Schumer said “a good number” of GOP lawmakers told him they were favorably disposed to the bill.

A House group led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, introduced a similar bill Thursday. The House version included two Republican backers: Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware and Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina.

Supporters of the Supreme Court move say the congressional drive to overturn the Supreme Court ruling amounted to an assault on free speech.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it will “fight any and all attempts to muzzle and or demonize independent voices from the election discussion.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has long been a fierce opponent of putting limits on campaign spending.

Mr. McConnell said in a statement the bills are designed to help Democrats at the polls while masquerading as good-government reforms.

“Make no mistake about it, the campaign finance bill introduced this morning is not about reform, transparency, accountability or good government. It is about election advantage, plain and simple,” Mr. McConnell said.

Saying “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” President Obama urged Congress in a statement Thursday to act quickly to pass the proposal. Mr. Obama has been openly critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The proposed bill would also bar foreign-controlled corporations and government contractors from spending money on U.S. elections, and prohibit political spending by companies that receive government bailout money.

The top financier of an ad would be required to record a stand-by-your-ad disclaimer to prevent organizations from funneling money through shell groups to hide their involvement. Corporations and unions must also disclose campaign-related spending on their websites and report that spending to shareholders and members.

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