Senator Evan Bayh today unveiled new legislation with three of his Senate colleagues to blunt the corrosive impact of a recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and special interests to spend unlimited sums of money to influence U.S. elections.
"The prospect of secret, unlimited, and possibly foreign piles of campaign cash flooding into our democracy is something that should alarm every American," Bayh said. "If unlimited corporate money is allowed to pollute the political process in November, then members who are beholden to the special interests will be elected to defend those special interests."
At a news conference in front of the United States Supreme Court building, Bayh and Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) said their goal is for the Senate to pass the new measure by July 4 so the law can take effect in time for the 2010 midterm elections.
The DISCLOSE Act is a response to the Court's January ruling in the Citizens United case, which overturned a decades-old law banning political expenditures by corporate interests. The new Senate legislation would partly restore those limits by barring foreign-controlled corporations, government contractors and companies that have received government assistance from making political expenditures. It would also require corporations, unions, and other organizations that make political expenditures to disclose their donors and stand by their ads.
"If the Citizens United decision is allowed to stand, there is a real risk that our political process will become even worse," Bayh added. "Passing new campaign finance laws has to be a priority this year."
Under the bill, the heads of any organization sponsoring an ad--including corporate CEOs--would be required to appear during the ad, as is currently required of candidates for federal office. In cases where special interests funnel their money into shell groups, the top five organizations that have donated to the group would have to be identified on screen during any ad sponsored by that group. The CEO of the group's top funder for that particular advertisement would also be required to appear on screen to deliver a "stand by your ad" disclaimer.
Also, the bill would effectively require, for the first time, all corporations and advocacy groups that make political expenditures to establish easy-to-track campaign accounts. All donations to these accounts that exceed $1,000--as well as all expenditures funded through these accounts--would be reported within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission once the money is spent, as well as to the public on the organization's website, and to company shareholders in their corporate filing statements. If a company or organization did not wish to establish these transparent accounts, it would be required to disclose all its donors, not just those whose contributions are earmarked for political activities.
The legislation will also strengthen a candidate's ability to respond to corporate attack ads by ensuring they can purchase air time at the lowest possible rate in the same media markets where these attacks ads are airing. The bill would also make sure that private corporations don't coordinate their political activities with candidates.
"This bill will help take our democracy back for the people of this county," said Bayh. "We must ensure the special interests can no longer hide. We trust the public to make the best decisions if fully informed, but they deserve to know if the special interests behind campaign attack ads have a hidden agenda. Sunshine is the best disinfectant in our democracy."