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Op-Ed: Placing Limits on Corporate Influence on Elections

Op-Ed

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

By Congressman William Pascrell

Published by The Record on July 27, 2010

KEN GROSS, a Washington attorney who advises corporations on campaign finance laws, recently gave his forecast for corporate
spending in this fall's campaigns on National Public Radio.

"There are opportunities there that the corporate community is interested in exploring," he said.

Translation: Corporations, both American and foreign, are going to spend like they never have before this fall. American voters
could face their greatest risk in decades of having their voices drowned out by special interests with deep pockets, some owned or
controlled by foreign entities, in the upcoming elections.

At the root of this dismal outlook is the U.S. Supreme Court's unfortunate decision last January in the Citizens United v. Federal
Election Commission case.

Citizens United, a non-profit group that receives corporate donations, argued that the First Amendment gave the organization
the right to televise a film critical of Hillary Clinton the night before an election. The high court agreed with a narrow vote of 5 to 4.

The decision flew in the faces of all who worked to ensure that the right to vote had nothing to do with a person's status as a
property owner, skin color or gender. After generations of Americans who fought for the constitutionally protected right to vote, the
Supreme Court has now undermined our suffrage by illogically upholding the right to free speech of corporations -- non-persons --
including those owned or controlled by foreign nations.

Many people believe the way to keep special interest money from influencing elections is public campaign financing. I, along with 156
of my colleagues in Congress, agree. We are all co-sponsors of a bill by Rep. John Larson of Connecticut that would provide that remedy.

Dangers

While the debate over public financing has continued, a majority in the House of Representatives has recognized the immediate danger the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United poses and has taken action.

In June, we passed the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or DISCLOSE, Act. The legislation includes a provision I authored to strengthen the protections against political expenditures by any corporations with foreign shareholders. This applies to campaign spending in all American elections -- right down to your local school board.

Now we need the U.S. Senate to approve the DISCLOSE Act before we return to our home districts in August. We cannot afford to allow
this bill to languish in limbo and let corporations drown out the voices of the American people this November.

As we have seen previously in this Congress, too many members put partisan loyalty ahead of the American people's interests.

We hope that Senate Republicans remember how voters were protected by the campaign finance reform measures in the bipartisan
McCain-Feingold Act. The law banned corporations, non-profits and unions from electioneering in the 30 days prior to an election.

Transcend politics

Those of us who strongly supported that legislation understood that when the entire American electorate is at risk, members of Congress must transcend partisan politics in order to protect the very foundation of our democracy.

It's time for the U.S. Senate to recognize that we Americans didn't inherit a legacy of a sovereign, free people only to be beholden to
the agenda of corporate boardrooms or foreign nations.

American voters need the protection of the DISCLOSE Act.

We've heard the forecast. A hard rain of corporate political spending is going to fall.


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