Last updated: February 16, 2010 - 9:34am
[Commentary] The is no simple legislative fix to the Supreme Court's unfortunate recent decision allowing corporations to spend money directly advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates.
The court's 5-4 decision was grounded in the First Amendment; consequently, the congressional response is inevitably limited. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) unveiled an important proposal last week designed to address the most fixable aspects of the ruling in time for the 2010 election. The most dangerous aspect of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is that it would let corporations spend money anonymously, by funneling donations through trade associations or other groups that do not have to disclose their donors. This gap in reporting requirements existed before the Supreme Court ruling. But the decision made the loophole more problematic by allowing corporations to spend directly on political campaigns, and not only through so-called issue ads that stop short of endorsing or opposing particular candidates.
The Schumer-Van Hollen proposal would address this problem by requiring groups running ads that support or oppose a candidate to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission and list the top five donors in the advertising itself. In addition, the corporation would have to disclose political expenditures to its shareholders, posting the spending within 24 hours on the company Web site. If corporations are going to get directly involved in political campaigns, such transparency about their spending is imperative.
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