In the wake of last week’s sweeping 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down several longstanding prohibitions on corporate political contributions, Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation to counter some of its effects.
Perhaps the most politically promising proposal is the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill introduced which aims to blend small-donor fundraising with public funding as a means of reducing the pressure of fundraising from large contributors.
Proponents say the bill, introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Connecticut), will make it easier for politicians to run campaigns without money from corporations and lobbyists, and also decrease time spent fundraising.
“The Supreme Court gave the deepest-pocketed special interests in Washington, D.C. even more power in Congress,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, a nonprofit organization dedicated to campaign reform. “The most comprehensive response to fight back against this immoral, activist decision is the Fair Elections Now Act.”
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama also took aim at the high court’s decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which he said “reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said. “They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”
Reacting to Obama’s comments, Justice Samuel Alito “shook his head and appeared to mouth the words, ‘not true.'”
To be eligible for public funding, candidates would have to raise small donations from a large number of citizens in the community in which they are running for office. For instance, in the current version of the bill, a candidate for the US House of Representatives would have to gather at least 1,500 donations and raise at least $50,000. The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) currently has five co-sponsors in the Senate, including Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) and Barbara Boxer (D-California), and 128 co-sponsors in the House.
Qualifying candidates would be given $900,000 – split 40/60 between the primary and the general election. In 2008, the median cost of the campaign by winning members in the House was $1.1 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization.
Other legislative efforts would target corporations directly. Rep. John Hall (D-New York) has introduced a bill that would prevent corporations with more than five percent of foreign shareholders from airing political advertisements. The bill, he said, “will prevent foreign-influenced companies from buying U.S elections.”
Another proposal would attempt to change political contribution disclosure laws relating to publicly traded companies. Modeled on British campaign finance law, it would require companies to report any past political spending, as well as allow shareholders to vote on proposed future spending.
The House and Senate are scheduled to hold hearings on the effects of the ruling and possible legislative solutions next week.