Top Democrats said Thursday they will try to undercut last month’s Supreme Court campaign-finance ruling by forcing corporations and unions that want to run political ads to register separate spending accounts, make them disclose how they got money for the ads and guarantee politicians low rates to respond with their own broadcast ads.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, also said they’re working on a tight deadline and want a bill passed in time to prevent free-wheeling spending from swamping this year’s congressional elections.
“Unlike most bills that are introduced in Congress, this one has a deadline for action,” said Mr. Schumer, who party leaders tasked to write a bill with Mr. Van Hollen. “If we don’t act quickly, the court’s ruling will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the 2010 elections.”
The two lawmakers said corporations, unions and nonprofit groups that want to pay for broadcast political ads should have to register a separate account with the Federal Election Commission to receive funds and pay for ads. All contributions and expenditures to and from the funds would have to be reported.
Some corporations would be banned outright from running ads, including ones in which foreigners have 20 percent ownership or are otherwise demonstrably in control, and any corporations that are taking Wall Street bailout money or receive government contracts.
That ban would cover many major technology, defense, communications and scientific research firms.
Any politician who is targeted by a corporate or union ad would be guaranteed the lowest-possible broadcast ad rates to respond.
The lawmakers said they have not written a bill yet, but are releasing principles so they can get feedback. They said they will now try to recruit Republicans to join them.
Cleta Mitchell, a campaign-finance lawyer active in conservative causes, said there are problems with the direction the Democrats are headed. She said the Supreme Court has already struck down campaign-finance laws that granted politicians lower ad rates, and she said a blanket ban on federal contractors could run afoul of free-speech protections.
“I don’t think they could keep somebody from using their own separate money,” she said.
She also said the dire predictions about elections bought by corporations are never going to come to pass.
“Let’s be very clear about this. The Democrats’ hysteria is completely unfounded because corporations, particularly large corporations, are not going to run ads or make expenditures. You’re not going to see Coca-Cola run a ‘Vote for John Doe,’ ad. That isn’t the way corporations think, and it’s not what they do,” she said.
In last month’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions were entitled to First Amendment protections for political speech. The court held that corporations and unions should not have to form political action committees subject to strict rules, but instead should be free to run political ads paid for from their own general funds. They are still banned from contributing directly to political campaigns.
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