As you know, last month, the Supreme Court shattered nearly a century of U.S. law designed to curb the influence of special interests in our election process.
Last week, I outlined the problem and solicited advice from the Kos community and others and today I’m here to give an update on our progress and get your feedback.
Yesterday, Congressman Chris Van Hollen and I announced our plan to stem the tidal wave of special interest money that we believe has been unleashed by the Court.
Truth be told, Chris and I, along with many Court watchers, had been bracing for an unfavorable decision ever since the Court decided to re-hear the Citizens United case earlier this fall. But the Court’s ruling surpassed even our worst fears.
At a time when Americans are worried about too much influence, this decision opens the floodgates and risks allowing special interest money to overwhelm our elections and undermine our democracy.
With a stroke of the pen, the Court decided to overrule a decades-old ban on corporate expenditures and override the will of millions of Americans who want their voices heard in our democracy.
In my view, it is one of the most wrongheaded decisions in Court history and certainly its most political decision since Bush v. Gore.
And the American people apparently agree.
According to a bipartisan poll released last Monday, Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling by a better than 2-to-1 margin. 64 percent disagreed with the decision, compared to just 27 percent that agreed.
A majority of even Republican voters rejected the Court’s ruling. 51 percent of them said they thought it was improper.
To say the least, the Highest Court in the land is at odds with the court of public opinion.
We will not let this decision go unchallenged. So yesterday, Chris and I announced the framework for comprehensive legislation we intend to introduce in our respective chambers before the end of the month.
And unlike most bills that are introduced in Congress, this one comes with a deadline for action. Because if we don’t act quickly, the Court’s ruling will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the 2010 elections.
So our goal is to advance the legislation quickly. Otherwise, the Supreme Court will have predetermined the winners of next November’s election: it won’t be the Republican or the Democrats. It will be the special interests.
The need to act quickly is what, in part, has motivated our decision to not go the route of a constitutional amendment. Others in the House and Senate are preparing plans to pursue that path, but we believe we needed to press ahead on legislation right away.
So in the weeks since the 5-4 ruling came down, after consulting with some of our colleagues and the White House, we have finalized a legislative approach that we think represents Congress’ best available remedy to this act of political overreach.
Our bill would do five major things: 1) Increase disclosure, 2) ensure disclaimers on political broadcast advertising, 3) ban foreign controlled entities from using the corporate loophole to influence our democracy, 4) ban government contractors from spending in our elections, and 5) provide the "lowest unit rate" for candidates and parties for airtime to counter-attack the corporate spending we're about to see.
First, our bill would follow the money and drill down to truly identify who is funding these ads. Our legislation would then impose a series of new disclosure requirements that would create an unprecedented paper trail to track the activities not only of corporations, but all types of organizations that had previously operated in the shadows.
Under our bill, for the first time, all corporations, all labor unions, all 501 (c) 4, 5, and 6 organizations, as well as 527s would be required to register accounts designated for political broadcast spending with the Federal Election Commission.
-- Every dollar that goes into that account, and the name and organization of the person who put it there, must be reported.
-- Every dollar that gets spent out of that account, and the nature of the activity it’s paying for, must also get reported.
-- Furthermore, any transfer of dollars from these accounts to other accounts would also need to be documented and reported to the FEC. This way, any funneling of resources by a particular company to the Chamber of Commerce or a professional association cannot escape detection.
These requirements won’t ban political activity, but the level of transparency would, at the very least, make special interests think twice before spending unlimited sums to influence elections. The deterrent effect should not be underestimated.
Also in the realm of increased disclosure, our bill will require corporations to disclose their political expenditures:
-- On their website within 24 hours;
-- To their shareholders on a quarterly basis; and
-- In their filings with the SEC.
Next, in addition to increased disclosure, we would impose tough new disclaimer requirements for political ads.
Everyone is familiar with the rule that requires politicians to appear on camera at the end of their ads and declare "I’m so-and-so and I approve this message."
Well, for any corporation that decides to buy airtime in an effort to influence an election, we would impose the same "stand-by-your-ad" requirement on that company’s CEO.
Even if the company funnels through a shell group or pools its resources with other corporations, our bill would still require for them to be identified in any ad they put on the air.
In instances where one or more companies pour their funds into a shell group, we would require the top five corporate funders to be identified by company name on screen during the ad. In addition, the corporation that gives the most would have to have its CEO appear on camera to give the "stand-by-your-ad" disclaimer. This is how the state of Washington handles these ads, and it has shown to be quite effective.
Next, our bill would ban foreign-controlled corporations and foreign entities from influencing our elections; we certainly do not want Hugo Chavez or the Chinese Government advancing their agenda with their large sums of money. It is unacceptable to have corporate money flood our system, and unconscionable to have foreign money tar our democracy.
To counter this, our bill would impose a test on corporations to see if they rise to the level of being foreign controlled. If a corporation meets any of these criteria, then it would be banned from spending: First, if a corporation has 20% or more foreign ownership; second, if a majority of the Board of Directors are foreign nationals; third, if a foreign national or entity controls, directs, or dictates either the U.S. operations of a corporation or the political spending decisions of that corporation.
Fourth, if you are a government contractor, you could not spend on political advertising. The law has always treated government contractors differently, and we're merely expanding on that. The tax dollars of hard-working Americans should not be turned around and spent on campaigns.
This also applies to TARP recipients who have yet to pay back our money. Pay back the American tax-payers' money first - this is an absolute requirement.
Finally, our bill includes a lowest-unit-rate requirement which means that if a special interest bought airtime to run ads on broadcast, cable, or satellite television that support or attack a candidate, then that candidate and political party would be given a fair chance to respond by receiving lowest ad rate for that market and be guaranteed reasonable access to air advertisements. In other words, when the crush of corporate money hits the airwaves, the individual candidate and party being attacked deserves a fair opportunity to respond. Otherwise, the special interests would own the airwaves and deprive Americans a voice that should be heard.
Overall, the Supreme Court’s decision opened the floodgates to a torrent of special interest money, but we believe these solutions can help re-patch the dam.
Please let me know your thoughts on our approach and tell me what specific proposals that you feel are most important. I'll be here for a while and checking back later today to respond to comments and answer questions.