Tuesday :: Apr 13, 2010

Dems To Propose First Fix For Citizens United

by Turkana

In the wake of Citizens United, a lot of people have been wondering if it's even possible to reclaim some semblance of Democratic government in our struggling republic.

Anyone paying attention knows that the ability to buy control of government is one of this nation's greatest continuing threats. Anyone paying attention knows that the problem is only getting worse. But in case anyone wondered whether reform-minded Democrats would go quietly into that good night, as corporate persons took full and final control of government from real persons, today's news might provide a hint.

From Eric Lichtblau, of the New York Times:

The White House and leading Democrats in Congress are close to proposing legislation that would force private companies and groups to disclose their behind-the-scenes financial involvement in political campaigns and advertising, officials involved in the discussions said Monday.

One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said.

In other words, even if they can spend all they want, making them reveal who exactly they are could make the difference. Transparency works. In the late 1980s, the tobacco industry spent a fortune trying to kill California's Proposition 99, the Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act. The ads were omnipresent. But because the ads were required to include disclosure of who was paying for them, they did not prove omnipotent. Proposition 99 passed, and it has had an impact.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Chuck Schumer are reported to be leading the effort at crafting this new law, and it is expected to be good on both policy and political grounds. The Times says the Democrats will try to garner some Republican support, but already are prepared to move ahead without any. Which is a very good thing, given the Republican record of stalling and then not negotiating in good faith, whenever the Democrats try to include them.

The Times:

In reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, lawyers for the administration and Congressional Democrats soon realized that the majority’s strong language left them little room to try to ban corporate money altogether, according to people involved in the discussions. They have focused instead on forcing public disclosure of political backers as a way to bring transparency to the process and, perhaps, to discourage excessive corporate involvement.

In other words, the Roberts Court did all it could to make reform impossible, and the Democrats are very carefully planning how to present reform in a manner that the Court can't undermine.

The plan would require transparency of all those contributing to organizations making political expenditures. It also would largely ban government contractors, companies that received TARP bailout money, and companies with more than 20% foreign ownership from making political expenditures. In other words, it specifically attempts to end the feedback loop that takes our tax dollars into corporate bank accounts and back out to political ads that can cause even more of our money to be fed into those same bank accounts. I'm guessing that certain defense and construction contractors won't be pleased.

This isn't a silver bullet, and much more will need to be considered. The law won't include a provision requiring companies to gain permission from shareholders before spending on political campaigns. That might not have been judicially sound, and Republicans certainly would have countered by trying to force unions to gain permission from all members before making their own political expenditures. For now, this is a good and important first step.

Turkana :: 1:27 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!