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Legislation introduced in response to U.S. SC decision

By John O'Brien | Feb 11, 2010

Van Hollen

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at limiting the impact a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision would have on corporate campaign spending.

Drama has circled the Court's 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission since it was released in January, with President Barack Obama among its critics. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland introduced a bill Wednesday they are calling "a legislative response."

The decision allowed corporations to spend their money in support of candidates on methods like advertising, but held they can still not contribute to candidates' campaign funds.

Obama said at his recent State of the Union Address that it would "open the floodgates" for special interests. Van Hollen used the same phrase.

"It opens the floodgates to big corporate money that can drown out the voices of American citizens," he said. "It also opens wide the door to campaign spending by foreign corporate interests that don't put our country first.

"We must do everything we can to mitigate the damage this ruling could do to our democracy."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the majority, famously mouthed the words "not true" when Obama attacked the decision at the State of the Union.

The case involved Citizens United, a conservative group that was told by the FEC that it could not provide its documentary about then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to cable stations.

"Some members of the public might consider Hillary to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the nation's course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

"Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make."

Kennedy was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

Schumer's and Van Hollen's bill would ban expenditures from foreign interests, federal contractors and recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.

It would require CEOs to appear on their companies' ads to say they approve the message and "top corporate donors" to appear in ads they funded for other groups.

The bill would also affect the cost of advertising for candidates.

"If a corporation buys airtime to run ads on broadcast, cable, or satellite television that support or oppose a candidate, then that candidate and political party or political party committee is allowed to receive the lowest unit rate for that media market," a summary of the bill says.

Obama had promised a legislative response to the decision. Some, like Capital University Law School professor Bradley Smith, did not agree with his interpretation of the impact it would have on foreign corporations.

"The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making 'a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election' under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case," Smith wrote for the National Review.

"Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any 'expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication.

"This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demogoguery of the worst kind."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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