Not a single Republican Senator voted to allow the proposed DISCLOSE Act to move forward to become law. Senate Democrats came up three votes short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the bill and allow it to proceed through the legislative process.
Democrats say the DISCLOSE Act would provide better transparency in campaign financing by requiring corporations and other interest groups to be identified in the election campaigns they sponsor. The Act would also prevent foreign companies and government contractors from contributing to election campaigns. Republicans, however, didn’t like exemptions in the bill that seemed to favor Democrat-friendly unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club.
The ink was barely dry on the US Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC when several members of the US House of Representatives proposed a new law. The DISCLOSE Act is designed to stop what they believe is the effect of the Citizens United case: The removal of the ban on corporate and special interest money contributions to political campaigns.
Among other things, the Act:
- Requires public disclosure of campaign-related spending by corporations, unions, and others
- Helps prevent foreign companies from influencing US elections by closing a “loophole” allowing US-based but foreign-owned companies to make campaign contributions
- Requires corporations, unions, and others to clearly identify themselves as sponsors of political ads they pay for
On the same day the law was introduced, President Obama announced his strong support for it. Also, the US Senate followed with its own version of the law. As of late may 2010, both the House and Senate are still working to pass it.
A few months ago, Lawyers.com addressed newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s first case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court met before its official term began to hear arguments in this significant case.
Recap – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Citizens United is a conservative nonprofit group that produced a documentary criticizing Hillary Rodham Clinton. The group wanted to distribute this movie during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) barred them from doing so. They claimed that Citizens United were violating the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws.
The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (the McCain-Feingold Bill) prevents corporations from using their money to support or oppose a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days before a general election. Citizens United receives corporate funding and sued claiming the FEC violated their free speech rights when it barred their movie and commercials from appearing.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
In January 2010, the Supreme Court agreed with Citizens United and removed the rules limiting organizations from funding campaign ads, the a part of the law preventing independent political groups and individuals from running ads close to the election when it matters most.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 between conservative and liberal justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. He wrote that the government may regulate corporate political speech, but may not suppress that speech altogether.
Supporters of the decision agree that disclosure is enough to maintain fairness and transparency for these contributions. However, critics are concerned that special interest money in this year’s congressional election and the 2012 presidential contest will unfairly hinder individual voters.
How Will States Be Affected?
While this decision addressed funding for federal elections, this case also affects state elections. In Colorado, the Colorado Republican Party is now considering filing a lawsuit to overturn voter-approved campaign finance limits.
In 2002, Colorado passed a constitutional amendment that banned corporate or union contributions in its state elections. This was to prevent corporations and unions from using large amounts of money to influence elections.
The Colorado law mirrors the McCain-Feingold Act. With the current Supreme Court ruling, many argue that it’s time for Colorado to comply with federal law.
If filed, the lawsuit might also challenge the state’s $400 limit on donations to state legislative candidates.
Regardless of what happens in Colorado, upcoming elections will be much different. Corporations can now spend money during the most important time before an election, whether or not you as an employee agree with their views. Perhaps the floodgates have been opened to more partisan campaigning than you’ve previously seen.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I live in NJ. Can my company donate money to NJ politicians?
- My corporation is being sued for its political contributions. Am I liable?
- Can the US Supreme Court’s decision be overturned?