April 29, 2010 

Legislative Battle Begins to Lift the Veil of Secrecy From Unlimited Corporate Political Spending

Van Hollen-Schumer Package – Called the DISCLOSE Act – Is a Good First Step, But Much More Must Be Done

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen supports the legislative package introduced today by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to help mitigate the damage caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s stunning ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows unlimited corporate spending in elections.

 The bill, called the DISCLOSE Act, would create a robust new disclosure system that would let the public, including corporate shareowners, learn which corporations are promoting or attacking which candidates, even when corporate money is laundered through front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other important provisions reportedly include:

• restricting foreign interests from spending money in American elections;
• prohibiting political spending by major government contractors and Troubled Asset Relief Program recipients (known as “pay-to-play”); and
• enhancing disclaimers in political ads.

 “These are vital interim steps to mitigate the damage from the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. They would lift the veil of secrecy from corporate political spending and prevent some of the most corrupting forms of corporate political expenditures,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But we need stronger measures to counter the flood of corporate money that Citizens United unleashes.”

 Public Citizen advocates a series of short-, medium- and long-term measures to remedy the court’s misinterpretation of the Constitution. These additional measures include:

• the Shareholder Protection Act (H.R. 4790), which would require a majority of all shareholders to approve annually political expenditures desired by the management of publicly held corporations;
• the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826 and S. 751), which would provide public financing to qualified candidates to enable them to respond to the expected corporate onslaught; and
• a constitutional amendment to clarify that the First Amendment does not let corporations drown out citizens’ voices in our democracy.

 “Congress immediately should enact comprehensive public financing of elections and give shareholders control over how CEOs spend their money,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “We shouldn’t shy away from giving shareholders control over corporate political spending in their name – or from pursuing fundamental changes to the way elections are financed. The American public is fed up with corporate interests dominating Washington. It’s time to pursue every serious fix available.”

 “Let’s get the DISCLOSE Act passed as quickly as possible to help open the books on the 2010 elections, but let’s not miss the chance to fundamentally change the way elections are financed,” added Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “Transparency is desperately needed to help preserve the integrity of elections in the new Wild West of unlimited stealth spending by corporate CEOs.”

 Public Citizen has launched a petition drive for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United that has garnered nearly 52,000 signatures. For further information about the Citizens United decision and Public Citizen’s response to it, go to www.DontGetRolled.org.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.