After the disastrous ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the corporate lobby is gearing up to take down state laws designed to limit corporate influence and corruption in government.
In Minnesota, state law says it is illegal for corporations to try to influence elections by funding campaigns to defeat or endorse candidates. Now the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is suing to make Minnesota’s laws line up with the Supreme Court’s decision to open the floodgates to corporate cash.
Twenty-three other states have made it a priority to limit corporate influence in elections, and all will likely see similar challenges from the Chamber and other groups that are all-too-eager to use their new power in an effort to defeat progressive candidates.
Meanwhile, bills in states like Iowa and Maryland are moving forward to prevent corporate money from overwhelming the peoples’ voice in their elections, but all will face serious challenges.
Sadly, Columbia Law School professor and election-law expert Nathaniel Persily is right when he says the states’ powers are limited to “nip[ping] at the edges to make it more difficult for corporations to spend this kind of money.” And that’s why we need a constitutional amendment to prevent corporations from dominating our elections.
USA Today provides a useful overview of the current campaign finance battlegrounds.
[…] In Iowa, corporations would not only be required to get approval from a majority of shareholders before spending money on independent political ads that refer to candidates, but those commercials would have to identify the CEOs of companies underwriting them. Labor unions also would have to show that their members support the spending. […]
• Maryland. Eight campaign-finance bills have been introduced, including one that would require shareholder approval for the spending and content of any campaign material a corporation distributes. Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, said he hopes it has a “tempering effect” on outside spending in state races.
• Arizona. A measure in the state Legislature would require corporations and unions that undertake independent spending in candidate campaigns to register with state regulators and disclose their spending. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Burns, the Republican president of the state Senate and Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia the top Democrat in the chamber. “It will be a relatively fast-moving bill,” Burns said. “I don’t anticipate any problems.”
Some states are taking the opposite approach:
• Minnesota. A pending bill would repeal a law banning independent expenditures by corporations in order to comply with the Jan. 21 court ruling.
• Colorado. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter has asked the state Supreme Court to evaluate how the high court’s ruling affects language in the state constitution that outlaws corporations and unions from spending money to elect or defeat candidates. (If the state Supreme Court determines the law is unconstitutional, companies and labor organizations could immediately begin raising money and it would not require voter approval.)