Congressman On Campaign Finance Bill

The Supreme Court recently lifted restrictions on the corporate financing of elections. But that decision has not made everyone happy. Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano of Massachusetts has introduced legislation that would require corporations to get a majority of shareholders to approve spending money on elections. He discusses the legislation.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Supreme Courts ruling in the Citizens United case on free speech and corporate political spending has prompted a range of proposed remedies. While conservative critics of the McCain-Feingold Act have applauded the courts ruling, liberals have proposed everything from a ban on spending by foreign-owned corporations to a 500 percent excise tax on political ad spending. And here is a proposal from Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano: Require corporations to get approval of their political spending from their shareholders. Representative Capuano joins us from Boston, and tell us, how will this work?

Representative MIKE CAPUANO (Democratic, Massachusetts): Quite simply, the shareholders, its their money and I think that anybody who is spending money should ask those people who own that money what their opinion is. If the shareholders choose to be involved in political action, thats fine. Apparently the court has said that is legal and thats okay with me. Thats all I want. I wouldnt want somebody reaching into my pocket and taking my money to be used for something I didnt want.

SIEGEL: Your bill, though, would require the shareholders to approve of, is it every expenditure of $10,000 or more?

Rep. CAPUANO: Yeah. But they could do it once a year. I mean, thats a proposal. Im open to other proposals, maybe just once a year, maybe the numbers could be different, but the concept is whats important, is to have the shareholders be the ones who make the determination. If they want to use it for political purposes, thats fine by me.

SIEGEL: Is this bill that youve drafted one of those bills thats really an extremely effective press release to make a good point or do you have a shot, really, at getting this thing through the House?

Rep. CAPUANO: No way to tell. I hope its not a press release. Thats not the intent. I mean, there are a lot of discussions going on, as you pointed out at the top, that are on other things to do, and I may participate and supporting some of them or not. This one just struck me as something that theres no need to wait for it. It doesnt take on the Supreme Court decisions directly, doesnt require a constitutional amendment. And all it does is simply say something that most people have said from day one: You should have a say on how your money is spent.

SIEGEL: Have you given any thought to whether GM or Citi could advertise right now and take out a political ad?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Im intrigued by that thought.

Rep. CAPUANO: My guess is they could probably take out an ad right now and say we hate this idea or we love this idea.

SIEGEL: Speaking on behalf of our shareholders, the government of the United States of America.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. CAPUANO: Oh, and plus, for me, there are another aspect, which I am also working on, but it's transparency. I think that voters are actually intelligent enough to know that if they know the source of a commentary, that they can put that in context. And for - as a politician at the end of every ad, I have to say, and I approve this message, there's a reason for that. And that reason is so that people will know that Mike Capuano has approved the saying of whatever it is I just said. And I would argue the same thing should be done with political speech for others as well.

But I also think its the transparency thats a problem. Its when you get Citizens for Good Governance say Mike Capuano is a great guy or Citizens for Good Governance say Mike Capuano is a terrible guy, call him and tell him hes no good. I would argue that the average voter would be best served to simply know who's really saying that. And if its truly is Citizens for Good Governance, fine. But we all know that its probably, you know, corporation X or business person X. And, again, not that they're not entitled to say it, but I think its a little bit of false advertising to pretend something that youre not.

SIEGEL: So, you'd like to see political ads of that sort look a little bit more like the pharmaceutical ads with the side effects.

Rep. CAPUANO: Yes, absolutely.

SIEGEL: That the groups that have given to the group thats advertising against you would be listed, like, along with nausea and headaches.

Rep. CAPUANO: Right, very good analogy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And brittle bones and all of that.

Rep. CAPUANO: I think that would be fine. Again, I think voters are not as stupid as some people think they are. And I think they're preferably capable of cutting through, you know, the agendas that we all have, as long as they know where that agenda is coming from. So, if its the XYZ corporation, well, if theyre big polluters, then I personally wouldnt mind them taking ads on against me, you know. Were a big polluting company, and we hate Mike Capuano.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. CAPUANO: Well, thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Well, Congressman Capuano, thanks a lot for talking with us about your proposal.

Rep. CAPUANO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mike Capuano, Democratic Representative from Massachusetts.

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