Democrats Introduce Campaign Finance Bill

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Democrats have introduced a bill to address the sluice gate opened by a Supreme Court decision earlier this year that rolled back limits on corporate campaign money.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Congressional Democrats are introducing a new campaign finance bill that would put disclosure requirements and a few limits on corporate money in politics. The issue is a contentious one, and, as NPR's Peter Overby tell us, so was today's press conference.

(Soundbite of crowd)

PETER OVERBY: Four Democratic senators stood on the wide sidewalk at the Supreme Court, and they did what many Democrats are doing these days: They said corporations and unions shouldn't be able to pump anonymous dollars into politics, and they slammed the Supreme Court for ruling last January that unlimited corporate and union spending is a First Amendment right.

Senator EVAN BAYH (Democrat, Indiana): Our effort here is to take this democracy back for the people of our country.

OVERBY: Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is leaving the Senate out of frustration this year, said Congress's reputation is bad enough.

Sen. BAYH: If this money is allowed to flood into the political process this November, we run the risk of this becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Members who are beholden to the special interests will be elected to defend the special interests. We've had too much of that already.

OVERBY: The bill would do two main things. First, it would block political involvement by foreign corporations, large federal contractors and companies that get federal bailouts. Second, it would require disclosure of the big contributions that independent groups raise to make political ads.

The Supreme Court decision strongly endorsed disclosure, so that's the life preserver that advocates of tougher campaign finance laws cling to, advocates such as Charles Schumer of New York.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): The legislation merely applies to corporations, labor unions and advocacy organizations, the same rules that candidates already have to abide by.

OVERBY: But nothing merely applies to anybody in campaign finance law, not even disclosing where the money comes from, as David Bossie knows well.

Mr. DAVID BOSSIE (Founder, President, Citizens United): Once again, this is a government takeover. This is a government takeover of our free speech.

OVERBY: Bossie had his say after the senators left. He's the head of Citizens United, the organization that went to the Supreme Court and won the right to use corporate money for a movie attacking then-Senator Hillary Clinton. He says Citizens United already discloses its donors.

Mr. BOSSIE: We disclose right now. We have an organization that has between 5- and 600,000 donors, 5- or 600,000 members, and those people donate in $50 increments.

OVERBY: But Bossie was talking about the Citizens United Political Action Committee. That's not the part of Citizens United that made the movie. Campaign reform strategist Fred Wertheimer(ph) pointed out that those corporate donors have never been disclosed.

Mr. BOSSIE: No, of course not. But...

Mr. FRED WERTHEIMER: ...donors are not covered by this disclosure. They're not covered.

Mr. BOSSIE: No, no, but this is it's a ridiculous thing. It's a joke.

Mr. WERTHEIMER: Did you read the opinion that you won? Did you read what the court said about disclosure?

Mr. BOSSIE: Of course I did. What are we, doing a debate here? You want me to show up to yours, and I'm happy to do that.

Mr. WERTHEIMER: We are doing a debate.

OVERBY: The debate moves to the House and Senate floors this summer.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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