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Grayson takes on corporate campaign spending

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, January 14, 2010 21:26 EDT
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Florida House Rep. says imminent SCOTUS decision ‘a potential threat to our democracy’

Responding to a Supreme Court case that could result in most of the US’s restrictions on campaign spending being tossed off the books, US House Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has introduced a series of bills that would severely curtail the ability of corporate donors to influence the outcome of elections.

“We are facing a potential threat to our democracy,” Grayson told the Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney. “Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale and that the law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.”

Reflecting his typically flamboyant style, the congressman who drew instant political fame when he mused that the Republican strategy for health care amounts to hoping sick people “die quickly” has given his bills humorous names. Delaney reports:

The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act would impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act would require public companies to report what they spend to influence public opinion on any matter other than the promotion of their goods and services. The End Political Kickbacks Act would restrict political contributions by government contractors.

If passed, the bills would represent the most stringent restrictions on campaign spending ever seen in the United States. But at least one critic of Grayson’s bills believes the measures are lacking because they focus too much on corporations, and not enough on other large donors to political campaigns, such as labor unions and political pressure groups.

“These are totally targeted at corporations, but [the Supreme Court case] is widely believed to affect corporations and unions and nonprofits equally,” Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive Politics told the Huffington Post.

The Supreme Court case known as Citizens United vs. FEC involves a political pressure group — Citizens United — that has been accused by the FEC of breaking the McCain-Feingold Act’s restrictions on campaign spending. But last summer the Supreme Court widened the case’s scope to include all the campaign restriction laws passed in the US since 1907.

Conservative justices on the bench are arguing that the restrictions on campaign contributions violate corporations’ and organizations’ free speech rights under the First Amendment. But other jurists wonder whether corporations should have free speech rights at all.

The result could “usher in” a “brave new world of politics” where “auto companies that receive multibillion-dollar bailouts could spend vast sums to re-elect the same officials who hand them the money,” the New York Times wrote in an editorial. “If Exxon Mobil or Wal-Mart wants something from a member of Congress, it could threaten to spend as much as it takes to defeat him or her in the next election.”

On the face of it, Grayson’s bills appear to be political posturing with little chance of passing the House and Senate. But the Florida Democrat says he consulted with House Democratic leadership before launching his bills.

And, as ABC News reports, other lawmakers are also concerned about Citizens United v. FEC and are taking steps to put into place some sort of campaign law framework for the 2010 elections, if the court sides with Citizens United.

Democrats said Tuesday they are already deeply involved in planning for a legislative response, should the court ruling undo longstanding restrictions on corporate and union spending on television ads during the closing weeks of a campaign.

ABC News has learned that Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., have been talking with the White House and top Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias to plot out possible remedies that they can try to move through Congress in advance of the 2010 midterm elections.

 
 
 
 
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