The DISCLOSE Act, the core legislative reaction to the overwhelmingly unpopular Citizens United decision, comes in the nick of time. If it passes, it and other legislative solutions will help protect the 2010 election from a flood of corporate spending.
It's no wonder the Supreme Court decision is unpopular. At a time when distaste for corporate America and Wall Street have never been higher, the Supreme Court decided to significantly expand the potential political clout of America's most powerful corporations. This double punch makes the need for campaign finance reform even more urgent, and as it turns out, most Americans favor that, too.
There's no doubt the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections" (DISCLOSE) Act will have popular support. The majority of U.S. voters - Republicans, Democracts and independents - oppose the Citizens United ruling.
But popular opposition to the ruling, and popular support for the bill, won't be enough. The key will be to pass it quickly, before increased corporate dollars have a chance to unduly influence the upcoming races.
Nobody can project how much money corporate America wants to throw around in the upcoming contests, but even if it is not as astronomical as projected, it will only take one or two races where industry giants like Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs weigh in to forever change the ease with which politicians vote their conscience. Every officeholder in the land will be keenly aware that their race could be the next to have corporate dollars thrown against it.
While it won't erase the Supreme Court's decision, the DISCLOSE Act will increase disclosure information about advertising spending from corporate sources and create stand-by-your ad requirements for CEOs. In addition, domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations, federal contractors, as well as TARP recipients who have not repaid their funds, will be banned from spending their money on politics.
Imagine seeing a vicious attack ad and then the face of a CEO at the end, saying: "I am the CEO of Exxon Mobil, and my company paid for this ad." A requirement like that could act as a deterrent for some companies and Boards of Directors; it could even stop them from getting involved in attack ads altogether.
Democrats have begun the process of correcting the Supreme Court's misstep with this bill, but it clearly should receive bipartisan support. In the House, Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Walter B. Jones (R-NC) took brave steps and got out in front, but in this era of hyper-partisanship, it is hard to find others with the courage to join them.
It's surprising so few Republicans have stepped up to the plate. Disclosure has been a mainstay among Republicans who have consistently argued for more sunlight as opposed to more restrictions on campaign giving and spending. Whether or not they are willing to proactively co-sponsor the bill, the GOP will be hard-pressed to make an argument against it. This historical precedent is just one more reason that this legislation should receive robust bipartisan support when it comes time to cast votes.
One other important element which should also be a part of the overall Citizens United solution is a requirement that shareholders approve of political campaign expenditures by the corporation.
When corporations spend shareholders' money on campaigns, they should be promoting their shareholders' interests, not merely expressing the political views of the CEO. The Shareholder Protection Act is moving alongside the DISCLOSE Act and is an important part of the overall solution to the Citizens United misstep by the courts.
The stakes could not be higher.
The DISCLOSE Act and the Shareholder Protection Act are both must-pass bills. Our democracy is truly at risk, and Congress needs to take immediate action to ensure these public interest laws pass now, in the nick of time, if we want to protect the 2010 election cycle.