Senate Dems will move campaign finance bill before July 4

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pledged to bring new campaign finance legislation to the Senate floor before July 4, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.

Schumer said the new Disclose Act was designed to affect this fall's midterm elections "in every way."

"Leader Reid has pledged this bill will be on the floor before July 4," Schumer said Thursday, setting a timeline for the bill's movement through the Senate.

He added: "We have designed this proposal so it can take effect by 2010, in every way."

Schumer's comments, offered on the steps of the Supreme Court, underscore his opposition to its Citizens United decision earlier this year, which lifted restrictions on corporate and union spending on political advertising. The Disclose Act is a response to that 5-4 ruling and is aimed at forcing businesses, labor unions and other groups to provide information about any money they spend on political ads. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had vowed to fight the legislation even before it was introduced.

"No longer will groups be able to live and [be] spending in the shadows," Schumer said during a press conference outside the high court. "While the court's decision was activist and overreached, our legislation does not."

The legislation has no Republican co-sponsors in the Senate, and just two GOP co-sponsors in the House, Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Walter Jones (N.C.). 

"None of them in the Senate are willing to co-sponsor," Schumer said of his GOP colleagues. "But a good number of them have said they're favorably disposed to the legislation."

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said the Democratic bill was designed to "tilt the political playing field" in Democrats' favor.

"I will oppose any legislation that is designed to gain an unfair advantage for one party, and any legislation that violates the First Amendment rights of Americans to participate in the political process," Cornyn said in a statement.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have made the court decision a campaign issue, and Obama’s criticism of the decision in his State of the Union address sparked a fight with conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

As Obama criticized the decision during his speech, Justice Samuel Alito was seen on television mouthing the words “Not true.”

The legislation faces a difficult path to Obama’s desk. 

Schumer was joined Thursday morning by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). In the afternoon, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, unveiled the House bill with Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), Castle and Jones. They predicted swift passage. 

“The legislation will let the sunshine in at a time when so many Americans are already concerned about the influence of powerful special interests on our democracy,” Van Hollen said. “Every citizen has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections, and our legislation will allow voters to follow the money and make informed decisions.

“Nobody should be afraid of this legislation unless they have something to hide,” Van Hollen added.  

Castle said the issue is about transparency and shouldn’t be a partisan one. 

“While First Amendment rights are paramount, Americans have a right to know who is paying for political advertisements,” he said. 

Brady pledged to hold at least two hearings on the bill, the first next week, so that “no one can say we’re jamming it through” Congress.  

Opponents vehemently argued that the legislation would chill free speech. 

David Bossie, a conservative activist and president of Citizens United, said the measure would force a group like his with modest means to spend thousands of dollars of donor money on a “battery” of attorneys. 

“This bill, like many that have come before it, is an incumbent-protection power-grab dressed up in the sheep’s clothing of reform,” he said, adding that the bill is precisely what the Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, sought to avoid. 

Bossie declined to say how the bill would chill free speech by requiring businesses, unions and other groups to disclose their expenditures on political advertisements and stand by their ads. 

Obama praised the legislation and urged Congress to pass it quickly.

"I hope that Congress will give this legislation the swift consideration it deserves, which is especially urgent now in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Passing the legislation is a critical step in restoring our government to its rightful owners: the American people," he said in a statement Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the legislation, saying it was about "election advantage."

“It should be beyond suspicious when the man in charge of electing Democrats in the House teams up with the man who held the same job in the Senate to tell Americans how they can express themselves in an election," McConnell said in a statement. "Make no mistake about it, the campaign finance bill introduced this morning is not about reform, transparency, accountability or good government. It is about election advantage, plain and simple."

Democrats released details about the legislation ahead of the unveiling.

It would ban companies that have at least 20 percent foreign ownership from spending on campaigns, and would require unions and corporate business groups to post their names on the ads they are sponsoring.

"We don't want someone like Hugo Chavez, who has no American interests in mind, to influence our elections," Schumer said in reference to the Venezuelan leader.

The bill would also force the U.S. Chamber and other trade groups to disclose donors who pay for advertisements in the Chamber’s name. Specifically, groups would have to disclose the names of those donors who offer $1,000 or more to their general fund. Groups would have the option of setting up a “campaign-related activity” fund at the Federal Election Commission and disclosing political donors who give at least $1,000.

But if the organization transfers $10,000 or more from its general fund to the campaign fund, it would have to disclose all of its general-fund donors who gave $10,000 or more.

The Supreme Court's January ruling held that restrictions on campaign spending by corporations violated the First Amendment.

This article was updated at 2:11 p.m.

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