Chamber: Citizens United ‘Fix’ gives unions upper hand

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday that Democrats’ campaign finance reform legislation will give unions the upper hand in the coming midterm elections. 

Bruce Josten, the business association’s top lobbyist, compared the reform bill to another measure it and other industry groups have lobbied furiously against, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make union organizing much easier. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“This is just like ‘card-check,’” Josten told reporters Tuesday, using the shorthand for the labor-backed EFCA. “This is changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game to clearly benefit one side.

“It is a job-protection bill for incumbent lawmakers in Washington.” 

Josten’s mention of EFCA shows how concerned trade associations are about the Democrats’ legislative response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. 

Many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, condemned that ruling, which lifted limits on corporate and labor spending in political campaigns. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) crafted the Disclose Act in response. That bill is beginning to move swiftly through Congress and could earn a House floor vote before the Memorial Day recess. 

Business groups have tried to stall it. 

In a May 20 letter to all House Administration Committee members, 86 national and state-level trade associations, including the Chamber, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, called on members to reject the Disclose Act. But the panel marked the bill up last week and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, has set a Wednesday deadline for filing any amendments, a sign that it might soon come to the floor. 

Chamber officials said the Disclose Act places more restrictions on corporations than on unions. 

For example, companies with government contracts worth $50,000 or more and those with foreign ownership would be banned from funding political ads and engaging in other campaign-related activity. The business group believes unions that receive federal grants, have collective bargaining agreements with the government or have international affiliates should be subject to similar limits.

Eugene Scalia, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and counsel to the Chamber, said the Disclose Act does not balance restrictions on corporations and unions equally, as previous campaign finance reform bills have. 

“This bill is a departure from that tradition,” he said. 

A spokesman for Van Hollen disagreed with the Chamber, saying it was “engaged in an aggressive campaign of misinformation” and that the Disclose Act treats corporations and unions the same.

“The Disclose Act treats labor unions and corporations the same, plain and simple,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Van Hollen. “The ban on political expenditures by federal contractors, for example, includes any entity that has a contract with the federal government, whether it is a corporation or a labor union.”

A union spokesman said lawmakers and labor lobbyists are still discussing details of the legislation, but labor officials feel that the bill should take a tougher line against corporations because of their “disproportionate influence.” 

“We do agree that the final bill should treat corporations different than democratic organizations such as unions,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO. “We hold the position that, among other things, the legislation should counter the excessive and disproportionate influence by big business and guarantee effective disclosure of who is paying for what.”

The aim of the Disclose Act is to shed light on which interests are paying for political ads, by having a CEO or union leader appear in the ad saying he or she endorses its message and listing the top five donors paying for the ad. But, according to Chamber officials, that could lead to corporations being deterred from participating in the political process and infringe on free speech.

Josten said the Chamber’s company members have expressed concern about the bill, and the business group would likely score the vote for lawmakers when it comes to the floor. If the Disclose Act passes, it could also prompt a court challenge.

“That certainly is possible. We are going to challenge it first in the Congress,” Josten said.