Left, right gear up for campaign-finance clash before 2012 elections

Liberals and conservatives alike are gearing up for battles over campaign financing rules in anticipation of the 2012 election, which will decide control of the White House and Congress.

Liberal groups want to impose disclosure rules on shadowy political advocacy groups that raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in corporate contributions on the 2010 midterm elections.

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wants to repeal the public financing system that Democratic presidential candidates — prior to President Obama — relied on to keep pace with their Republican opponents. He says it would save taxpayers $520 million over 10 years.

Politicians and special-interest groups have scrambled to adapt to the new campaign spending rules ushered in by the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which lifted restrictions on corporations and labor unions spending general treasury funds to influence elections.

Congressional Democrats will push a pared-down version of the Disclose Act to limit the fallout from the Citizens United decision.

The plan is to strip out restrictions on government contractors and foreign-owned domestic corporations from spending to influence elections, according to a source familiar with negotiations.

The legislation would focus narrowly on greater transparency and require groups that spend heavily on elections to disclose their donors. It would also require the top five donors of non-restricted funds to be listed on the screen at the end of a television advertisement.

Proponents of these new disclosure rules believe they can win Republican support if the limits on contractors and foreign-owned subsidiaries are set aside.

“We’re finding a number of Republicans, including freshman Republicans who believe in openness and disclosure,” said Craig Holman, the government-affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a group that favors stronger regulation of campaign fundraising.

Democrats are also pushing legislation that would give corporate shareholders greater say over how companies spend to influence elections.

The legislation would require that corporations accurately represent their shareholders' political interests. It would also require an authorizing vote by a majority of shareholders before general treasury funds can be spent on political activities, and for shareholders to receive quarterly notification of corporate political spending.

The bill’s author, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), is looking for a Republican co-sponsor.

Republican leaders plan to bring to the floor next week legislation that would eliminate federal funding of presidential elections and nominating conventions.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It is one of a series of cost-saving measures Republicans plan to send to the Senate in the weeks ahead.

Liberal groups are also moving to limit the influence of corporate political spending at the state level. They are extremely concerned about the new power corporations wield in Washington in the wake of the November election, which Obama described as a “shellacking” for Democrats.

“Our focus is going to be state work, campaign finance reform and public financing at the state level,” said Mary Boyle, vice president of communications at Common Cause, a group that favors greater regulation of campaign fundraising.

Obama on Friday announced the establishment of the Council on Jobs and Economic Competitiveness, a revamped version of the Economic Recovery Board that advised the president on economic matters during the first two years of his term.

Obama tapped Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, to head the board, raising the concerns of labor leaders. Immelt was quoted by the Financial Times last year blasting Obama as anti-business during a dinner with Italian executives.

Obama showed increased deference to corporate America earlier this month when he named William Daley, a senior executive at JPMorgan Chase, as his White House chief of staff.

An array of liberal policy experts decried the impact of Citizens United in a series of events organized Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of the ruling.

“One year and one election after the decision, we know that Citizens United remade the electoral landscape,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Not only did it enable corporations to write large checks to affect who would and would not be elected, but it also established that Wild West rules would prevail for campaign 2010.”

Weissman said elected officials are now more leery to support policies that powerful corporations oppose, because it could cost them reelection.

“They face the prospect of an unaccountable, outside campaign to defeat them in the next election," Weissman said.