Vulnerable Democrats defend support for campaign finance legislation

Several vulnerable Democrats are defending their support for a new campaign finance bill in the face of vigorous opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests.

The Chamber and other business groups, including the Organization for International Investment (OFII), the National Association of Business PACs and the American Council of Life Insurers, have blasted Democratic efforts to pass legislation that blunts the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year.


Chamber President Thomas Donohue on Thursday reiterated his opposition to the Disclose Act, calling the bill “an unconstitutional attempt to silence free speech” and a “desperate attempt” by Democrats to gain political advantage in the 2010 elections.

“It’s unconstitutional,” Donohue said. “It’s un-American. And it must be stopped.”

The House version of the bill, which was marked up in the Administration Committee on Thursday afternoon, has 100 co-sponsors, nearly two dozen of whom face competitive races, according to The Cook Political Report.

“Democratic members will have put their necks on the line and the business community is not going to forget it this fall,” said one K Street source. “This is one vote you do not want to cast, because you are putting yourself in the kill zone unnecessarily.”

Still, many of these vulnerable Democrats are standing squarely behind the Disclose Act, arguing that their constituents support its core goal: ensuring that corporations and unions can’t spend hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars on ads without providing information about who is funding them.

The bill would force the Chamber and other trade groups and unions to stand by their ads and disclose donors who pay for advertisements in the trade group’s or union’s name.

“Business interests in North Dakota don’t want the Chamber to be a campaign finance laundering outfit,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), a bill co-sponsor whose race is considered competitive.

The Disclose Act also 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 sponsor.

“The National Chamber of Commerce has supported shipping American jobs overseas and now is fighting a bill that would ban foreign-controlled companies from spending on U.S. elections,” Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), who faces a tough reelection contest, said in a statement. “I want to make sure that foreign-controlled companies stay out of American elections, and I know my constituents want them out also.”

OFII’s Nancy McLernon earlier this week sent a letter to members of the Administration Committee arguing that the bill produces unintended consequences by using overly broad language to restrict foreign political influence in U.S. elections.


“The bill as introduced overreaches by redefining U.S. subsidiaries of companies as ‘foreign nationals,’ triggering a host of broad discriminatory consequences for these companies and their American employees,” she wrote.

Chamber political director Bill Miller has vowed to make the bill one of the association’s key votes, which big interest groups use to “score” candidates and determine whom to support or target.

“There’s no question that should this one-sided, selective protection of some First Amendment rights ever come to the [House] floor … we would key-vote against it,” Miller said.

Rep. John Boccieri (Ohio), another Democrat who faces a strong opponent this cycle, expressed little concern about the Chamber targeting his race because of his sponsorship of the Disclose Act. When he talks to constituents, he says they tell him they disagree with the high court’s decision in Citizens United.

“I disagree with the notion that corporations should have an equal voice with citizens of the United States,” he said. “People don’t want more money in politics; they want less.”

Other Democratic members in safe districts argue that the Chamber’s aggressive attempts to defeat the Disclose Act could backfire on them because members won’t stand to be threatened.

“People don’t like to be threatened,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who supports the Disclose Act and has co-sponsored a much more ambitious response to Citizens United, a measure to establish public financing for congressional races. “It’s counterproductive. If [business groups] think they can impact an election because of this bill, come and get it.”

Critics of the high court’s decision, which lifted limits on corporate and union spending on political advertisements, worry that it will unleash an avalanche of new ads this summer and fall, just as the campaign season for a critical election shifts into high gear.

Democrats, led by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) in the House and Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (N.Y.), who chaired Senate Democrats’ campaign arm last cycle, are hoping to pass the bill by July 4 so it can have an impact this electoral season.

While the measure will likely pass the House, it could get hamstrung in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to agree to move forward to consider a bill on the floor. Because of such strong opposition from business groups, if it gets stymied in the Senate, vulnerable House Democrats who co-sponsored or voted in favor of the bill could end up paying a political price without receiving any real net benefit from
the measure this cycle.