GOP brings in legal heavyweights to fight campaign finance bill

House Republicans stepped up their attacks on the Democrats’ campaign finance legislation, bringing in legal heavy-hitters to testify at a House Administration meeting.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson and Citizens United President Dave Bossie, whose group challenged the federal ban on political advertisements, testified before the committee Thursday on behalf of the Republicans.

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Democrats relied on Public Citizen's Craig Holman and U.S. PIRG’s Lisa Gilbert, as well as campaign finance attorney Don Simon, to make their case for a bill that would force corporations, unions and other groups to stand by their ads by requiring CEOs, top officials and major donors to appear on camera to “approve” messages, just as politicians are required to do with their own political ads.

The measure also would further define coordination between candidates and outside entities and impose new restrictions on government contractors and foreign governments funding ads.

The hearing was the second held on the new bill, Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (Disclose Act), which is co-sponsored by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and GOP Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Walter Jones (N.C.).

Democratic Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (Ore.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) are offering a similar version in the Senate.

The legislation is designed to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 21 Citizens United decision, which lifted limits on corporate, union and other special interest spending on political advertisements.

Most congressional Republicans support the decision and are digging in for a protracted legal battle against the legislation if they can’t stop it from being passed before July 4, as Democrats plan. Democrats have said they hope to get the bill passed in time to affect the November elections.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) wasted no time in accusing Democrats of crafting the legislation behind closed doors and ignoring Republican concerns about it.

“Mr. Chairman, I have made repeated offers of cooperation and good will toward your side on this issue,” he said in his opening statement. “I offered to consult and work together. I sent two letters, which received no response until they were reported in the press. This is not how we should tackle this issue.”

Lungren also quoted statements from Schumer, the lead author of the bill in the Senate, back in February when Democrats first announced a working framework for the bill, saying that he hoped the legislation would prevent some businesses, unions or other groups from spending huge sums on political advertising. Lungren reminded those gathered at the hearing that Schumer had said ‘”the deterrent effect should not be underestimated.’”

“It appears to be a very direct statement of the wish of the legislation to abridge free speech,” Lungren said.

Throughout the hearing, Olson hailed the high court ruling as a victory for free speech, and said court challenges would consider the motivation behind the legislation and whether it was intended to have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Americans.

“The First Amendment says Congress will make no law abridging freedom of speech,” he said. “If disclosure requirements become onerous, then that is a violation of freedom of speech.”

Republicans also complained about the burden the proposed bill would place on large and small businesses and other groups, specifically the time it would take for groups to make statements standing by their ads.

Lungren said his staff had tested the names and organizations of witnesses at the hearings if they were planning to run ads and were required to make statements saying they approve the ads. It would take an average of 13 seconds of expensive airtime to make the stand-by-your-ad statements, Lungren said his aides discovered.

In animated testimony, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) said he only had minor concerns about the Citizens United ruling but could not see how anyone, Republican or Democrat, could disagree with requirements that organizations funding political advertisements must disclose who they are and how much they are spending on them.

“The concept of simply letting voters know who is saying what is unassailable to me,” he said. “No one thinks we should have secret [campaign] donations to candidates, do they?”

Olson interjected at one point, but Capuano cut him off.

“This is not the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said. “Anyone can argue anything and there will no doubt be court challenges to any law we pass … I have no doubt no matter what we come up with, that Mr. Bossie, you will be in court challenging it. And God bless you.

“But the concept of publicizing who is behind political ads cannot be assailed in any rational, reasonable way in my district, and the entire country,” he said.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said he hates to raise money for his campaigns, but doing so is part of the process and involves individual people in his races. In the same way, he said, there should be no restrictions on who can fund political advertisements. Even overly burdensome disclosure requirements, he argued, could result in limits on free speech.

“I know the bill’s name is Disclose, but I see this more as the Restrict Act,” he said.