On Thursday, three weeks after the Supreme Court eviscerated campaign finance laws by ruling that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, the Democratic leadership in Congress finally unveiled a legislative response. Scattered Democrats, like Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and John Hall (D-N.Y.) had been criticizing the decision and suggesting legal remedies for weeks. But today's effort has the backing of Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a top Senate Democrat, and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Nancy Pelosi's right-hand man, making it as close to an "official" Democratic response as we've seen so far. The legislative framework proposed by Schumer and Van Hollen doesn't call for public financing of elections, but it's a pretty solid response* that includes the following:
- Ban on expenditures from foreign interests;
- Ban on expenditures from Federal contractors;
- Ban on expenditures from TARP recipients;
- Disclosure to the public through enhanced reporting through the Federal Election Commission and Lobbying Disclosure Act;
- Disclosure to shareholders directly and through the Securities and Exchange Commission;
- Stand By Your Ad (CEO and donor disclosure);
- Lowest Unit Rate (air time for candidates and party committees);
- Coordination Rules (tightened between outside groups and candidates).
The ban on expenditures by Federal contractors and the public disclosure requirements (including Stand By Your Ad, which would require CEOs and donors to say "I'm ____, and I paid for this ad") are probably the most important parts of this. Lots of companies do business with the Federal government, and a blanket ban on expenditures by that group would prevent, for example, defense contractors from banding together to oppose candidates who wanted to cut military spending. And most companies don't want to get too publicly involved in political controversies—so disclosure requirements might be a somewhat-effective deterrent. Still, the companies that are absolutely determined to spend money on political campaigns aren't going to be stopped by any of this. That would require a constitutional amendment. Lawrence Lessig says that's exactly what America needs. What do you think?
*UPDATE, 4:45pm EST: I tend to respect Lessig's judgment on a lot of these issues, and he just sent out an email calling the response "In a word: hopeless." The Schumer/Van Hollen package "is filled with ideas that either won't work or that, if they worked, would only invite the Supreme Court to strike again," he argues. Full text after the jump.