Sherrod Brown Introduces Citizens United Fixes
By David Dayen, FireDog Lake

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has introduced a bill that would mitigate the effects of the Citizens United ruling on corporate political spending. Saying that corporations already have enormous influence in Washington, as evidenced by their $3.3 billion dollars in annual lobbying expenses, Brown’s bill would at least try to stop this influence from moving into the electoral sphere.

The bill has three major parts. First, it would promote accountability by requiring all corporate shareholders to vote before a company can commit to any election spending. Saying that half of all Americans own stock, Brown judged that they should be able to consent to any corporate political spending from a company they own.

Next, the bill would apply the “stand by your ad” standard for political candidates to corporate spending. CEOs would have to offer an “I approve this message” statement at the end of any advertising. If the spending was carried off through a shell group called “Americans for Accountability” or something of that nature, the funder of the association would need to deliver the sponsorship message, not the head of the shell group.

Finally, the bill would prohibit foreign corporations, including government-owned wealth funds or corporate entities, from engaging in political speech. “If anything should have the label ‘Made in America’, it should be elections,” said Brown.

Asked if unions should also be subject to these accountability and transparency measures, Brown pushed back, saying that corporate speech and union speech were not equivalent because of the relative size. In addition to unions having elections for officers and decision-makers, Brown said that “Corporations made $10 trillion dollars last year, and union dues equaled $6 billion. It’s the difference in scale between the size of my arm and the Empire State Building. To make them equal is too far of a reach. In fact, it shows the corporate influence in our body politic.”

While Brown was open to dealing with various disclosure issues in the elections process separately, his bill was tailored specifically to deal with the corporate spending issues brought up by the Citizens United ruling. He expressed support for a more wide-ranging Constitutional amendment looking at corporate personhood or overturning Buckley v. Valeo, but considered that too arduous a process to deal with an immediate issue. “This bill is in rapid response to a huge new problem, the grand-daddy of all campaign finance problems,” Brown said.

Brown said that his bill, which is among several dealing with the Citizens United decision, would be acted upon soon in the Senate, hopefully in time for the 2010 election cycle. If Republicans are swayed by their Tea Party base, perhaps some of them would even agree to the limits. Tea Party activists have openly opposed the Supreme Court ruling, with one saying “We might as well be able to vote for Disney.”

He excoriated the Supreme Court for favoring corporate interests in making the decision. “This is not the first decision these five Justices have made that favor privilege over the rest of us.”


UPDATE: Brown’s own site on this.