Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) announced Monday his support of Congressional legislation aimed at lessening the impact of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could allow corporations and unions to spend unprecedented amounts of money in elections.
"This ruling could further compromise folks' already weakened trust of the institutions of elections," said Welch. "This would put some constraints on the open spigot allowed by this razor-thin, 5-4 ruling of the Supreme Court."
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations, and unions, should be treated as individuals when it comes to restrictions against political speech, and therefore political spending.
Welch, and several others who joined him Monday, said the decision could pump even more corporate and union influence into the election cycle than currently exists.
Joining Welch at the press conference was Vermont League of Women Voters board member Vee Gordon, Vermont Public Interest Research Group executive director Paul Burns and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters vice president Paul Comey.
"Elections are for the people, and we voters should be able to elect candidates to office without the flashing of big pocketbooks in the process," said Gordon.
"We hope that parts of it can be enacted in time for the 2010 elections," said Gordon.
Welch said he's not sure if legislation can pass both chambers of Congress in time to affect the 2010 elections, but he says there is bipartisan agreement that more transparency, and disclosure, is needed in federal election law.
"The Supreme Court gave a gift to those who need it least," added Burns.
Comey said Green Mountain Coffee Roasters supports the changes to campaign finance law as it would create more transparency in corporate spending in elections.
"As a publicly-traded company, we deal with rules and regulations all the time that require a great deal of transparency," said Comey. "That's why we support these efforts in Congress, because they are all about transparency."
The legislation backed by Welch could enact immediately to ban “pay-to-play,” prevent foreign influence in elections, enhance disclaimers and prevent corporations and unions from coordinating with candidates and parties. At the same time, Welch called for a constitutional amendment to clarify Congress’ authority to limit corporate campaign contributions by passing a constitutional amendment to that effect.
“In one fell swoop a slim majority of the Supreme Court upended nearly one hundred years of practice and precedent barring corporations from taking part in direct political campaign activities. In so doing, they have opened the door to a flood of corporate cash, which could drown out the voices of ordinary Americans,” Welch said.
Working with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Welch announced his support for several measures to combat the Citizen United decision:
Ban Pay-to-Play: Prevent government contractors and recipients of the Troubled Asset Relief Program from spending any money on elections.
Prevent foreign influence in elections: Ban corporations with 20 percent foreign ownership, a majority of foreign board members or with operations under the control of a foreign entity to spend money on U.S. elections.
Enhance disclaimers to identify ad sponsors: Require CEOs to appear on camera to identify their responsibility for placing television advertisements and require the top corporate donors to shell organizations to appear in their ads.
Prevent corporations and unions from coordinating activities with candidates and parties: Ban coordination within 90 days of a primary election for House and Senate races and 120 days for a presidential race.
Welch also announced his support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision by empowering Congress and the states to regulate political contributions by corporations.
He also told reporters that he would rather see campaigns publicly-funded.
Last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) railed against the Supreme Court decision on the Senate floor, prompting one conservative talk show host to imply the senator was drunk.
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