House Passes Campaign Bill; Measure Calls for Stricter Finance Disclosures

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Byline: Sean Lengell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A first push by congressional Democrats to counter a Supreme Court decision allowing business and labor groups to spend freely in political campaigns cleared a big hurdle Thursday, as the House narrowly passed legislation that calls for stricter campaign finance disclosures.

The bill, which among other provisions would require that the top five donors of outside groups be identified when they advertise in a political campaign, passed the House by a vote of 219-206, with a number of moderate Democrats defecting on the final vote.

The bill, which carves out controversial exemptions for groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), heads to the Senate, where it faces scrutiny from both parties.

Under the bill, companies holding government contracts worth at least $10 million, corporations with a majority of foreign shareholders and companies that receive taxpayer bailout funds would be banned from engaging in independent political activity.

You vote 'no' on this, you are saying, 'Go ahead and spend millions of dollars - corporations or individuals - and say whatever you want, .. but we're not going to let the voters know who you are,'" said the bill's chief sponsor,

Rep Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat. That's what a lot of these interests want.

But, in line with the argument embraced by a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court case in January, Republicans said the bill was unconstitutional because it would limit free speech. They also argued it did not go far enough to ensure that unions disclose their political activities.

The bill attempts to use the First Amendment as a partisan sledgehammer to silence certain speakers in favor of others, especially unions, said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

The legislation is a response to the high court's ruling last winter that said businesses and unions could spend their own money directly on attempts to sway presidential or congressional elections. The 5-4 ruling overturned decades of precedent, and Democrats in Congress quickly announced plans to overturn some or all of the decision.

President Obama singled out the decision for criticism in his State of the Union address, with a number of the justices seated just yards from where he spoke.

Corporations are not human beings. .. Their mothers can't die of cancer, their sons can't be sent off to war, said Rep Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat. Corporations are political zombies, knowing only the pursuit of the flesh of profit.

Fearing the measure wouldn't pass, Democratic leaders inserted a provision saying that certain organizations that have been in existence for at least a decade and have at least a 500,00 dues-paying members in all states wouldn't need to reveal their top donors. …