Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Senate Goes Back to the Drawing Board on Campaign Finance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Senate Goes Back to the Drawing Board on Campaign Finance

Article excerpt

A Senate committee on Tuesday discussed how to limit the US Supreme Court campaign-finance ruling that opened elections to corporate ads. One suggestion: a constitutional amendment.

A key Senate committee took its first close look on Tuesday at a possible legislative response to a recent US Supreme Court decision that opens the way for unrestricted independent corporate advertising during elections.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration is considering several proposals, including a call by some lawmakers to write an explicit restriction into the First Amendment limiting corporate political speech.

"I think we need a constitutional amendment to make clear that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals," Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts told the panel.

He said the time for comprehensive campaign-finance reforms had arrived. "The government should stop tinkering around the edges of a system that is broken beyond repair," Senator Kerry said.

Debate over corporate campaigning

The comments come amid a continuing national debate over the Supreme Court's Jan. 21 decision that corporations have a constitutional right to spend their money on broadcast advertisements to make a political point during election season.

President Obama raised the issue during his State of the Union address last week, accusing the majority justices of reversing "a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections."

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito reacted to statement, shaking his head.

The president's characterization of the ruling was inaccurate. It did not reverse "a century of law" and does not allow foreign corporations to spend unlimited amounts in US elections.

Foreign influence in elections?

It does, however, erode a century-long aspiration to limit the influence of corporations in American politics. And it could open the way for foreign influence in elections (which is still illegal) through broadcast ads placed by US-based subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

In general, Democrats have attacked the high court ruling and Republicans have praised it. Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah said the Supreme Court decision simply allows other corporations to do what US media corporations like CBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN have always been allowed to do.

"They all have the right to say 'vote for or against this candidate,' and they do it every election," he said. "They all have that right under the Constitution."

With an intensifying debate, it remains unclear how Congress will respond. In addition to Tuesday's hearing, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution is set to hold a similar hearing Wednesday morning.

Measures under consideration include beefing up public disclosure and disclaimer requirements. …

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