Chuck Schumer, Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden and Evan Bayh announced today the introduction of the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance law which would increase transparency and restore some of the limits overturned by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. A similar bill has been introduced in the House with bipartisan sponsors Chris Van Hollen and Mike Castle.

The bill would bar foreign-owned corporations, including US corporations with substantial foreign ownership, from campaign spending. It would also stop any government contractors or TARP recipients from participating in federal elections, a major measure that would end a healthy amount of corporate spending, if properly managed. Thirdly, the bill would require substantial transparency on the part of unions and corporations, with full disclosure of donors and a “stand by your ad” inside any political advertising.

Schumer and his counterparts hope to complete work on the DISCLOSE Act by the Fourth of July. President Obama gave it a thumbs-up today:

“I welcome the introduction of this strong bi-partisan legislation to control the flood of special interest money into America’s elections. Powerful special interests and their lobbyists should not be able to drown out the voices of the American people. Yet they work ceaselessly toward that goal: they claim the protection of the Constitution in extending this power, and they exploit every loophole in the law to escape limits on their activities. The legislation introduced today would establish the toughest-ever disclosure requirements for election-related spending by big oil corporations, Wall Street and other special interests, so the American people can follow the money and see clearly which special interests are funding political campaign activity and trying to buy representation in our government. I have long believed that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this legislation will shine an unprecedented light on corporate spending in political campaigns. This bill will also prohibit foreign entities from manipulating the outcomes of American elections and help close other special interest loopholes. I hope that Congress will give this legislation the swift consideration it deserves, which is especially urgent now in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Passing the legislation is a critical step in restoring our government to its rightful owners: the American people.”

Sen. Schumer noted in the press event on the DISCLOSE Act that the Supreme Court suggested transparency as a way to blunt the effect of corporate campaign spending. Of course, the Supreme Court won’t vote on this; Congress will. And it remains to be seen if Democrats in the Senate can get the votes they need to stop what amounts to unlimited, unregulated corporate purchase of elections.

UPDATE: The House introduced their version of this bill today, with bipartisan co-sponsors, including Mike Castle (R-DE) and Walter Jones (R-NC). I thought Jones’ statement was interesting:

I don’t know many people in Eastern North Carolina who believe that transparency is a bad idea, or that Chinese or Russian-flagged companies should be able to spend unlimited amounts to influence U.S. elections, or that Wall Street banks should be allowed to spend their bailout money on campaign ads. This bill would address those issues.

This will be the blueprint for how the opposition to this bill will get questioned.

The text of the 84-page bill is here.

David Dayen

David Dayen