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Democrats want new controls over corporate donations

Congressional Democrats have unveiled their response to a controversial Supreme Court ruling last month that allows corporations to spend freely on political advertising and other independent expenditures.

The proposal, by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., will add new disclosure requirements and restrict spending by foreign companies that operate in the United States.

The White House has signed off on the plan, which also aims to keep government contractors and bank bailout recipients from spending on campaigns and would require corporate executives to appear in political advertising paid for by their companies.

Schumer said lawmakers plan to introduce legislation on the subject within the next few weeks. Among other provisions of the proposal, according to the Washington Post:

  • Corporations would be banned from spending money on U.S. elections if a majority of their board of directors are foreign nationals, or if their U.S. operations fall under the direction of a foreign entity or country. Such measures would mark a significant strengthening of current limits on foreign influence in U.S. elections. "I think every American would agree that we do not want foreign interest spending money to try to affect those outcomes," said Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
  • Additional disclosures would be required for companies that help sponsor political advertising. The Democratic lawmakers said they are still considering whether to demand shareholder approval for campaign spending.
  • Unions, advocacy groups and all corporations, including nonprofits, would be required to set up special accounts for spending on "political activities" and would be required to report contributions and spending details to the Federal Election Commission.

Republicans are skeptical. Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, told the Wall Street Journal: "The head of the Democrats' House campaign committee and the former head of the Democrats' Senate campaign committee have teamed up to introduce a bill — do you think it will make it easier for Democrats to fill their campaign coffers?"

In California, which already allows independent expenditures from corporations, the impact of any legislation would be felt most immediately on this year’s Senate race between incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and whichever Republican – Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore or Tom Campbell – emerges from the June primary.

Congressional leaders, including California representative and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were also in on shaping the proposal.

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