President Obama Urges Senate Action on Campaign Finance Disclosure

BY Quinn Bowman  July 26, 2010 at 5:50 PM EDT

President Obama spoke in the White House Rose Garden Monday to urge the U.S. Senate to join the House of Representatives in passing the DISCLOSE Act — aimed at making political advertising more transparent after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that eliminated campaign advertising spending limits for corporations and unions.

The DISCLOSE Act would force corporations and other interest groups to reveal how they are spending money on advertising. It would also limit the political participation of foreign governments and companies that have contracts with the federal government. Leaders of corporations or groups that spend on ads would have to appear in the ads as well. The Senate will vote Tuesday on ending debate for the act — if Democrats cannot get support from at least one Republican, the GOP will successfully block a vote on the act.

President Obama laid out what he sees as the consequences of the Citizens United decision, which would allow companies, unions or non-profit groups to spend millions on advertising. The decision proved to be extraordinarily unpopular among Americans. A February Washington Post/ABC poll found that eight in 10 opposed the ruling and 81 percent of independents opposed it.

“Worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who’s actually paying for the ads. Instead, a group can hide behind a name like ‘Citizens for a Better Future,’ even if the more accurate name would be ‘Companies for Weaker Oversight.’ These shadow groups are already forming and building war chests of tens of millions of dollars to influence the fall elections,” Mr. Obama said.

He accused Republicans of blocking yet another importance piece of legislation — Republican senators forced Democrats to get 60 votes in order to pass emergency unemployment insurance legislation last week.

“You’d think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense, particularly since they primarily involve just making sure that folks who are financing these ads are disclosed so that the American people can make up their own minds,” President Obama said. “Republicans are using every tactic to prevent it from coming up to a vote.”

Congressional Republican leaders pushed back. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a stalwart opponent of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, issued a statement saying that the act is designed to help keep Democrats in office.

“The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment. In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our Constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency,” McConnell said.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner also issued a statement accusing President Obama of focusing on the jobs of Democratic politicians instead of the unemployed.

The House version of the act created a carve-out that would exempt labor unions from certain disclosure rules, and created an exemption for the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobbying organization. The Senate version, sponsored by New York Democrat Charles Schumer, eliminated the provision that created some exemptions for unions.