WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced new legislation today aimed at curbing the influence of special interests in Washington. Brown’s bill, which comes in the wake of the January Supreme Court ruling that corporations can use company dollars to influence the democratic process, would subject corporate campaign contributions to new measures of transparency and accountability.
“Our government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Brown said. “This bill is about ensuring that the interests of middle class families are not drowned out by the interests of multi-billion dollar corporations and making sure foreign interest can’t influence our elections. If the Supreme Court thinks that corporations should be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, these companies should have to play by a strict set of rules. This legislation is about ensuring accountability and transparency in the political process.”
On January 21, the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. This means that special interests – from Big Oil to multinational prescription drug firms – can now spend unlimited funds on advertisements and independent expenditures aimed at influencing the outcome of elections.
The top three Fortune 500 companies in 2009 brought in an average profit of more than $27 billion. Last year, special interests spent $3.3 billion lobbying Congress. The average Ohio household income, however, was a little more than $48,000 in 2008.
Brown’s legislation, the Citizens Right to Know Act, would require the shareholders of a corporation to vote to approve political expenditures in advance of any spending. The bill would empower shareholders – many of whom are middle class Americans whose pensions and 401(k)s are tied to stock – to determine if corporate funds should be spent on political campaigns or on creating jobs or paying out dividends.
The Citizens Right to Know Act would also require corporate CEOs to personally reveal sponsorship akin to disclosures required of political candidates that fund advertisements. In addition, the bill would strengthen protections against the influence of foreign interests on the American political process by preventing any company that is majority owned by a foreign entity from making political expenditures.