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The Monitor's View

The next battle in campaign finance reform

Lawmakers in Congress have unveiled legislation to temper the Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited spending by corporations and unions on political campaign ads. They could use help from Republicans who have supported campaign finance reform in the past.

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More problematic might be the bills’ outright bans on campaign spending by foreign-controlled domestic corporations as well as government contractors (although, interestingly, unions are not targeted). The legislation defines “foreign controlled” according to the standards of states such as Delaware – 20 percent owned by a foreign national. It also bars campaign spending by domestic corporations where foreign nationals have influential leadership positions. Businesses that have government contracts worth more than $50,000 would also be banned from campaign spending.

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The bills’ backers make a pretty good case for these provisions. Election law forbids foreign individuals, governments, and corporations from participating in US elections, so why not foreign-controlled US corporations? And, supporters argue, they are simply extending existing bans on government-contractor political contributions to include political spending – all in the name of avoiding “I grease your palm, you grease mine” favors.

And yet, the provisions establish fairly low thresholds that could sweep a lot of US companies into an outright ban on political ad spending. That would seem to defy the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, no matter how strenuously one might disagree with it.

What would help here is bipartisan cooperation to make this legislation as strong and impervious to a court battle as possible.

Two Republicans are cosponsoring the Disclose Act in the House: Mike Castle of Delaware and Walter Jones of North Carolina. Sadly, no Senate Republicans have come forward to join Democratic supporters Charles Schumer of New York and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold – a champion of campaign finance reform. He worked closely with Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain on the 2002 overhaul of campaign finance.

Money can have a corrupting influence on elections and lawmaking. Controlling it is a never-ending battle. Twenty-one Republicans who voted for McCain-Feingold reform are still in Congress. How is it that only two are willing to take on this next fight?