Obama backs 'Oz' reform: Expose wizards behind campaign funding

President Obama says Congress should force special interest groups to show their face when running political campaign attack ads. Opponents call the election funding reform a poorly veiled effort by Democrats to get an edge in tough upcoming elections.

By , Staff writer

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    From left, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. take part in a campaign finance news conference in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday, April 29.
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Famously "troubled" by the Supreme Court's allowing corporate cash to sway voters with attack ads, President Obama is fighting back with could be called the "Oz law."

In his weekly Saturday radio and web address, Obama urged Congress to pass a simple, but potentially potent, reform: Tear away the curtain from "shadowy campaign committees" by showing a picture of the CEO, lobbyist or wealthy political donor along with the attack ad.

Obama's support of the Disclose Act (short for "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections"), introduced Thursday by House and Senate Democrats, comes as the Supreme Court last week argued another case of anonymity in politics: the ability of petitioners to avoid harassment by keeping their signatures secret.

So far, both unions and business interests are grumbling about the proposed law, arguing that it doesn't adequate protect free speech and is a poorly veiled effort by Democrats to stall a Republican come-back in the November elections.

"The American people … have the right to know when some group like 'Citizens for a Better Future' is actually funded entirely by 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight,'" Obama said. "[W]hat we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections. And what is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy."

In its Citizens United ruling, the Court essentially OK'd what has amounted to a flow of $45 million in soft money into political TV ads since 2000. But the court also asserted the right of government to force disclosure of top donors behind the ads.

Beyond forcing donors to "Say cheese," as Sen. Al Franken puts it, the proposed law limits spending by groups that have taken government bail-out money, as well as foreign donors to US elections.

Republicans' willingness to either oppose or go along with the measure will test Washington's political climate, especially as many Americans clamor for a crack down on Wall Street excesses.

But the President said Saturday he expects forceful opposition to the bill as it hits committee hearings this coming week.

Critics point out that the House sponsor, Chris Van Hollen, chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Senate sponsor, Chuck Schumer, is immediate past chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – both fund-raising arms of the national party.

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“This should be seen by the American people – and will be seen by the American people – as nothing than that – an incumbent protection bill,” Citizen United's David Bossie, whose group won the Supreme Court case earlier this year, told Politico. The bill also “chills free speech. And this is all about free speech," Mr. Bossie added.

Yet corporations and wealthy donors aren't the only ones that would have to re-consider and possibly amend their campaign strategies if the bill becomes law. It could affect Democratic Party politics in many states, as well as limit ubiquitous union attack ads.

In a vigorous debate over the issue of anonymity for petition-signers last week, Supreme Court Justices offered a few more clues on the issue of whether or not political participants should be able to hide behind a curtain.

"What about just wanting to know their names so you can criticize them?" asked Justice Antonin Scalia. "Is that such a bad thing for democracy?" Scalia added that a prerequisite for political participation is "civic courage."

Related:

At Supreme Court: Privacy for those who sign petitions to curb gay rights?

Citizens United: What the Supreme Court's decision on campaign money means for you

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