March 2, 2010
Legislative Proposals in Response to Citizens United
A New York Times article published last week detailed the anxieties felt by some Democrats over the extent to which the Supreme Court's decision in Citzens United v. Federal Election Commission will encourage coporations to use nonprofits to shield them from public disclosure of their campaign payments:
A 1986 Supreme Court decision, Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, opened the way for certain narrowly-defined nonprofit groups to advertise for and against political candidates. However, the 1986 decision forbade corporations and unions to give money to nonprofit organizations that financed advocacy advertisements. The Citizens United decision lifts that ban.
That means that those nonprofit groups, which are not required to disclose their donors, can now use corporate contributions to buy political commercials, and the corporations can potentially operate behind the anonymity of their donations.“Clearly, that’s where the action’s going to be,” said Kenneth A. Gross, a Washington lawyer who advises corporations on political law.
While last month’s decision allows corporations to spend without limit on advertising for or against candidates, if they do so directly, they will have to report their expenditures and identify their donors. Mr. Gross said corporations are often loath to have their names attached to such advertisements. The nonprofit groups, with their legal ability to withhold donors’ names, offer an attractive alternative, he said.
The report states that Democrats have proposed legislation requiring more disclosure by nonprofits that receive political contributions. A summary of the proposed legislation is available here. For a complete lists of the federal legislative proposals made in response to Citizens United as of January 27, 2010, go here.
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