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US House approves campaign finance reform legislation
US House approves campaign finance reform legislation
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[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday voted 219 to 206 [roll call] to approve legislation [HR 5175 materials] aimed at decreasing the ability of corporations and other special interest groups to influence elections. The bill, known as the Disclose Act, was developed in response to the January US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report], which eased restrictions on political campaign spending by corporations. If signed into law, the bill would prohibit corporations receiving federal contracts worth more than $7 million from spending money on “electioneering communications” and would also prohibit foreign-controlled domestic corporations from financing campaigns. Corporations donating money to political campaigns would be required to file a certification with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] indicating they are legally able to make such donations. The bill exempts § 501(c)(4) [text] organizations with more than 500,000 members, which will allow organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Sierra Club [advocacy websites] to continue financing campaigns. The bill’s primary author, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) [official website] praised its passage [press release] and indicated the Senate would be addressing the matter soon, stating:

Passage of the bipartisan DISCLOSE Act is truly a victory for the American people, who have a right to know which organizations are spending millions to influence their vote and who is funding that effort. I applaud my colleagues for supporting this bill, which addresses the very serious threats to our democracy created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, and I and look forward to the Senate taking up the legislation in short order.

Republican opponents of the bill call it “unconstitutional” [press release] and “misguided.” It is unclear when the Senate will take up the issue of campaign finance reform, although Van Hollen indicated that he had been assured [press release] of the Senate’s commitment to the bill.

Senate Democrats introduced a similar bill [text, PDF; JURIST report] in April after the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held hearings [JURIST report] in March on the effects of the Citizens United decision. In Citizens United, the court struck down Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act [text, PDF], which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an “electioneering communication” or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. President Barack Obama sharply criticized [JURIST report] the decision in his State of the Union Address [transcript] in January. Obama warned of the increased potential for powerful interest groups, both foreign and domestic, to wield excessive influence over American elections and called for bipartisan support of legislation to counteract the decision. The decision has caused a deep partisan divide [CNN report] over the topic, with Democratic officials largely opposing the decision, and Republican officials mostly in support.