Amid a frustrated electorate and fears of losing his party’s majority in Congress, President Obama is turning his attention to the political airwaves this election year.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president prodded the GOP to end their opposition to a bill which would require corporations and, in some cases, unions funding political advertisements to appear in those ads and disclose their backing of them.
“[Currently, corporations] can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads - and worst of all, they don't even have to reveal who is actually paying for them,” Mr. Obama warned.
“You don't know if it's a foreign-controlled corporation. You don't know if it's BP.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the president’s concerns are a ruse. “Americans want us to focus on jobs, but by focusing on an election bill, Democrats are sending a clear message to the American people that their jobs aren't as important as the jobs of embattled Democrat politicians," he said in a statement. The issue stems from a Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case this year, in which the court refused to ban corporate funding in candidate elections. However, the ruling left open the door for Congress to require, should it so choose, corporations to disclose their support openly in advertisements. That is precisely what Congressional Democrats tried when they wrote the DISCLOSE Act, or the ‘Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections’ bill. Had it passed, it would have forced corporations, and possibly some labor unions and non-profit groups, to go public with their election-related expenditures.
Though some Republicans supported the bill, others blocked it from coming up for a vote; for which Mr. Obama ascribes a motive. “This can only mean that the leaders of the other party want to keep the public in the dark,” he said. “They don't want you to know which interests are paying for the ads. The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”
Not so, says Bruce Josten of the Chamber of Commerce. Josten says the legislation the president is promoting is skewed in the Democrats’ favor. “The disparity in how businesses and labor unions are treated by this legislation is staggering—and likely unconstitutional.”
Labor unions are traditionally supportive of the Democratic Party.
Josten adds, “By favoring union speech over corporate speech, the bill’s authors are departing from past campaign finance legislation that treated business and labor equally.” Democrats are keen on bringing up the bill again after the Congressional recess.
Unlikely to gain support from Republicans on the issue, Mr. Obama appears content with trying to shame them, “[W]e cannot allow the corporate takeover of our democracy. So we're going to continue to fight for reform and transparency. And I urge all of you to take up the same fight. Let's challenge every elected official who benefits from these ads to defend this practice or join us in stopping it.”
Meanwhile, McConnell distills the argument this way, "The president says this bill is about transparency. It's transparent all right. It's a transparent effort to rig the fall elections."