Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is planning on introducing new legislation later this week that would require Super PACs, corporations and other big donors to divulge their associations with political advertisements.
“In the same way at the end of my ads I have to say, ‘I’m Sheldon Whitehouse and I approve this message,’” said the most progressive member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, “they would have to have an actual disclaimer in the ads that says we’re Exxon Mobile and we approve this message or I’m a billionaire from Macau and I approve this message so that is clear from the actual advertisement itself who the sponsor is.”
The legislation, Whitehouse said, would apply to “anyone who spends more than $10,000 on electioneering activities, 80 to 90 percent of which is advertising.” It would also apply to phone banks, which make robo-calls and other get out the vote efforts.
He said it is one of the ways a new coalition of Democrats is working reverse the damage the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed corporations and Super PACS to spend unlimited amounts of money on political messaging, has had on public discourse. As an example, he cited the $14 million Mitt Romney supporters spent before the Florida primary on ads attacking Newt Gingrich.
“If you are as far left as occupy movement or as far right as the tea party you’ve got something in common,” Whitehouse told the audience at a community supper Sunday night in East Greenwich. “You do not want to American system of government of, by and for the people, taken over by big corporations that can spend other peoples money … their stockholder’s money, in unaccountable and anonymous ways.”
Watch this short video to learn some of the insidious ways in which Whitehouse says corporate lobbyists can use the Citizens United decision to manipulate the political system.
Likening Citizens United to Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme court decision that temporarily codified separate but equal, he added, “”To my mind it’s one of the worst decisions out of the supreme court. Corporations are not people. They are a way of organizing human behavior that is very efficient when you want to make money … but when it comes to politics there is a huge risk of coprs drowning out the voices of regular people.”
He said he and seven other senators have been working on the bill, which he expects will be introduced this week. He said it has the blessing of Majority Leader Harry Reid and he hopes it will get some floor time this session.
“The goal to get every Democrat on board and show some real momentum and hope we can draw some Republicans over like John McCain, who has a long and proud history of fighting for disclosure,” Whitehouse said.
He said he the coalition also drafted a brief to the Supreme Court about a recent Montanta Supreme Court decision that could reverse the Citizens United decision.
“So the Supreme Court may have an opportunity to rethink that decision,” he said. Noting that Citizens United was a five to four decision, he added, “All it would take is one of them.”