States push back on Citizens United ruling

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With the upcoming anniversary of the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions, California Assembly member Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) is pushing a bill to ensure that corporate entities making political donations are required to at least disclose those contributions.

The California Disclose Act, AB 1148, specifically addresses accountability in election campaign ads, forcing corporate sponsors to step out from behind cryptic political action committee (PAC) names when they fund political advertisements.

"Currently the top two donors must be disclosed on political ads, usually behind meaningless campaign committee ads," said Michelle Romero, manager of the Our Democracy program at the Greenlining Institute, which is supporting the legislation. "We hope to really pierce through the committee names to the top three donors behind ballot measure expenditure campaigns."

Romero's ideal realization of this bill would be to require political ads to list donors by the name of the corporation, rather than just its made-up PAC name. "Instead of saying, 'This ad was paid for by the Committee for Responsible California,' the ad would list the logos and names of top donors," said Romero. "For example: the donors are Chevron, Comcast, etc."

Yet other states have taken even bolder steps to counteract the Citizens United decision. The Montana Supreme Court recently affirmed a ban on unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, seemingly defying the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Montana judges said that due to the rural state's low-budget elections and the ability of a few large corporations (particularly mining interests) to drown out everyone else, the Citizens United case did not apply to Montana's Corrupt Practices Law, which bars corporations from using company resources to make political contributions.

"The government is supposed to represent the people,” Romero said, “not corporate interests." said Romero.