Leahy Calls For Restrictions On Corporate Campaign Spending

02/03/10 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says there should be restrictions on corporations that want to spend money influencing a political campaign.

As VPR's Bob Kinzel reports, Leahy says the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections is a bad idea.

(Kinzel) Part of the decision concludes that corporations deserve the same first amendment rights that individuals have when it comes to political contributions.

As a result, corporations and labor unions will now be able to spend as much as they want supporting or opposing a candidate, as long as these expenditures are made independent of any specific campaign.

Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee.  He says giving a corporation the same first amendment rights as an individual is judicial activism at its worst:

(Leahy) "It's basically the neutron bomb in our election system. It's such a reversal, you can only guess at some of its far reaching implications."

(Kinzel) Leahy says there's not a lot Congress can do to alter the Court's decision but he does have two ideas that he feels could reduce the impact of the ruling:

(Leahy) "I think you could put restrictions on how the corporations have to have votes of their shareholders or they have to take certain steps. One of the things I like is to make sure that the head of the corporation would have to appear in an ad. If I run an ad for me or against an opponent I have to not only appear in the ad I have to say "and I approve of this ad."

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz opposes the Court ruling and she thinks Leahy's approach could help limit the influence of corporations:

(Markowitz) "It requires corporations in advance to talk to shareholders to make the argument that getting involved in politics in this way is the right thing to do. I do think that's a way to stem the tide."

(Kinzel) Markowitz believes the decision will have an impact in Vermont even though corporations, under current state law, have no limits on independent expenditures during a campaign:

(Markowitz) "When corporations realize that they can affect the outcome of an election, what's going to stop them from doing it?"

(Kinzel) Republican State chairman Steve Larabee has a very different point of view. He agrees with the basic principles of the Court's ruling:

(Larabee) "Anything that reinforces or reasserts First Amendment, you know, freedom of speech rights I think is good."

(Kinzel) And Larabee doubts that the decision will have much impact on Vermont campaigns because he thinks many corporations are aware of their rights under existing state law:

(Larabee) "I'm sure they do and I don't think it will make a difference in their planning."

(Kinzel) The Court decision does not affect the current state limits on how much a corporation can contribute directly to an individual candidate.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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