Wednesday, February 24, 2010

States Weigh Campaign-Finance Changes


State lawmakers around the country are rushing to rewrite campaign-finance laws following the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling that opened the door to unlimited corporate and union money in elections and upended laws in nearly half the states.

The nation's highest court ruled last month that limits on corporate and union spending on independent political ads violate the Constitution's free-speech protections.

Bills pending in Iowa and Maryland, for instance, seek to blunt the ruling's effect by requiring shareholder approval of political spending and forcing public disclosure of corporate spending in state candidate elections. Two top Democrats in Congress, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, recently proposed a bill that would impose similar disclosure requirements in congressional and presidential elections.

"States can't overturn it directly, but they can nip at the edges to make it more difficult for corporations to spend this kind of money," said Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia Law School professor and election-law expert.

"The shareholder-approval bills, if they become law, could have a dramatic effect," Persily added, "only because few companies are going to want to jump through the hoop of getting shareholder approval" before launching ad campaigns that call for the election or defeat of candidates.

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