Bill seeks disclosure of advocacy spending

Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision opening the door for corporations and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech, state lawmakers are proposing a measure to require that such spending be disclosed.

“We banned this type of spending in Connecticut for a reason, but now that’s unconstitutional,” said Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, co-chairman of the legislature’s election committee. “If they are allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money, we should at least regulate it.”

The Supreme Court’s decision did not directly address Connecticut’s law banning direct spending by corporations and unions to advocate for or against a candidate or party, but Spallone and Alpert P. Lenge, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said the decision makes it clear laws like Connecticut’s are now unconstitutional.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states currently prohibit or restrict corporate or union spending. Four states have updated their disclosure laws in response to the court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission. Seven other states are considering legislation to do so.

Connecticut’s proposed bill would not repeal the prohibition, but would establish public reporting requirements for organizations and businesses that spend more than $1,000 on candidate or party advocacy.

The Supreme Court ruling explicitly says that corporations can be required to disclose the money spent.

Nancy Nicolescu, spokesman for SEEC, said that this information could easily be made viewable to the public using the current online searchable database used for other campaign finance filings.

“If this doesn’t pass, you could have a major corporation getting behind a candidate for governor,” she said. “They could spend an unlimited amount of money and you would never know who was spending what.”

The bill also requires that a “paid for by” disclosure be included on all political media distributed.

“They should be held responsible for information being putting out there. Why should they be nameless?” said Spallone.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected to result in a flood of political commercials and mailings by businesses and lobbyists this upcoming statewide election, and the disclosure bill has bipartisan support.

“I am not comfortable with this new world order,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Nowalk, who supports requiring businesses and corporations to disclose their political spending.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan of Danbury, ranking Republican on the elections committee, said the proposal is needed.

“We don’t really have a choice. Our hands are tied. …  and they should be required to report it just as everyone else is,” he said.

The bill would only require disclosure for state races; federal election rules are established by Congress.

On Thursday, Congressional Democrats proposed two bills that would enhance disclosure laws and blunt the Citizens United ruling by forbidding government contractors and foreign-owned corporations from spending money on elections.

Spallone said he welcomes the expanded reporting requirements for federal elections and is considering introducing legislation next session for state-level elections that would ban foreign-owned corporations and state contractors from spending money.

“We are still absorbing what just happened and what is taking place at the national level. But it’s definitely something we are considering,” he said.

A Congressional report provides another option; raise contribution and party expenditure limits to increase money available to candidates facing advertising aired by corporations.

A recent legislative report outlines what other states are doing to react to the Supreme Court Ruling. Some, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are reviewing the case and have not yet decided how to proceed. At least one, Montana, has said its ban will remain until it is successfully challenged in court. Most have introduced bills that, among other things, repeal the independent expenditure ban; require stockholder approval prior to an independent expenditure; or establish corporate disclosure requirements for independent expenditures.

Spallone said his bill is the best option to comply with the new federal law and provide some transparency to the process.

“The sooner we get this done the better,” he said.