President Barack Obama on Saturday pressed Congress for swift action on measures to restrict political advertising by corporations and labor unions, saying that "no less than the integrity of our democracy" is at stake.
Legislation introduced in Congress this week would require that corporations and unions identify themselves in political ads they pay for and that the chief executive or other top official state that "I approve this message."
The measures are in response to a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in January that upheld the First Amendment rights of these groups to spend money on campaign ads, thus enhancing their ability to influence federal elections.
Obama slammed the decision at the time, saying the court had given a "green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics" and pledging to work with Congress on a "forceful response" to the ruling.
With the November midterm elections looming, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that it was important that Congress act swiftly to ensure that the voices of the American people aren't drowned out by deep-pocketed corporations and other special interests.
The president said the proposals would give voters the important information they need to evaluate the claims in ads paid for by "shadowy campaign committees," corporations and special interests. He said he would fight to see them become law.
"Now, of course, every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard," Obama said. "But the American people also have the right to know when some group like 'Citizens for a Better Future' is actually funded entirely by 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight.'"
The proposals also would also bar foreign-controlled corporations and government contractors from spending money on U.S. elections and prohibit political spending by companies that accepted government bailout money. Corporations and unions also must disclose campaign-related spending on their websites and report such spending to shareholders and members.
The measures are unlikely to become law without a fight.
The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, long an ardent opponent of putting limits on campaign spending, criticized the bills as being more about election advantage than transparency, accountability or good government. He noted that two of the Democratic sponsors, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, led the effort to elect Democrats to Congress.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also has promised to fight attempts to "muzzle or demonize" independent voices in the electoral process.
The lawmakers said their goal is to have the legislation on the books by July 4, to take effect before Nov. 2 election.
On the Net:
Obama address: www.whitehouse.gov