July 24, 2010 -- Ten states have swiftly passed new laws requiring additional disclosure of political spending, following a Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations and unions pump unlimited amounts of money into certain campaign commercials.
The push in states comes as a high-profile effort in Congress to blunt the court's January ruling has stalled in the Senate amid strong opposition by Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Senate inaction has cast doubts that any new federal disclosure rules will be in place before November's midterm House and Senate elections.
Democrats -- such as the bill's chief sponsor, New York Sen. Charles Schumer -- hope to bring a revised version of the bill to the Senate floor as early as next week in an attempt to revive the debate.
"In most of the states, it's 'Hey, what's the big deal? Let's provide information,'" said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, one of the groups that advocate stricter campaign-finance rules. She said congressional efforts have been hampered by a "poisonous Washington atmosphere" ahead of Election Day.
"We could have midterms in which millions and millions of dollars are being spent, and Americans have no clue who is doing the spending," she said.
The court ruling applies to independent campaign ads that target candidates.
Among the states requiring new rules: Iowa, where the name of the corporation, along with that of its CEO, would have to appear in any independent ads it funds.
Organizations also would have to certify to the state's ethics officials that its political spending was approved by a leadership body, such as its board of directors. The same rules apply to unions.
"We tried to find the balance between the Supreme Court's ruling and helping voters understand who is funding the advertising," said Iowa Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat, who pushed for new disclosure.
Rules requiring disclosure of corporate and union spending also have become law in recent months in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Dakota and West Virginia, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
All had previously banned any corporate spending on independent ads and changed state law to comply with the high court ruling. A tenth state, Washington, broadened its existing disclosure rules. Efforts in Iowa and other states to impose tougher restrictions, such as requiring shareholder approval of political spending, have failed.
"This is a fairly moderate attempt to shed light on where the money is coming from for voters," Jennifer Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said of the new statutes.
The congressional proposal, dubbed the Disclose Act, steers clear of shareholder approval, but would require CEOs and union chiefs to appear in ads they fund and bar companies with federal contracts worth more than $10 million from funding political advertising that targets candidates.
It passed the House of Representatives by a narrow margin last month, but supporters have failed to win any Republican backing in the Senate, where they need 60 votes to bypass GOP opposition.
Sean Parnell, president of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics, said the congressional bill is "clearly aimed at undoing the Supreme Court's ruling" and has stalled for good reason.