Dems: If Corporate Donations Are Free Speech, Let Shareholders Speak Too

July 13, 2011 11:45 a.m.

Congressional Democrats introduced a bill today that would take some of the sting out of last year’s controversial Citizens United decision by empowering shareholders to weigh in before a corporation makes any political contribution.

The Shareholder Protection Act is a last ditch-effort by Democrats to stem the tide of unlimited political expenditures that corporations will surely use to influence the 2012 election, and one wisely crafted on the conservative premise that shareholders’ wallets ought to have the same level of free speech protection as the corporations they helped create.“The Supreme Court made its decision, but Congress can and should take immediate steps to make sure that the new free speech rights created by this decision are extended to everyone,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at a press conference in Washington today.

“A corporation’s money really belongs to shareholders – not executives – and those shareholders deserve a voice if their money is going to be spent on politics,” he said.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court gave corporations the right under the First Amendment to spend unlimited amounts of money in the political process – a decision Democrats are looking to head off by playing the legislative ground game to force disclosure using the Court’s own reasoning.

“We can’t change Citizens United, it’s the law of the land, … but the disinfectant that sunlight imposes is profoundly powerful, and that’s what this legislation will do: shine sunlight on practices and potential abuses,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

The bill would mandate prior shareholder approval for annual political expenditure budgets via a vote and require that each expenditure over a certain threshold be approved by a corporation’s Board of Directors. The decision would then promptly be disclosed to shareholders and the public.

However, under a looming August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling and an upcoming summer recess, there may not be enough time or political appetite to force new disclosure rules on a weary political establishment while the bill can still have an impact on next year’s election.

The bill has substantial support from Democrats in both the House and Senate, but when asked by TPM about potential GOP support, Menendez stayed mum.

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