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Franken Slams Citizens United During Kagan Hearing

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) used much of his opening statement in the nomination hearing for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan Monday to take aim at the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which lifted the ban on direct corporate funding of campaign TV and radio spots.

Franken was taking aim in general at what he said was the judicial activism of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts, echoing his theme during the hearings last year for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. But citing the Citizens United decision, he said things have gotten worse since then.

Franken said the decision "tore a gaping hole in our election laws." But he said it was not just about federal elecions, but ones in Minnesota. He also said it was not just about election law, but about passing laws on seat belts and clean air and clean water and health care -- laws, he said, that might not have passed had big corporations like Standard Oil or GM been able to take direct aim at vulnerable legislators seeking reelection.

"It's about our ability to pass laws that protect the American people even if it hurts the corporate bottom line." Franken has been a staunch populist since being installed last July after winning the race by a hair in a hand recount.

"I am more worried about how this decision is going to affect our communities -- and our ability to run those communities without a permission slip from big business," Franken said, likely telegraphing his line of questioning as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which starts that questioning June 29 (Monday was taken up by opening statements and introductions by both legislators and Kagan).

House and Senate Democrats are attempting to ameliorate the impact of the Supreme Court decision with a bill, the DISCLOSE Act, that boosts disclosure of corporate-backed ads (CEOs have to appear to take responsibility) and reimposes the ban on corporations with foreign ownership and government contractors.

The House passed the DISCLOSE bill last week. Franken is a co-sponsor of the bill.