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Super PACs in CrosshairsOn Election Dollars Fight

Broadcast and cable outlets have long been anticipating the heart of the presidential campaign season and its attendant new, big money. But a number of efforts have been launched that could eat into that windfall.

The occasion is the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. That’s the Supreme Court ruling that permits corporations and unions to fund electioneering ads—for and against candidates—in the run-up to election primaries, which has led to the rise of the so-called super PACs that have pumped more money into the system.

Among other things, a proposed bill would require the funders of TV and radio spots to put “stand by your ad” IDs listing the actual funders of the ads. Right now, the “Citizens for Truth and Beauty” super PAC-type names are the only on-air requirement, though the PACs must report their source of funding to the Federal Election Commission. This could discourage some of that spending, reducing the flow of super PAC dollars.

The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for open government, is proposing a modified version of the Disclose Act that would retain the disclosure provisions of that failed legislative attempt to counter the Citizens United decision.

The Supreme Court decision was a financial boon to ad-supported media. According to Open Secrets, which tracks campaign spending, as of Jan. 17, there are 278 so-called super PACs that have spent more than $26 million already in the 2012 cycle, based on just-released FEC data.

According to Sunlight, TV station executives in South Carolina say that super PACs had been outspending the candidates for the Jan. 21 primary and “dominating the airwaves.”

The Citizens United decision was also hailed as a First Amendment win for campaign speech in some quarters. But critics, including Sunshine Foundation, argue it had a corrupting influence on the system by allowing for secret corporate expenditures.

The Disclose Act was an attempt by primarily Democratic opponents of the decision to force more disclosure of who was behind the super PACs funneling that new money into the system. It passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2010, but got no further.

The foundation has scheduled a Jan. 23 event on Capitol Hill to discuss the new bill, which it is calling the Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections From Ruining Public Accountability in Campaigns (SUPERPAC) Act.

The Sunlight effort was announced the same day that Common Cause launched an effort to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United. Common Cause, U.S. PIRG and others are also pushing to get shareholders to file resolutions opposing use of corporations’ money for super PACs.

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