Freedom of speech – especially political speech - is an essential condition of democracy. A free marketplace of ideas ensures that citizens will have a broad range of information and opinion available to help them reach good decisions.
However, there is no reason to believe that allowing deep-pocket corporations to swamp the airwaves with political ads will result in the public being better informed. In fact, the public could end up being worse-informed. If corporations buy an extremely large share of the limited television time available, it does not add to the diversity of viewpoints. Rather it has the effect of monopolizing the discussion.
In addition, the sheer volume of advertising will give the false impression of more public support than there really is for the opinions being expressed. Remember, the ads will be paid for with the money of corporate stockholders, and in many cases these stockholders will not agree with the opinions they are paying to advertise.
The Elections Committee, of which I am the chairman, is taking action to prevent unchecked corporate spending in New York elections. Failure to act would undermine the public’s confidence in the independence and integrity of elected officials. Citizens must be certain those holding public office are representing the interests of all the voters, not powerful corporations that fund their campaigns.
The committee is taking steps to ensure the integrity of the democratic process. We have approved legislation requiring all political advertisements to clearly state who is paying for them. We already require candidates to state, “I approve this ad.”
This measure holds corporate sponsors to the same standard. Voters deserve to know when corporations and other big money contributors try to buy elections. By shining a light on the sponsors of campaign ads, we will make corporations accountable to the public and rein in outlandish rhetoric and accusations.
The Elections Committee has also passed legislation to increase donor disclosure and strengthen regulation for candidates. We are serious and committed to ensuring fairness in our elections, and we are not alone. The U.S. Congress and President Obama are also working on a legislative response to this decision that would sharply limit the ability of foreign-connected companies to participate in U.S. politics. Proposals are also in the works to require greater transparency from corporations, unions and nonprofit groups for political advertising.
The public is also behind us. A recent Washington Post poll showed that eight of 10 respondents opposed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. What’s perhaps most telling is the bipartisan outrage. Both Democrats and Republicans are speaking out, and we will work together in crafting a response.
As chairman, I understand the seriousness of this decision and what needs to be done to preserve the integrity of our elections and our democracy. The Elections Committee has already held two public hearings on this matter, and our work is far from done. In the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to legislative leaders and my colleagues in the Senate to urge the passage of this legislation. It is what the people of New York, and our nation, deserve and it is what must be done to preserve fair elections free from the corrupting influence of deep pocket corporations.