Citizens United: Rhode Island’s response


The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case has rendered 24 states’ election laws unconstitutional. The 5-4 ruling in favor of Citizens United reversed a provision of the McCain-Feingold act that prohibited any electioneering communication—defined as advertising via broadcast, cable or satellite that is paid for by corporations or labor unions. Many states have acted fast to counter corporations’ ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections by passing laws that force disclosure of all independent expenditures in near real time. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group has decided to report what each of these states is doing to respond to the highly-contested ruling. Today we’re looking at Rhode Island:

State: Rhode Island
Bill: Rules and Regulations on Reporting Requirements for Coordinated and Independent Expenditures
Passed: Yes

Rhode Island hasn’t repealed the laws it has on the books prohibiting independent expenditures. The state’s Board of Elections has instead passed a new regulation that satisfies the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to influence races using their own money.

Like all states tasked with altering state laws in the wake of the Citizens United decision, Rhode Island is forcing certain elements of the transaction be disclosed to the public. Forms containing information regarding who paid for the expenditure and who directs control over payment of the expenditure (e.g. a corporation’s CEO) must be filed with the Secretary of State’s office. Funders of a company or a nonprofit may have to be disclosed if money was donated for the sole purpose of making independent expenditures.

The disclosure forms have to be filed electronically within seven days of the money being spent throughout the year, regardless of when an election is. This is important to note because some states have relaxed deadlines for reporting when money is spent outside of an election season. The Executive Director of the state’s Board of Elections says all information should be available to the public within 24 hours of it being submitted.

Rhode Island’s regulation also explicitly states that a reasonably visible and/or audible disclaimer must be included in print and electronic ads. Rhode Island references the Supreme Court case McConnell v the Federal Elections Commission to address the idea that disclaimers “burden the ability to speak.” The McConnell case held that disclaimers don’t  prevent anyone from speaking, hence they don’t deter people from running ads.