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 Tennessee:
Tennessee’s new rules require corporations to register as political action committees when placing ads intended to influence elections. The groups must also disclose all spending according to the same schedule as regular PACs. That means, at most, they will report spending six times a year — four quarterly reports and two additional reports during an election year.
The state’s new disclosure requirements are an effort to provide knowledge to the public about who is spending money to influence elections. However, the process for disclosing independent expenditures in Tennessee is likely to change. The current system, which state officials admit to putting together in a hurry, leaves information to be desired.
Because corporations paying for election ads are required to register as PACs, it’s hard to separate this different type of spending from traditional campaign spending by PACs, such as contributions. The records returned from a search for independent expenditures reports in the state’s database don’t make distinctions based on spending. The information returned is limited overall. For instance, the search doesn’t return details such as who the money was intended to support or oppose, which other states are treating as a basic disclosure requirement.
According to Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, the changes were made quickly because the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited independent spending for elections was made in an election year.