By Edward Lee Pitts
WASHINGTON -- Reacting to a commercial from last year's elections, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has introduced a bill that would give candidates more say in advertisements run by their political parties during a campaign.
Under his legislation, candidates would gain the ability to approve a commercial, direct mail piece or any type of campaign expense by a political party before it is released to the public.
Sen. Corker said this would address the lack of accountability for political advertisements in the current system and ensure any campaign communication is consistent with the candidate's mission.
"After a certain point, candidates have no control of what their own parties are saying about them or their opponents," said Sen. Corker, who said he would like to see the change made before the next election cycle. "Voters ought to know when they are making decisions whether this information is truly endorsed by a candidate or not."
But some opponents of the bill said there are other, more pressing flaws in the campaign finance system that Congress should be focusing on, such as the growth of political action committees.
"It is kind of picking out what I believe is a relatively minor issue of controversy," said Meredith McGehee, policy director with the Campaign Legal Center.
"The concerns about having the party run ads that the candidate is not responsible for are probably not best solved by this legislation," she said.
The Corker bill comes less than six months after the Senate campaign between Sen. Corker and then-U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., made national headlines with an ad featuring a white woman asking Rep. Ford to give her a call. At that time, candidate Mr. Corker claimed he had no control over the commercial paid for by the national Republican Party.
In the television commercial, the woman says she met Rep. Ford at a Playboy party and winks into the camera before adding, "Harold, call me."
"What happens in these campaigns is you end up having these media companies that want to make a name for themselves. They want to run an edgy ad," Sen. Corker said. "We ran a campaign that was very disciplined ... and then all the sudden, out of the blue, the Republican National Committee runs this ad that's just not in keeping with the kind of campaign we wanted to run."
Sen. Corker said he is fulfilling a campaign promise by making the first bill he introduced as a senator about this issue.
The ad aired through an independent expenditure unit of the RNC, and both the candidate and the party were prevented by federal law and Federal Election Commission regulations from communication with that unit.
Current law places a limit on coordinated expenditures between a candidate and his or her party. Using the FEC's formula, the limit for Tennessee is $375,900 in coordinated expenditures.
Sen. Corker's bill would eliminate such expenditure limits.
But Ms. McGehee said these limits are needed for fair elections.
In addition, Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas and author of "The Sound of Money," said such changes might bring about free speech controversy.
"Trying to regulate that in some kind of constitutional manner may be difficult," he said.
The Senate Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on repealing the limitation on party expenditures on behalf of candidates in general elections.
Sen. Corker's bill would not change coordination rules related to non-party outside groups, such as organizations classified as 527s and 501 (c)s.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the bill does point out a flaw in the laws regarding campaign ads.
Representatives for Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., authors of recent campaign finance reforms, did not return calls seeking comment.
Amber Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the RNC, said the RNC is reviewing the legislation.
Repeated attempts to get comments from Democratic National Committee were unsuccessful.
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