By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Warning of a potential "corporate takeover of our elections," President Barack Obama increased pressure on Congress on Saturday to pass reforms to limit companies' ability to influence political campaigns.
Obama's remarks, made in his weekly radio and Internet address, came after Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday to blunt the impact of a January U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited funds on political campaigns.
Obama, who vehemently opposed the Supreme Court ruling and drew criticism for lambasting it in the presence of the court justices at his State of the Union address earlier this year, endorsed the new Democratic legislation and used strong language to encourage lawmakers to turn it into law.
"What we are facing is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections. And what is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy," he said.
The measures would require corporate, union and advocacy group leaders to disclose their names in TV ads. It would ban election spending by government contractors, companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership and bank bailout recipients.
"Under the bill Congress will consider, we'll make sure that foreign corporations and foreign nationals are restricted from spending money to influence American elections, just as they were in the past -- even through U.S. subsidiaries," Obama said in the address.
In its January decision, the court ruled 5-4 that long-standing campaign finance limits violated the free speech rights of corporations.
FLOOD OF MONEY
The court ruling is expected to unleash a flood of money from the traditionally pro-Republican business community to campaigns designed to favor or oppose candidates in this year's congressional elections and the 2012 presidential contest.
"This decision gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money -- literally millions of dollars -- to affect elections throughout our country," Obama said of the ruling.
"This, in turn, will multiply their influence over decision-making in our government."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has criticized the bill as an effort to defy the court and disregard the protections for free speech.
Obama said organizations had the right to express their opinions but the rules were necessary for transparency.
"Now, of course every organization has every right in this country to make their voices heard," he said. "But the American people also have the right to know when some group like 'Citizens for a Better Future' is actually funded entirely by 'Corporations for Weaker Oversight.'"
Obama has accused lobbyists for banks, insurance companies and other corporate entities of fighting to block or weaken key legislative priorities including healthcare reform and measures to overhaul the rules that govern the financial industry.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Mohammad Zargham)