Campaign Reform Groups: Dems’ Proposal Would Leave Job Undone, Urge Public Financing

A legislative response to the Supreme Court decision in Citizen United vs. FEC unveiled Thursday by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is a start, but doesn’t address Congress’ reliance on Wall Street and other big special interests, according to two watchdog groups. The two reform groups, Public Campaign and Common Cause, urge Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act to give voters back a voice in government.

Schumer and Van Hollen introduced Thursday what they call a “legislative framework” to reverse the effects of last month’s high court decision, which did away with a century of campaign finance precedent and opened the floodgates to virtually unfettered influence of corporate wealth — including foreign wealth — in American elections.

“The legislative framework I am releasing today with Senator Schumer will serve as a guide to our legislative response to this ruling in both the House and Senate. We have a multipronged approach to restrict the corrosive influence of special interests and to ensure that corporate activities in campaigns are fully disclosed to the public,” says Van Hollen, a top lieutentant of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The response includes banning expenditures from foreign interests, federal contractors, and TARP recipients. Wall Street banks should not be able to take taxpayer dollars and then turn around and spend millions to defeat lawmakers who are regulating them. We will also include provisions that will allow voters to ‘follow the money’ so corporations cannot hide behind sham organizations and dummy corporations. In addition, we will require CEOs to ‘stand by their ad’ – if corporations spend their funds in campaigns, voters have a right to know who is delivering and paying for the message.”

The proposals from Schumer and Van Hollen are just the latest in a stream of potential legislative remedies to the decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc led by Chief Justice John Roberts — including at least one proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Public Campaign and Common Cause welcomed the Schumer and Van Hollen proposals, but in a statement their officials don’t believe they will provide as comprehensive a solution as the Fair Elections Now Act, which would bolster the U.S. public financing of elections.

“Voters want bold campaign reform measures,” says Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Polling conducted last week showed that four in five Americans believe Congress is controlled by special interests. Americans want a comprehensive plan to end pay-to-play politics, not just a plan to fix what the Roberts Court just did. We will continue to press Congress to address the elephant in the room – their own fundraising.”

Sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752, H.R. 1826) would let members of Congress opt out of the pay-to-play political system. The legislation has 134 cosponsors in the House. Under Fair Elections, candidates run by raising small contributions from people in their home state to qualify for Fair Elections funds.

Public Campaign and Common Cause say that religious and business leaders have urged passage of the Fair Elections Now Act as an answer to the Citizens United decision.

“Strengthening the regulatory system in wake of the Roberts Court decision is important but inadequate,” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause. “The bottom line is that the already bad situation before Citizens United is only getting worse, and the Fair Elections Now Act must be part of the legislative package. Congress needs to take seriously voters’ anger against Washington, D.C. and move now to give government back to the people.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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