The Big Question: Will Congress pass reform on campaign funds?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.


Today's question:

Democrats say they are committed to pass legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent decision on campaign finance reform.

Will they be able to pass a bill before the midterm elections?


Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:

They can pass anything they please---they have a majority and are not shy about using it. If they think it will help them in the Fall, that will be all that matters. Whether they can pass a constitutional bill is another matter, but that will be decided by the Supreme Court after the elections, and anyway the SC is closely divided on this one.


Damon N. Spiegel, entrepreneur and writer, said:

I think they will be able to pass a bill as the parties involved believe this would lead to a big hand in special interest groups in the back pockets of politicians.  Both democrats and republicans believe voting against this could easily be used against them in the election; and thus, would push hard to either vote for it and get it done, or both agree to not pursue it at all. 


Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said:

It’s never easy to open up the can of worms that is campaign finance reform on Capitol Hill.  On this subject, there are 535 experts in Congress.  But for a change their constituents are actually paying attention to campaign finance in the wake of the Citizens United decision and many are angry about it.  
 
The Supreme Court’s decision was so radical and such a departure from 100 years of law in this area that passing legislation to mitigate the potential damage from this decision is imperative.  And the momentum of an outraged public is behind these fixes.  Even a number of the groups that make up the Tea Party movement have expressed their anger with the decision.  The Roberts Court stirred up a hornets nest with its outrageous decision and real reforms could pass as a result.
 
Those who claim that this decision will not have that great an impact on campaigns simply have it wrong.  The kinds of money now allowed to enter into the campaign dialogue are of a wholly different magnitude.  And no doubt creative lawyers are already looking at ways to use to their advantage the openings created by the Citizens United decision, whether it involves domestic subsidiaries of foreign-owned corporations or corporations who can avoid disclosure of their funding of independent expenditures due to current weak disclosure laws.
 

There are at least seven areas that Congress should address. The bills should:  strengthen the statutory language on what constitutes coordination; enact ways to provide candidates sufficient access to the publicly owned airwaves; strengthen shareholder protections to ensure accountability; strengthen requirements for disclosure of corporate spending for political purposes; revise statutes dealing with disclosure of “electioneering communications”; strengthen pay-to-play restrictions for government contractors; and ensure that corporate independent expenditures do not become a means to evade current statutory restrictions on foreign nationals’ roles in U.S. elections.
 
It is also important to keep the activist ruling in Citizens United from being harnessed as an excuse to raise contribution limits or reopen the soft money loophole where six- and seven-figure checks were regularly utilized to curry favor or buy one of the very few figurative seats at the table when laws are made. 
 
There is a window of opportunity to repair some of the damage wrought by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and make our disclosure laws more comprehensive.  The will of the people is there to make these changes and I hope it is sufficient to stiffen the backbone of Congress to follow through.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:

The folks on Capitol Hill should make it harder to buy results. If people value country first, we should have a good bill before elections.


Bernie Quigley, Pundits blog contributor, said:

I don’t see that they are in any new position to bring out any dramatic new initiatives right now.  The Democrats might ask whether they are now, like the French, at Waterloo or only at Trafalgar. With three years to go their captain is spent and the very character of liberalism has changed overnight here in Massachusetts, the heart of contemporary liberalism. Their coming forth with this at this time indicates that some are still in denial about what has happened to them. Their misunderstanding is primary, deep-seated and chronic. Their greatest error was in thinking that they could “whistle past Dixie” and the rest of the heartland without consequences. Now they stand to lose not only the Congress but the entire country.


Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said:

Democrats have fought a fifty year war against the Second Amendment.  They seem to have decided they were taking more casualties than this fight was worth.  Not because the Constitution defended itself, but because the National Rifle Association and its four million members and the five million plus concealed carry permit holders and twenty million hunters defeated bunches of congressmen and senators that selectively read the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment has fewer organized friends.  The ACLU gets excited about four letter words and nude dancing but less so political speech.  The networks and major establishment newspapers like their own freedoms but also like the goverent to limit  the speech of others in campaigns.
 
Until the First Amendment has an NRA it is always in danger.


Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, said:

"This decision has stirred deep passion and concern, and Democrats will likely pass legislation in response to it even if it may be relatively toothless. At the same time, I think the decision, combined with other evidence of failings in our electoral process and legislative processes, will trigger a deeper, longer-lasting conversation about how to make our representative democracy more consistent with modern ideals and the realities of the 21st century.

"The tide of our history has been to more democracy. The 2010 promise to be a "democracy decade", just as the 1960s brought us the Voting Rights Act and several constitutional amendments strengthening and expanding democracy and just as the 1910's brought us direct election of Senators and women's suffrage. Such major changes aren't likely to become law before the midterm election, but the movement is launched."


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

This is off-topic, but have you noticed how every effort to expand the power and reach of government these days is characterized as "reform"? Campaign finance "reform" means regulation of speech. Healthcare "reform" means more regulation of the medical sector of the economy. And how come "tax reform" always seems to mean more taxes, rather than less? fI've heard the bank bailout, or features of it, referred to as "banking reform" -- but what's really going on is the government is handing the country over to the Big Banks.

Funny how that works....

At any rate: can the Democrats pass campaign "reform" legislation? Will they? Luckily for us, they seem paralyzed these days, and afraid of their own shadows -- and it isn't even Groundhog Day. So I wouldn't count on it.


John Feehery, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

Can you imagine that instead of spending time trying to do a healthcare bill or a jobs bill or an energy bill that congressional Democrats use all of their chits and all of their political muscle trying to pass legislation aimed at preserving their political careers? Sounds like a flawed strategy to me.


Frank Askin, professor of law at Rutgers University, said:

That may depend on whether John McCain is still pro-reform. He has been backsliding on many issues now that he is under a primary challenge from the right, and he seems to be silent on the Citizens United decision.  If he is still on board, he should be able to pull at least a few Republicans to go along with some modest reforms that might pass muster with this court. Such legislation could take the form of disclosure and disclaimer requirements that would make multi-national corporations think twice before expending large amounts of their shareholders' money on candidate endorsements.


John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

Democrats who benefit so greatly from various forms of support from labor unions have a lot of chutzpah complaining when corporate leaders want to finance their favorite candidates. Doing business in America has become more difficult each year because government regulations — regularly backed by Democrats in Congress — stifle producers while foreign producers don't face the regulatory impediments facing U.S. manufacturers.

Corporate leaders who want to back a candidate who will make it easier for them to produce should certainly be allowed to do so.  Expecting leading Democrats to include labor among those they want to restrict in the campaign finance arena is expecting the impossible. Labor unions are enormously powerful but even many of their members are beginning to see the damage they have done, a good example being the excessive demands put on the nation's auto industry that has resulted in its severe downturn.

Financing candidacies is a form of free speech. Congratulations to the Supreme Court for reinforcing this God-given right for all Americans.