Dems push Ryan on campaign finance reform

Dems push Ryan on campaign finance reform
© Greg Nash

Democrats in both chambers are pressing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanA warning to Ryan’s successor: The Speakership is no cakewalk Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.) to reform the campaign finance system in the name of transparency.

The Democrats, who had no luck moving their Disclose Act under previous Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), are hoping his newly tapped replacement will be more receptive to their argument that anonymous donors are undermining democracy.

"Since taking the gavel for the first time, you’ve made numerous statements about ushering in a new era of transparency and changing the process in the House to make it more 'deliberative and participatory,’ " the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Ryan Tuesday. "[U]nless we open up the process to the American people, these goals will remain rhetoric and nothing more."

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tom Udall (N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Democratic Reps. Steve Israel (N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and John Sarbanes (Md.).

The Democrats' calls for campaign finance reform have escalated since 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled that funding caps on corporate and union ads targeting individual candidates violate the right to free speech. That decision, known as Citizens United, effectively killed part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that was designed to prevent a deluge of special-interest money from corrupting elections.

The case opened a flood of anonymous campaign advertising in the three elections since then — spending levels sure to be surpassed in this presidential election cycle.

The issue has taken on a decidedly partisan bent. Most Republicans cheered the Supreme Court's decision, saying it was a necessary defense of First Amendment rights. Most Democrats disagree, arguing that unlimited spending by anonymous donors gives disproportionate power to a wealthy few at the expense of everyone else.

Their Disclose Act does not limit the amount of money super-PACs and other outside groups can raise and spend on elections. But it would force unions and corporations, including government contractors, to reveal political contributions exceeding $10,000 per cycle and take public credit for the political ads they sponsor. Whitehouse introduced the bill in the Senate in January; Van Hollen is the lead sponsor of the House proposal.

A much stricter version of the bill passed the House in 2010 when Democrats controlled the chamber, but it was killed by a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

Only two House Republicans voted in favor of the legislation at the time. Ryan was not among them.

Still, the Democrats are hoping that the new Speaker's recent call "to show [voters] how we would do things differently" to will translate into more campaign transparency.

"Hardworking Americans deserve to know who is behind the seemingly endless dollars that are spent trying to influence their vote," the Democrats wrote Tuesday.

"Mr. Speaker, if you are truly serious about restoring faith to this institution, then we ask that you allow Congress to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, which will bring some much-needed transparency to our campaign finance system."