By Alexander Bolton - 05/01/14 06:00 AM EDT
Democrats are doubling down on their Koch brothers strategy even though most people don’t know who the conservative billionaire industrialists are.
Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a plan to vote on a constitutional amendment “very soon” to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have empowered wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch.
Campaign finance reform traditionally rates low on voters’ lists of concerns, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, believes a battle over a constitutional amendment will bolster their populist economic message.
“The constitutional amendment we know requires two-thirds, it’s a long hard road. But given the McCutcheon decision we have to begin it,” he said. “Most Americans don’t believe the system works in their favor. We are showing whose side you’re on.”
The court in McCutcheon struck down aggregate limits on how much individual donors may give candidates and political parties.
Schumer said Wednesday’s minimum wage bill, which 41 Senate Republicans blocked with a filibuster, hit the same theme.
“Whose side are you on? We believe the minimum wage better than almost any other issue graphically illustrates that,” Schumer said at a press conference after the vote.
Democrats rolled out the proposed amendment Wednesday in a Senate Rules Committee hearing that featured retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Stevens gave Democrats ammo by declaring the Supreme Court wrongly gave campaign spending the same protection as political speech.
“While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech,” he told the panel.
Republicans are accusing Democrats of hypocrisy because they are likely to benefit from the millions of dollars liberal billionaires plan to spend this year pushing legislation addressing climate change and gun control.
“You mean the Steyer strategy? Clearly there’s a double standard,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), referring to liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, who plans to fund a $100 million campaign this year on climate change.
The Democratic game plan carries risk because polls show many people still don’t know who the Koch brothers are.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday showed that half of those surveyed do not recognize the names of Charles and David Koch and 20 percent have a neutral view of them. A recent George Washington University Battleground survey found that 52 percent of respondents don’t know who the Kochs are.
Schumer said that will change as Democrats continue to pound their talking points on the need for campaign finance reform.
“If you want to do a snapshot, no. If you build to these issues, yes,” he said. “That’s what happened on unemployment insurance. It will happen on minimum wage, sure as we’re here, and on campaign finance they understand the system needs fixing.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday blamed the influence of the Koch brothers on the demise of the Democrats’ minimum wage bill.
“The Koch brothers, of course, scored this vote,” he said, referring to lobbying by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the GOP mega-donors, against the legislation.
Democratic strategists believe the constitutional amendment will focus attention on their attacks on the Koch brothers and other wealthy conservative donors.
“It provides a focal point to the case Democrats are making about the undue influence of billionaires like the Koch brothers have on the process,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
Garin pointed to polling in the wake of Citizens United showing that 77 percent of voters showed support for a constitutional amendment to limit what corporations may spend to influence elections. The survey showed that 74 percent said they are more likely to support a candidate who backs it.
The 2010 court decision struck down curbs on what corporations and unions may spend to promote or oppose candidates.
A senior Senate Democratic aide pointed to a Gallup poll from June that showed eight in 10 people would support limiting how much Senate and House candidates may raise and spend for their reelections.
The constitutional amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), would empower Congress and the states to limit money raised and spent on federal elections. It would grant them the authority to limit expenditures by outside groups such as super-PACs and shield campaign limits from invalidation by the Supreme Court.
The amendment will go through the Senate Rules and Judiciary committees, said the Democratic aide who declined to discuss the timing.
Schumer said it would come to the floor in the near future.
Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska), a vulnerable Democratic incumbent, acknowledged that voters aren’t usually mobilized by the issue of campaign finance reform. But he argued that touting the constitutional amendment will raise public awareness about the influence out-of-state donors are trying to have on his race.
“I don’t think voters vote on it,” said Begich. “I think it creates a secondary issue. People will be asking the question about where the money is coming from.
“In Alaska it does create an issue when people say, ‘Wait a second,’ ” when they see attack ads funded by outside groups, Begich said.
Republicans argue that Democrats are desperate to change the subject from the weak economic recovery and the problems of the Affordable Care Act.
“If you look at the votes we’ve taken over the last couple of months, it’s a clear effort to throw things at the wall to see if you can get something to stick,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership. “So far it’s not sticking, and I don’t think this will either.”