Momentum builds for Dems to take on campaign finance reform

Momentum builds for Dems to take on campaign finance reform
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Momentum is building within the House Democratic Caucus to move aggressively on campaign finance reform next year after candidates promised the issue would be at the center of their agenda if they took back the majority.

Half of the new Democrats elected to Congress have refused to take corporate PAC money, according to the grass-roots organization End Citizens United, which advocates for campaign finance reform.

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Separately, more than 100 Democratic House candidates signed a letter sent last month calling for sweeping reforms, including the disclosure of all political spending. At least 34 of those candidates won their elections, according to End Citizens United, with a few races remaining too close to call.

Members of the party’s leadership also said that campaign finance reform would be at the top of the agenda, a pledge they’ve since doubled down upon.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBattle over reopening schools heats up Pelosi: Trump wearing a mask is 'an admission' that it can stop spread of coronavirus Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to reopening schools MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday the party would work to “reduce the role of dark, special interest money” as she talked about the new majority’s workload and priorities. 

The reforms most likely to pass immediately through the House, Democrats say, include a law requiring big donors to reveal themselves and legislation to create a new public matching funds system.

Getting anything signed into law is unlikely, given GOP control of the Senate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE in the White House.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMaryland GOP governor who's criticized Trump says he's considering 2024 presidential run Communist China won't change — until its people and the West demand it Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE (D-Md.), who has authored campaign finance reform bills in the past, said Democrats in the upper chamber would have to “really beat the drums to build public pressure” to get the Senate to consider legislation approved in the House.  

But even if it’s set up to ultimately fail, the House could pass reform as a “symbolic” measure, said Thomas Rudolph, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Given the emphasis that a group of Democrats have placed on it, I think it's likely that Democrats will make an early effort to enact some additional campaign finance reform, even if it's only for symbolic value as a way of fulfilling campaign pledges to their supporters and donors,” he said.

On the campaign trail, reforming campaign finance laws was a common messaging strategy for Democrats.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who emerged as stars, pledged to reduce corporate money in politics. Some Democratic House candidates who won on Tuesday, including Jason CrowJason CrowBipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to limit further expansion of 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Some in Congress want to keep sending our troops to Afghanistan Celebrating our freedoms and counting all military votes this November MORE in Colorado and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, did the same.

End Citizens United was one of the top spenders in House races. The group spent $8 million on House races, according to The Washington Post, and encouraged candidates to refuse money from PACs.

The group also helped organize the letter to Congress penned by 107 House candidates, who wrote that campaign finance reform needed to be “the very first item Congress addresses.”

Democratic Party leadership also emphasized campaign finance reform as a key message ahead of the midterms. In May, the party unveiled its platform for 2018, titled “A Better Deal for Our Democracy.” Among its three pillars was a pledge to “break the stranglehold big money has over our campaign finance system.”

Meanwhile, Pelosi said last month that Democrats would start with campaign finance reform if they took the House in the midterms.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who has taken a lead role in pushing campaign finance reform, said in a statement to The Hill that Democrats will introduce a reform package as soon as the new Congress takes office. Sarbanes is among a handful of returning Democrats in the House who have sworn off corporate PAC money, according to End Citizens United.

“On the first day of the new Congress, Democrats will introduce a bold and sweeping democracy reform package that will end the dominance of big money in our politics,” he said.

Democrats say the package, which will extend beyond campaign finance reform, is likely to include two bills on the issue.

One piece of legislation would be Sarbanes’s Government by the People Act, which proposes a small-donor matching system for federal candidates. Under the proposal, donations of up to $150 would be matched by a contribution of public funds at a six-to-one ratio. A donation of one dollar, for example, would trigger a $6 contribution.

The other bill likely to pass the House is Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change DOJ whistleblower: California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' MORE’s (D-R.I.) Disclose Act, which would require “corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities” that spend in elections to disclose their donors.

It’s unlikely either bill would get enough Republican votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Congress under pressure to provide billions for school openings Hillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok MORE (Ky.), who opposes campaign finance reform.

But Van Hollen left the door open to a disclosure bill gaining traction in the Senate, saying there is “near universal support” among the public for such legislation.

“I think if the House can pass the Disclose Act, it will create momentum going into the Senate,” he said. “It's just shining a light on the money flowing into politics. I have not found anybody who's against that except Mitch McConnell.”