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 PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown 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 TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE in the White House.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties 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 CrowDem proposal to ban Pentagon funds for border wall survives House panel votes Dem proposal to ban Pentagon funds for border wall survives House panel votes Centrist Dem pitches plan for Pentagon to tackle climate change 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 CicillineOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Pelosi: Congress will block Trump's arms sales to Saudi Arabia 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 McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund 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.”