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Al Franken: Democrats Shouldn't Swear Off Super PACs In 2012 Election


First Posted: 06/18/11 09:18 PM ET Updated: 08/18/11 06:12 AM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) seems to have few Democratic allies in Congress interested in rejecting corporate dollars and undisclosed donations from outside political groups in the 2012 elections.

Such a move would be nothing short of "unilateral disarmament," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said Saturday. "It's sad what this has come to," Franken in an interview with The Huffington Post. "The Citizens United decision was, in my mind, a terrible decision. But... it's final."

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also used the phrase in response to Feingold's comments, making clear that some party members in office don't think they can compete with Republicans without such funds to create a level electoral playing field.

Feingold issued his challenge to fellow Democrats in an address on Thursday at Netroots Nation, the annual conference for progressive activists and bloggers.

"Creating those kinds of Super PACs for Democrats is wrong. It is not something we should do. I disagree," Feingold said. "I think it's a mistake for us to take the argument that they like to make: 'That what we're going to do now is, we're going to take corporate money like the Republicans do, then after we win, we'll change it.' When's the last time anyone did that? Most people don't change the rules after they win."

Super PACs are a type of independent expenditure group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, as long as they don't coordinate with the political parties and candidates. Traditional PACs have limits on individual contributions. Both must disclose their donors to the Federal Elections Commission. A certain type of nonprofit, 501(c)(4)s in the federal tax code, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of undisclosed money, as long as they are not primarily focused on politics.

Franken said that even if the Democrats in Congress had managed to pass the DISCLOSE Act -- their legislative response to Citizens United -- the party would still probably need to create Super PACs and other outside groups since Republicans would be doing the same. He was also pessimistic about the chances of passing strong campaign finance reform, arguing that Democrats would essentially have to control the White House, House and have a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

"We need 60 [votes], and we're not going to have 60. We did control the House, the Senate, and the White House. We had 59 votes. It was 59-41," he said referring to the party-line vote that killed the DISCLOSE Act before the 2010 elections.

Franken also said he would support a more robust agenda in the Senate. While House Republicans have been pushing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan and measures to defund Planned Parenthood -- both of which have no chance of actually becoming law -- Senate Democrats have had a leaner strategy, which has made some members frustrated.

"I would be in favor of bringing up a more aggressive agenda. It goes down, so it goes down," said Franken.

He said in particular, he'd like to see a jobs bill that puts unemployed men and women in the building trades to work making sure homes and other structures are energy efficient.

"In the long run, you save money from the electricity and energy you don't use," he said. "It seems to me that at a time when we have so many people in the home-building industry who are unemployed, we should use them."

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