WASHINGTON -- In the latest GOP effort to accord corporations the same rights as people, the Republican National Committee wants to strike down the century-old ban against direct corporate contributions to candidates and party committees.
The ban, part of a 1907 anti-corruption law that helped curb the influence of corporate robber barons, is one of the last bulwarks of campaign finance law left after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision two years ago.
Despite the explosion of so-called independent super PACs, which can collect unlimited contributions, corporations remain banned from making contributions directly to candidates or party committees.
The RNC outlined its position in an amicus brief filed on Tuesday with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals -- ironically in support of two Virginia Democrats who were charged with reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton.
The RNC has a lot at stake here institutionally, as well as philosophically. Part of its argument to the court was that the current state of affairs isn't fair to party committees like itself.
The brief complains that the corporate ban "artificially disadvantages political party and candidate committees by forcing them to rely on aggregating small-dollar donations from individuals while allowing other political actors, such as independent-expenditure-only political action committees, to receive unlimited corporate donations."
To make its case, the brief cites two Huffington Post articles in which reporter Paul Blumenthal described how money is shifting away from parties and others, creating a two-tiered campaign finance system where "candidates and parties governed by tight regulations and shadow groups that operate with little to no rules."
Advocates of reducing corporate influence in politics were stunned by the RNC's boldness.
"It's remarkable that the Republican Party is publicly taking the position that there's not enough corporate money in politics," said Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal group People for the American Way. "It's amazing."
Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, said the ban is one of "the central anti-corruption provisions in federal law" and that without it, corporations could easily funnel $1 million or more to party committees per election cycle.
Although corporations would still be subject to the same donation limits as people, that would still allow them to give $30,000 per calendar year to each of the three national party commitees (actually six total, if you include both parties); and $10,000 per calendar year for each of the 50 state party committees -- not to mention up to $2,500 per candidate, per election.
Unlike people, corporations can spring up with a stroke of the pen, so conceivably big donors could simply create any number of corporations to contribute more than $1 million each a year.
The RNC is far from alone in its position. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal approvingly quoted Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as saying, "We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs."
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Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.