Mitt Romney embraced campaign finance reform on Tuesday. But rather than targeting unlimited corporate contributions or lending his support to existing campaign finance legislation, Romney instead suggested limiting teachers unions' donations to politicians.
The Republican presidential candidate came down on teachers unions for supporting political candidates during an NBC-sponsored forum on education in New York City. During the "Education Nation" event, moderator Brian Williams asked Romney about his thoughts on the teachers' strike in Chicago.
"I don’t know that I would prevent teachers from being able to strike,” Romney said, acknowledging that "allowing to teachers to strike on matters such as compensation" is within their rights.
Instead, Romney said the focus should be on removing the teachers unions' money from the political equation.
“We simply can’t have a setup where the teachers unions can contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interests of the kids," Romney said. "I think it’s a mistake. I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns. It’s the wrong way for us to go. We’ve got to separate that.”
Romney also noted that the unions tend to be particularly friendly to Democratic candidates.
The former governor's comments fall in line with arguments made against the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, in which the court ruled that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts on campaigns under the First Amendment. Romney has previously declined to criticize the ruling, telling the Portsmouth Herald's editorial board that he believed "their decision was a correct decision."
Romney has advocated for overturning legislation like the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, instead supporting unlimited individual contributions to campaigns as long as there is full disclosure.
"My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we'd be a lot wiser to say you can give what you'd like to a campaign," Romney told NBC last year. "They must report it immediately and the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that's just a bad idea."
During a Republican primary debate last January, Romney reiterated his discomfort with super PACs. However, most of that discomfort appears to lie with the campaign's lack of control over messaging coming out of independent expenditures.
"I would like to get rid of the campaign finance laws that were put in place, McCain-Feingold is a disaster, get rid of it," he said. "Let people make contributions they want to make to campaigns, let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words and not have this strange situation we have people out there who support us, who run ads we don’t like, we would like to take off the air, they are outrageous and yet they are out there supporting us and by law we aren’t allowed to talk to them."
Despite this discomfort, Romney stands to benefit from the proliferation of super PACs. Pro-Romney groups such as Restore Our Future have received enormous amounts of money from corporations and wealthy donors throughout the election cycle.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told Politico that Romney would distinguish between contributions from teachers unions and contributions from other entities.
"They are directly negotiating over a contract with a mayor or a governor who is going to be approving that contract, that’s the distinction," he said.
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