When the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in Citizens United v. FEC to allow unlimited corporate spending in campaigns, I joined congressional leaders and President Obama in condemning the Court's decision and calling for an end to special interest funding of elections. As the President said in his State of the Union Address, "American elections [should not] be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests."
Today Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Mike Castle (R-DE) introduced the DISCLOSE Act which is intended to minimize the damage caused by the Supreme Court ruling. It's a good start at addressing the expected upsurge in independent political spending to influence elections, but I fear it falls far short of addressing the source of the problem: direct special interest funding of campaigns.
At the heart of the bill are new, stiffer requirements for disclosure by corporations, labor unions, trade associations and non-profits of all campaign expenditures. The bill also calls for improved disclaimer requirements on campaign advertising, improved limitations on contributions from government contractors, expanded restrictions on expenditures by foreign nationals, tighter restrictions on coordinated expenditures, greater disclosure by lobbyists and a strengthening of "lowest unit rate" requirements for candidate advertising.
I encourage Congress and the public to support the DISCLOSE Act. But I urge you not to settle for it. Quite simply it does not offer reform that rids our system of the pernicious effect of special interests on our political process.
Only the Fair Elections Now Act will do that.
We know all-too-well that the corrupting influence of special interest money in Washington began long before the Supreme Court ruling in January - and it will not be overcome by simply restoring the pre-Citizens United status quo. For years, we've been applying band-aids to a system of special interest-funded elections that's broken at the core. New limits and disclosure under today's bill will not change the fact that politicians continue to rely on millions of dollars from wealthy special interests with business before their committees. The swarm of lobbyists and campaign contributions around the current Wall Street debate is a perfect, if sobering, case in point.
The Fair Elections Now Act would change the very source of campaign funds by providing a viable and voluntary alternative: small in-state donations and matching federal funds for qualifying congressional candidates who say no to large donations. Matching funds would be raised through a small fee on large-scale government contractors receiving more than $10 million per year in contracts.
The bill has already won backing from more than 160 Members of Congress who are fed up with constant fundraising and neverending campaigns, and would rather spend their time debating the issues and hearing from their constituents. More than seventy former Members of Congress and other respected government leaders like former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Vice-President Walter Mondale, Reagan Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, have joined me in endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act. And the American people are beginning to take note.
Let's not settle for legislation that doesn't address the real problem. Let's continue the fight to finally rid our system of special interest money by enacting the Fair Elections Now Act.
Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) chairs the bipartisan citizen initiative Americans for Campaign Reform along with former Senators Bill Bradley (D-N.), Warren Rudman (R-NH), and Alan Simpson (R-WY).
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