Amid the fanfare of the State of the Union address tonight, the House Republican leadership is pushing legislation this week to kill the presidential system of financing elections. Let’s understand this for what it is: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republican leadership want to place elections even more squarely into the hands of corporate interests, their political action committees, and their lobbyists.
That’s not what Americans want. Americans want Congress to focus on jobs and the economy, not partisan and political agendas. But when it comes to changing election laws, we don’t want Congress to make it easier for wealthy special interests to influence our government. We want elections of, by, and for the people, not paid for and bought by corporations.
In the wake of the one-year anniversary of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission -- the decision that gave corporations the right to directly influence elections with their own spending -- it is incredibly tone-deaf for the Republican leadership in the House to pursue an anti-reform, pro-special interest measure.
Sure, they’ll cast it as a cost-saving bill to do away with a broken campaign finance law. After all, President Barack Obama avoided it in 2008, and no viable presidential candidate would use it as is in 2012. Well, then it ought to be fixed, not nixed.
But what about that cost-savings? Public Campaign Action Fund research found that the original eight GOP members of Congress sponsoring this legislation have secured more in earmarks over the past few years than what cutting this system would save. Just eight members on their own. What was that line Speaker Boehner had about getting their own house in order first?
One of the members who signed on to the measure, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), was called the “king of earmarks” by the Deseret News last year for requesting $6.5 billion in earmarks, 95 percent of which were connected to political donors. Another, Rep. John Campbell (R) of California, pushed an amendment on consumer protection legislation to exempt car dealers. Rep. Campbell also derives hundreds of thousands in rental income... from car dealerships. And he has taken $280,000 from the automotive industry. Can you spell C-O-N-F-L-I-C-T?
These are the people the Republicans are following when it comes to placing elections in the hands of everyday Americans?
And there’s more. The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, was hand-picked for the House Ethics Committee in 2005 as a special assignment to defend Tom DeLay. DeLay, you may recall, is the former House Majority Leader sentenced recently to three years in prison on a felony conspiracy conviction related to raising and spending corporate money in politics. Rep. Cole had also donated $5,000 to DeLay’s defense.
What will the Democrats do in response to this? They’ll likely acknowledge the presidential system’s deficiencies, in detail, and defend the goals of the presidential system. They’ll point to its storied past funding such unlikely insurgent candidates like Ronald Reagan (because he’s not praised enough).
But what they ought to do instead is go on offense. The House Republicans pursuing it want elections and public policy to be bought and sold like stocks on Wall Street. They don’t seem to care about jobs and the economy as long as corporations continue to call the shots in Washington and as long as special interests continue to pour money into their campaign accounts.
Like the repeal of health care, this vote will likely pass in the House. But it shouldn’t pass quietly -- it is an opportunity to brand the House GOP leadership as on the side of big corporate donors, and not on the side of everyday Americans who are increasingly shut out of the political process, which like today’s economy, continues to reward the few at expense of the many.