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A Conversation With Mitt Romney

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Mitt Romney made some surprising and relatively unpublicized comments on campaign finance reform during a Fox News interview just before the Republican convention. His remarks relate to Public Citizen's WhiteHouseForSale project, which tracks the candidates' major fundraisers, or bundlers. The list of Romney bundlers is, of course, a short one because Romney has only revealed the sliver of them required by law.

Fox's Chris Wallace asked Romney if his wife's comments that he, if elected, would seek to get the huge money out of politics and would consider participating in the public funding system next time around were true. "Oh, absolutely," Romney responded. "I would far rather have a setting where we had both agreed to the federal spending limits."

Romney took some exaggerated shots at President Obama for eschewing the public funding system for the general election in 2008 ("an outrageous decision" that "blew up the campaign finance achievements that have been made over ... a decade or so").

But nestled between Romney's broadsides against Obama were likely the most sympathetic words on campaign finance reform uttered by a GOP leader since John McCain was practically excommunicated from his party for his successful push to ban corporate "soft money" early last decade.

Being out of the public funding system "has meant that both of us have to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising," Romney said, adding, "Frankly, [the fundraising need] increases the potential of money having influence in politics."

Well, yes, as Public Citizen has been saying since, roughly, forever.

But talk is cheap when it comes to campaign finance issues and Romney's past statements have not always squared with the lofty ideals he espoused during the interview. These are some follow-up questions Wallace might have asked. And, just for fun, Romney's hypothetical answers:

Wallace: Governor, would you also support a public funding system for congressional elections? Members of Congress have to spend all kinds of time fundraising, too, and I don't have to remind you about the Abramoff scandal.

Romney: Well, I -- in today's budgetary situation, I'm not sure now is the right time to be starting new federal spending programs.

Wallace: But, according to the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, a Cadillac system for public funding for congressional elections would cost just one-twenty-fifth of one percent of the federal budget. Governor, I'll bet you could find that much money buried in the sofas over at the Pentagon.

Romney: Chris, after I got in so much trouble for saying that Ann drives two Cadillacs, I promised myself I would never buy another one, especially for Congress!

Wallace: You've loosened up a little since you picked Paul Ryan.

(laughter by both)

Wallace: What about disclosure? You criticize President Obama for not accepting public funds, but he at least discloses his big fundraisers, or bundlers. Why don't you reveal yours, like every other major party nominee since George W. Bush?

Romney: Well, Chris, as I've said, we've done everything required under the law--

Wallace: It's interesting you say that because the only bundlers you have disclosed are 34 federal lobbyists who must be identified under an ethics law passed after the Abramoff scandal. These are people whose job it is to influence the government. If I might ask, sir, if you're concerned about money buying favors, how do you justify accepting lobbyists' help?

Romney: Chris, we are up against the biggest money machine in the history of politics and--

Wallace: But President Obama does not accept contributions from lobbyists and none of his bundlers are lobbyists.

Romney: (chuckles) I thought we were going to talk about the issues today.

Wallace: Alright, let's talk about the issues. You blame President Obama's decision to opt-out of the public funding system for reversing all the progress that had been made in campaign finance reform for the past decade. But the only significant reform in that period was the McCain-Feingold law, which banned corporate contributions to the political parties. Back in 2008, you pilloried John McCain for the law because you said it, and I quote, "took a whack at the First Amendment and I do believe, as well, hurt our party pretty significantly." Which is it, governor? Do you want restrictions on campaign spending or not?

Romney: (expression tightens) McCain-Feingold prohibited organizations from running television commercials and I think that was an unacceptable intrusion on our First Amendment rights.

Wallace: Actually, it only banned corporate- and union-funded political ads near elections. And just this past January, you said, quote, "we all would like super PACs to disappear." As you know, super PACs are the outside groups that can spend unlimited amounts of corporate money thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. So, do you want outside groups in or out?

Romney: Chris, I believe we should let the candidates raise the money and get rid of the super PACs.

Wallace: So are you saying that you would support a reversal of the Citizens United decision or a constitutional amendment permitting Congress to place limits on corporate political spending? President Obama favors such an amendment.

Romney: (increasingly annoyed) Chris, I've said consistently that I support the decision. What I've also said is that I think we should remove the limits on contributions to candidates. Then, I think people would give directly to the candidates.

Wallace: But you just said you wanted to get the big money out of politics and make it easier for candidates to run with public funding. Do you really think that would happen if we eliminated limits on contributions to candidates?

Romney: Chris, I'm sorry you don't want to talk about the real issues.

Wallace: OK. Let's move on to your plan to replace Obamacare ...

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