Posts Tagged ‘campaign finance reform’

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Congress passed – unanimously in the Senate and without debate – and President Obama will sign, H.R. 2019, the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” (named after a 10-year old child who died last year of brain cancer). If the legislation actually did what it touts – to finance pediatric research – it would be a noble bill for a noble cause.

But it is a fig-leaf bill. Its real purpose is to begin dismantling the presidential public financing system, and is very unlikely to produce any revenues for pediatric research.

The bill was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. After Harper was unable to persuade Congress to approve earlier legislation that would have entirely defunded the public financing program, Harper re-worked the bill into what it is known now.

The legislation transfers public funds used to pay for the nominating conventions into the general treasury, then states that those funds may be used for pediatric research, if Congress ever decides to appropriate the funds for that purpose.

This same Congress slashed National Institute of Health (NIH) funding by $1.55 billion, which finances the pediatric research program, in the appropriations bills, and then placed caps on any further spending by NIH. The Kids First Research Act, if ever implemented, would transfer from the presidential public financing system to pediatric research, a pittance of what Congress slashed from the research budget. And even that pittance is not likely to happen. Given current spending caps on governmental agencies, Congress also would have to pass legislation lifting the spending ceiling for the National Institutes of Health to carry through with this appropriation, something that this Congress is very unlikely to do.

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Plutocracy or democracy; the rich or the rest of us; legalized bribery or law and order; corruption or common sense.

The choice facing the U.S. Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission could not be clearer.

If the court decides to strike down limits on what an individual can give directly to candidates, parties and PACs, the real-world impact is plain enough. A few hundred people will be empowered to spend millions to buy elections.

We will see a rise in corruption both as the public understands the term – meaning the entire political system will shift still more to favor the super-rich – and as the Supreme Court defines it – meaning quid pro quo corruption.

There is reason to hope the court will decide to uphold current giving limits. Striking down the aggregate limit rule will require abandoning the underpinnings of Buckley v. Valeo, the foundation of current campaign spending law.

So, we must hope the court respects precedent and common sense.

But we shouldn’t have to hope. That’s why it’s time for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy – an amendment that firmly establishes the people’s right to control campaign spending and ensure that we maintain a government of, by and for the people – not the superwealthy and giant corporations.

Editor’s note: See Robert Weissman speaking outside the Supreme Court today. View photos of the event.

Note: On July 25, U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David Price (D-N.C.) submitted an amicus curiae, or “friend-of-the-court,” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the Federal Election Commission in this case. Public Citizen Attorney Scott Nelson and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman are leading their team of attorneys.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case whose impact on our political system could be as damaging as Citizens United, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, Oct. 8, and it could dramatically boost the corrupting influence of the wealthy over candidates in federal elections.

In the case, the justices will consider whether to eliminate the limit on the total sum that people can give directly to candidates and political parties in a single election. The current overall limit for an individual making direct contributions to parties, political action committees (PACs) and federal candidates is $123,200 per two-year election cycle, but a win for the challengers in McCutcheon could allow total contributions above $7 million.

The case is being heard just a few years after the highly controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. That decision, the biggest game-changer to date in a long-term effort by corporate interests to kill campaign finance laws, led to unprecedented spending by the wealthy and corporations in the 2010 midterm congressional elections and last year’s presidential elections. It also sparked a robust movement, led in part by Public Citizen, for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Depending on how the justices rule, McCutcheon could be the next game-changer.

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By Darci Kovacs

In order to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen is pushing for a constitutional amendment to limit spending in elections. Already, the fight to get corporate money out of politics has 16 states on its side – almost half the number of states it would take to ratify an amendment.

Now, after an intensely successful two months—with Oregon, Delaware, West Virginia, Maine and Illinois all backing a constitutional amendment—Public Citizen is taking the fight to overturn Citizens United to Congress for the rest of the summer.

So far, 111 lawmakers have co-sponsored such an amendment in this legislative session. But, 111 does not come close to the 67-vote supermajority in the Senate and 290-vote supermajority in the House of Representatives necessary to pass one.

So in the next month, Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign is taking the momentum from the states that have backed an amendment and calling or visiting lawmakers who have failed to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

To get lawmakers on board, we need your help.

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by Kristen Essel and Ashley McKay
Public Citizen interns

The police officers pushed us toward our fellow protestors to clear an aisle. The officers stood between the crowd we were in and 21 protestors who sat in front of the doors to the Independent Democratic Caucus’ office.

We were at the Capitol building in Albany, N.Y., with people from a coalition of organizations, holding up signs calling for state senators to vote on issues that ranged from protecting the environment, to guaranteeing equality for female and transgender citizens of New York.

We were there to campaign for a public campaign financing system to limit large corporate and individual funding of New York state elections. The Fair Elections Act called for a financing system in which, for every dollar given by an individual to a candidate, six dollars would be given by the state, up to a certain threshold.

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