Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Pelosi-Sarbanes Dud

Federal law prevents coordination between candidate committees and Super PACs. Luckily for Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD), co-sponsors of a new campaign finance bill (H.R. 20), the same does not hold true for public-relation blitzes. The legislators and their allies are directing an organized messaging campaign to convince the public of the need for this law.

H.R. 20 dovetails with the perpetual umbrage directed at the Supreme Court for its Citizens United v. FEC decision. The case’s anniversary is now habitually synchronized with legislative “solutions” to the “problem” of greater and more varied voices in the political marketplace. Whether under the guise of “transparency,” “shareholder protection,” or “citizen empowerment,” those that know best assure us they are at the ready with a government fix to our supposedly helplessly corrupt system of funding campaigns and political advocacy.

The bill would create an essentially publicly funded campaign system. Key components include a tax credit and public money multipliers for small donations. A third component, described in an op-ed published by the co-sponsors, is particularly misleading:

Provide candidates with an opportunity to earn additional resources in the homestretch of a campaign so that the voices of the people are not completely drowned out by super political action committees and other dark-money interests. In the wake of Citizens United, this kind of support is critical to ensuring that citizen-backed candidates have staying power.

When the authors state candidates will “earn additional resources,” they mean exactly the opposite. Those candidates would simply fill out a form with the FEC or IRS and have slab of taxpayer pork wired to their bank account.

The use of the phrase “[Super PACs] and other dark money interests” is also deceptive. “Dark money” does not fund Super PACs. They are merely unconnected (“independent expenditure only”) PACs. As such, they must regularly identify and report their contributors and expenditures to the FEC.

Finally, how would one determine who is a “citizen-backed candidate”? By law, candidates have no control over Super PACs. Given the influx of these entities on both sides, it is difficult to imagine a race of any import that wouldn’t receive some Super PAC support.

Various leftist factions have no need for such inconvenient details, however. H.R. 20’s public backers include Democrat donors, liberal nonprofits, and campaign finance reform groups.

The donors published a supportive letter released last week. In it they state their noble intention to lessen their own influence for the good of the ordinary citizen. A write up about the publicity stunt suggests they are also weary of constant phone calls from politicians asking for their money.

The Sierra Club, among other left-leaning groups, is also on board. The famed environmental outfit is worried about big-money political influence. But why? First, the group has its own Super PAC, which spent $1.2 million dollars in 2012 trying to influence various elections. Second, radical California environmentalist Tom Steyer was 2013’s largest Super PAC contributor with a brisk $11 million. And that doesn’t count the $8.5 million he dropped in Virginia to help elect the Sierra Club’s preferred choice for governor. Regardless, if the Sierra Club or any other groups want a louder political voice, that is a matter between them and their members, not the American taxpayer.

In fact, H.R. 20 proposes nothing new. It apes dozens of previous proposals designed to sap the private sector of a locus of power in an area where the public sphere is shrinking. Publicly financed presidential campaigns are now a relic. And Americans do not seem particularly eager to foot the bill for those already adorned with large staffs and countless perquisites. 

Fortunately, because of the current political makeup of Congress, this bill is going exactly where it should: nowhere.

By Paul Jossey

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