On Campaign Finance, Republicans and Democrats Could Not Be Further Apart

The Republican platform calls for more money in politics.
The 2016 Republican Party platform calls for less campaign money disclosure while repealing contribution limits.
The 2016 Republican Party platform calls for less campaign money disclosure while repealing contribution limits.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

CLEVELAND ― Donald Trump may have fought his way to the Republican presidential nomination attacking his own party’s donor class, but the 2016 Republican Party platform firmly supports the right of wealthy donors to give even more money with less disclosure.

The platform, released on Monday, clearly states, “We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the public square or limit their ability to promote their ideas, such as requiring private organizations to publicly disclose their donors to the government.” It further calls for the repeal of the McCain-Feingold limits on soft money donations to political parties and “raising or repealing contribution limits.”

This is one area where the two parties could not be further apart. The draft copy of the Democratic Party platform calls for constitutional amendments to overturn both the 2010 Citizens United and the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decisions. It further endorses the creation of a public campaign financing system for congressional elections and the passage of legislation to increase disclosure of outside money.

“The Republican platform would create one political system for billionaires like Donald Trump and one for the rest of us,” David Donnelly, president of the campaign finance reform group Every Voice, said in a statement. “That’s antithetical [to] a democracy that belongs to all Americans, regardless of the size of our bank accounts. By contrast, Hillary Clinton supports making elections of, by, and for the people not the funders. It’s a stark difference.”

In Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, John Pudner, the former campaign manager for Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and the head of the conservative campaign finance reform group Take Back Our Republic, noted his difference of opinion with his party on the issue.

“I do not agree with them on the non-disclosure part of the platform,” Pudner said. “Now, on the raising the limit we are certainly not for doing away with limits,” he added.

The Republican platform includes some other tidbits on campaign finance.

The party calls for the repeal of the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which banned religious bodies like churches and nonprofit groups organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code from directly endorsing or opposing political candidates. Since nonprofit groups are protected from having to disclose their donors in most instances this could lead to a spike in undisclosed dark money spending.

One area where the Republican platform endorses some kind of regulation of campaign finance is in the area of credit card verification. The platform states, “To guard against foreign involvement in our elections, we call for vigilance regarding online credit card contributions to candidates and campaigns.”

The inclusion of this sentence is due to Pudner’s and Take Back Our Republic’s work. Pudner has been working with congressional Republicans to pass a bill requiring credit card verification for small donor contributions to prevent foreigners making donations to political candidates.

Pudner said he was pleased that the platform included a line on unverified credit card contributions and another that he had endorsed stating that people should not be fired or penalized at work for making campaign contributions.

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