WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, House and Senate Democrats aimed all the spotlights at campaign finance reform. They introduced a dozen bills designed to reduce the influence of money in politics. And they drew a clear line from fixing the electoral system to lifting up middle-class Americans.
"If anyone thinks that the issues of the economy, the minimum wage, overtime, job creation, climate change, education are not directly related to campaign finance reform, you are terribly wrong," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters at the Democrats' press event.
The party's message was not brand-new. After passage of the omnibus budget bill at the close of 2014, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had sent a letter to her caucus praising their strong opposition to a last-minute provision that raised limits on campaign contributions to political parties.
"The inclusion of the outrageous campaign contribution provision gives further evidence of the need for campaign finance reform, and an opportunity for advancing initiatives to empower small donors and all American voters," Pelosi wrote.
But Wednesday marked the first time since the Citizens United ruling that Democrats from the House and Senate joined together to introduce all of their campaign finance reform legislation in one grand gesture.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and 138 co-sponsors re-introduced legislation to provide public matching funds for small-dollar contributions to congressional campaigns. He said that his bill, which has been endorsed by Pelosi, and the others brought up Wednesday would "work on behalf of giving a voice to the American people."
There were 12 bills in total. They included an amendment to reverse the 2010 Citizens United decision, several measures to empower small donors through a system of public matching funds, disclosure requirements aimed at spending by publicly traded corporations and some politically active nonprofits, and a bill to clarify (and, in practice, tighten) coordination rules for super PACs and nonprofits.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who is leading messaging efforts for House Democrats, showed how his caucus plans to tie their support for campaign finance reform with their emphasis on middle-class families.
"[Americans] feel they can't make real economic progress when PACs and lobbyists are crowding them out to cut overtime, give tax cuts to the wealthy, and help ship jobs to cheap labor markets abroad," Israel said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Rep. Sarbanes' bill, the Government by the People Act, would help level the playing field and give ordinary Americans the voice that decisions, like Citizens United, have so recklessly dismantled."
Wednesday's unveiling of legislation also drew attention to the more than 130 organizations that have signed a unified statement of principles on the need for campaign finance reform. They ran the gamut from some of the largest membership organizations, like the AFL-CIO, the NAACP and the Sierra Club, to traditional campaign finance reform and consumer groups.
Coordination of reform efforts among these groups has greatly increased since the Citizens United decision. On Wednesday, they revealed that 5 million Americans had signed a petition calling for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
The 12 bills introduced Wednesday included:
- The Government by the People Act, which would establish a publicly financed small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.).
- The Disclose Act, which would require disclosure from all groups that spend on elections. Introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
- The Democracy for All Amendment, which calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other Supreme Court restrictions on campaign finance reform. Introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
- The Real Time Transparency Act, which would require disclosure of all contributions of $1,000 or more within 48 hours. Introduced by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).
- The Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits Act, which would force electorally active nonprofits to disclose contributions of $5,000 or more. Introduced by Sen. Tester.
- The Shareholder Protection Act, which would require publicly traded companies to inform their shareholders of political contributions. Introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.).
- The Empowering Citizens Act, which would establish a publicly financed small-donor matching system for congressional elections, fix the presidential public financing system and expand coordination rules for outside groups. Introduced by Rep. David Price (D-N.C.).
- The Fair Elections Now Act, which would create a publicly financed small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
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