Marco Rubio's Surprising 3-Word Answer About Money in Politics

NBC's Chuck Todd asked Sen. Marco Rubio a basic question during Wednesday night's town hall meeting on MSNBC.

"If you could change one thing about the campaign finance system after going through all this as a candidate, what would you change?," asked Todd.

"I don't know," said Sen. Rubio.


Sen. Rubio's campaign has raised over $34.5 million for his campaign committee as of January. Outside groups have raised another $34 million on his behalf, much of it from hedge fund billionaires and untraceable sources, as the Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal has reported.

Yet Sen. Rubio has no idea if there is a single thing he would change about the way we raise and spend money in political campaigns.

Here's the thing: as I wrote earlier this year, huge margins of Americans - 85%, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll - believe that money has too much influence in political campaigns and that we should "fundamentally change" or "completely rebuild" the system for funding campaigns.

That counts people from across the political spectrum.

There are plenty of solutions to empower voters and preserve a democracy of, by, and for the people. They are explained in detail in the "Fighting Big Money" agenda that Common Cause and twelve other groups released last year as the presidential campaign got off to a running start. All of the solutions protect basic principles of a democracy where everyone participates; everyone's voice is heard; everyone knows who is trying to influence our views and our representatives; everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules; and everyone is held accountable.

In good news for Sen. Rubio, there are many bills pending in the United States Senate - where Sen. Rubio still has nine months of his term left - that would change our campaign finance system in keeping with these principles.

Here are just a few ideas for Sen. Rubio's consideration. Not a single one of these common sense laws would require a constitutional amendment to implement:

  • The DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, would require outside spending groups that spend major amounts of money on political campaigns to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Transparency of big money donors would let voters "follow the money" and make informed decisions on Election Day about who may be beholden to whom. It would help clean-up our current system, where secret donors have made more than $500 million in secret contributions to influence elections after Citizens United.
  • The Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, would set-up a voluntary system of public financing of congressional campaigns. This bill would empower everyday Americans to participate in elections by matching small donations with limited public funds. Campaigns today are funded in large part by a tiny, highly unrepresentative segment of our population. It's no wonder that our government is often more attuned to the preferences of the donor class than the rest of us. The Fair Elections Now Act - modeled in part off successful programs in Maine, Connecticut and other jurisdictions - would bring balance back to our campaign finance system. It would let legislators spend more time with constituents instead of raising money from big donors; increase the importance of small donors from an elected official's home state or district; reduce barriers to running for office; and help diversify Congress so that it looks more like America.
  • The EMPOWER Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, would modernize the already-existing presidential public financing system in ways that are similar to the Fair Elections Now Act. As I've written about before, every single nominee of the Republican and Democratic parties from 1976 to 2008, with the notable exception of President Obama, used the presidential public financing program to finance their general election campaigns.
  • The Shareholder Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, would respond to Citizens United, where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasury funds on political campaigns. This bill would require shareholders to authorize a political budget before corporations could spend money on campaigns - and it would also require corporations to disclose political spending to shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the public on a quarterly basis.
  • The Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, would end the use of individual-candidate Super PACs, which are little more than shadow arms of political campaigns that can take unlimited amounts of money from any source in circumvention of contribution limits to candidates.
  • The Federal Election Administration Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, would create a new agency to enforce our campaign finance laws. The current Federal Election Commission, notoriously mired in gridlock, has been described as "worse than dysfunctional" by its own chairwoman last year. This is in large part because three of the Republican commissioners routinely vote to block meaningful action on important campaign finance enforcement and other regulatory matters. Sen. Udall's bill would create a more robust agency to act decisively and fairly administer our campaign finance laws in a timelier manner.
  • The Sunshine in Sponsorship Act, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, would bring more sunlight to our airwaves, and (among other things) direct the Federal Communications Commission to update its rules to ensure that political ads include more detailed disclosures about the true sponsors of those commercials.
  • The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, would update the antiquated system senators use to file their campaign finance disclosure reports. Believe it or not, in the year 2016, most senators file their disclosure reports on paper with the Senate. That paper is scanned, e-mailed to the Federal Election Commission, and then printed and sent to a contractor to code the data for electronic systems. It wastes about $500,000 in taxpayer money every year and delays access to information for weeks while the data is printed, scanned and uploaded. No other federal political committees file disclosure reports this way.
  • The Real Time Transparency Act, sponsored by Sen. Angus King, would require political candidates, parties and PACs to disclose major donations of $1,000 or more within 48-hours of receipt. Some political candidates are already required to do this in the weeks before an election. This bill would simply extend the requirement to the calendar year, so that voters will have access to information closer to "real time."

If Sen. Rubio will re-consider whether there is a single idea he could support to change our campaign finance system, he could start with the above pieces of legislation that are already pending and ready for him to review.