Money and Democracy

Published — October 6, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Campaign finance reform advocates face long-term challenges


The current political environment looks bleak for any congressional action soon on disclosure requirements to narrow the Citizens United ruling, efforts for more public financing of elections, and a fix for the out-of-date presidential public finance system.

That was the general consensus among speakers at a conference held this week by non-profit group Common Cause and its allies in the progressive government reform movement. The event emphasized long-term work more than short-term optimism,

Campaign finance reform activists have reason to be reeling of late.

First came the U.S. Supreme Court’s January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the doors for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on independent campaign advertising. More recently, Senate Democrats failed for a second time — on a strictly party-line vote — to invoke cloture and end debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporations and special interests to disclose the donors that pay for their political ads. And, advocates fear, this Supreme Court may also strike down state and local campaign finance reform laws.

Speaker Arianna Huffington, the liberal-leaning website publisher, called changing the role of money in politics “the mother of all reforms” and endorsed full public financing of political campaigns. Others described such reforms as a long-term struggle that needs to use social media and coalition building to rally public support around the issue.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and a veteran campaign finance reform activist, said that reformers currently operate in a “very hostile environment.” He expressed hope that the explosion of independent spending by outside groups who need not disclose their contributions would be the scandal that triggers a public groundswell. “You never know when the opportunity to win is going to call,” he said.

Mary Boyle, vice president for communications at Common Cause, told the Center that even though it sometimes feels like “pushing rocks up a hill,” a recent poll showed 70 percent support among Americans for reducing the influence of special interests in Congress.

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