Democrats: Campaign Finance Reform — Remembering McCain

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, right, salutes while Jeanine McDonnell, daughter of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, center, and Christopher Devlin-Young, Gold Olympian alpine ski racer, exit the stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Aug. 29, 2012.

Although the Democrats defeated Senator John McCain in the contest for the White House four years ago, they still support the campaign finance law he co-authored — while his own Republican Party last week disavowed his signature legislation.

The Democratic platform calls for, “by constitutional amendment if necessary,” overhauling campaign finance laws. The platform, to be adopted tonight, also calls for full disclosure of donors to groups such as Republican-leaning Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as Priorities USA, founded by former aides to President Barack Obama.

These groups are spending millions of dollars on campaign ads without identifying who’s paying for them.

Republicans last week approved a party platform calling for repealing the sections of McCain’s campaign finance law that haven’t been thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in its Citizens United decision. The platform also supports allowing groups to conceal their donors and calls for increasing or eliminating all limits on campaign donations.

“The rights of citizenship do not stop at the ballot box,” the Republican platform states. “They include the free speech right to devote one’s resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports.”

The Republican plank was authored by James Bopp Jr., a lawyer who has spent decades challenging campaign finance laws and initially filed the Citizens United case.

“Historically, politicians have always looked to campaign finance reform to attack their opponents and get an advantage,” Bopp said in an interview in the Republican National Committee reception area shortly before Mitt Romney was to deliver his acceptance speech.

“Republicans have been just as guity as Democrats,” he said. “Now the party is much more ideological and much more conservative. And it’s a conservative article of faith to believe in the First Amendment’s protection of political speech.”

As a senator, the Republican McCain teamed with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin in winning campaign finance reforms limiting contributions. Four years ago, when McCain was the Republican nominee for president, Bopp said the platform had to be silent on the issue.

“Now we don’t have a problem of a nominee who’s in favor of a half-dozen liberal policies that we have to accommodate,” he said.

Democrats say the public has a right to know who’s speaking.

“It’s one of the major differences between Republicans and Democrats,” Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said in an interview following a state delegation breakfast in Concord, North Carolina, today. “They call it free speech. I call it a terrible way to run elections. People who put money into politics ought to be open and it ought to be limited.”


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