The post-Citizens United drive for secret money is now a veritable arms race.
As a New York Times editorial recently noted, Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary, is leading a group called Priorities USA to “raise unlimited money from undisclosed sources to aid in the president’s re-election campaign.
While I’m sympathetic to the notion that Democrats cannot afford to cede ground in these exorbitant, no-holds-barred campaigns—as one colleague put it, “You don’t fight with one hand tied behind your back”—this isn’t news to be welcomed by pro-democracy reformers. By accepting the same opaque money they are arguing against, the Democrats’ case for campaign finance reform becomes morally ambiguous at best.
Instead, Democrats could use this moment to seize the overwhelming bipartisan sentiment across this country that we need to curb the influence of money in our elections—even 62 percent of Republican voters and 60 percent of Tea Partiers agree!
Democrats are already on record—unlike nearly every Republican—to make campaigns cleaner and more democratic. Whether supporting the DISCLOSE Act, Fair Elections Now Act, or state clean election laws, Democrats have demonstrated their commitment in rhetoric and votes. Some are even speaking out for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision granting corporations the “right” to spend unlimited money influencing elections.
Yet leadership on public financing and clean elections needs to begin at the top. President Obama’s rhetoric has been tremendous on occasion—his campaign language, response to the Citizens United decision, statements on the DISCLOSE Act—but he could also do more to forcibly push for the Fair Elections Now Act, a Presidential public financing fix, and passing the DISCLOSE Act which was defeated by a Republican filibuster.