Momentum is building within the House Democratic Caucus to move aggressively on campaign finance reform next year after candidates promised the issue would be at the center of their agenda if they took back the majority.
Half of the new Democrats elected to Congress have refused to take corporate PAC money, according to the grass-roots organization End Citizens United, which advocates for campaign finance reform.
Separately, more than 100 Democratic House candidates signed a letter sent last month calling for sweeping reforms, including the disclosure of all political spending. At least 34 of those candidates won their elections, according to End Citizens United, with a few races remaining too close to call.
Members of the party’s leadership also said that campaign finance reform would be at the top of the agenda, a pledge they’ve since doubled down upon.
House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday the party would work to “reduce the role of dark, special interest money” as she talked about the new majority’s workload and priorities.
On Tuesday, 41 candidates were elected to Congress who pledged to make campaign finance reform item number 1 in 2019. Yesterday, @NancyPelosi said one of the top issues will be “to reduce the role of dark special interest money.”
We’re excited to get to work on this. pic.twitter.com/Tgs74NTmyQ
Click Here: cheap Cowboys jersey— End Citizens United (@StopBigMoney) November 8, 2018
The reforms most likely to pass immediately through the House, Democrats say, include a law requiring big donors to reveal themselves and legislation to create a new public matching funds system.
Getting anything signed into law is unlikely, given GOP control of the Senate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE in the White House.
Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats introduce bill to rein in Trump’s power under Insurrection Act Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for ‘glorifying violence’ | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues MORE (D-Md.), who has authored campaign finance reform bills in the past, said Democrats in the upper chamber would have to “really beat the drums to build public pressure” to get the Senate to consider legislation approved in the House.
But even if it’s set up to ultimately fail, the House could pass reform as a “symbolic” measure, said Thomas Rudolph, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Given the emphasis that a group of Democrats have placed on it, I think it’s likely that Democrats will make an early effort to enact some additional campaign finance reform, even if it’s only for symbolic value as a way of fulfilling campaign pledges to their supporters and donors,” he said.
On the campaign trail, reforming campaign finance laws was a common messaging strategy for Democrats.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who emerged as stars, pledged to reduce corporate money in politics. Some Democratic House candidates who won on Tuesday, including Jason CrowJason CrowGun control group rolls out House endorsements Bipartisan House bill seeks to improve pandemic preparedness Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary MORE in Colorado and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, did the same.
End Citizens United was one of the top spenders in House races. The group spent $8 million on House races, according to The Washington Post, and encouraged candidates to refuse money from PACs.
The group also helped organize the letter to Congress penned by 107 House candidates, who wrote that campaign finance reform needed to be “the very first item Congress addresses.”
Democratic Party leadership also emphasized campaign finance reform as a key message ahead of the midterms. In May, the party unveiled its platform for 2018, titled “A Better Deal for Our Democracy.” Among its three pillars was a pledge to “break the stranglehold big money has over our campaign finance system.”
Meanwhile, Pelosi said last month that Democrats would start with campaign finance reform if they took the House in the midterms.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who has taken a lead role in pushing campaign finance reform, said in a statement to The Hill that Democrats will introduce a reform package as soon as the new Congress takes office. Sarbanes is among a handful of returning Democrats in the House who have sworn off corporate PAC money, according to End Citizens United.
“On the first day of the new Congress, Democrats will introduce a bold and sweeping democracy reform package that will end the dominance of big money in our politics,” he said.
Democrats say the package, which will extend beyond campaign finance reform, is likely to include two bills on the issue.
One piece of legislation would be Sarbanes’s Government by the People Act, which proposes a small-donor matching system for federal candidates. Under the proposal, donations of up to $150 would be matched by a contribution of public funds at a six-to-one ratio. A donation of one dollar, for example, would trigger a $6 contribution.
The other bill likely to pass the House is Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillinePragmatic, incremental approach is the best way to reform antitrust law Exclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? Democrats call for special prosecutor to investigate clearing of protesters outside White House MORE’s (D-R.I.) Disclose Act, which would require “corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities” that spend in elections to disclose their donors.
It’s unlikely either bill would get enough Republican votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (Ky.), who opposes campaign finance reform.
But Van Hollen left the door open to a disclosure bill gaining traction in the Senate, saying there is “near universal support” among the public for such legislation.
“I think if the House can pass the Disclose Act, it will create momentum going into the Senate,” he said. “It’s just shining a light on the money flowing into politics. I have not found anybody who’s against that except Mitch McConnell.”