Obama, GOP argue past each other on campaign finance

In his weekly radio address, Obama berates Republicans for blocking campaign 'reform and transparency.' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says it's all just a 'transparent effort to rig the fall elections' in Democrats' favor.

President Obama meets with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (L) during a meeting with Congressional leadership in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington July 27, 2010.

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” Jesse Unruh, the “Big Daddy” of California politics, said many years ago, and it’s still true today.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the 2007-2008 election cycle was fueled by $5.8 billion in itemized contributions to state and federal campaigns. House and Senate races this year are projected to cost $3.7 billion, according to the center, most of it from businesses, unions, political action committees, and other special-interest groups.

Former US Senator Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings (D) of South Carolina recently made an important (and scary) point about the poisonous nature of this political mother’s milk:

“In my last race in 1998 to be elected the seventh time to the United States Senate, I had to raise $8.5 million,” he wrote. “That factors out to $30,000 a week, each week, every week, for six years. You don't start collecting money the year before your re-election date. Rather, you are in constant fundraise mode.”

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court took a big whack at the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (the so-called McCain-Feingold law), allowing unlimited corporate or union spending in ads for or against a candidate on the grounds that limiting such spending would violate constitutional free-speech rights.

There was a time when campaign finance reform was much more bipartisan. But no more.

As columnist Mark Shields pointed out on PBS’s NewsHour Friday, McCain-Feingold had the support of 55 House Republicans – plus, of course, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate back when McCain was still a “maverick.” A related proposal now, which would simply require disclosure of corporate campaign contributions, had just two House Republican supporters, Shields pointed out.

In the Senate, the measure garnered a majority, but it was one vote shy of the 60-vote “super majority” needed to block a GOP filibuster.

As Monitor congressional reporter Gail Russell Chaddock explained, “The proposed law would have required that chief executives appear at the end of political ads, claiming responsibility for the material. The law also would have banned foreign corporations or governments, large government contractors, and federal bailout recipients from spending money in US elections.”

In his weekly radio/Internet address Saturday, President Obama sounded a theme likely to be heard up until the November elections:

“You’d think that reducing corporate and even foreign influence over our elections wouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said. “But the Republican leaders in Congress said no. In fact, they used their power to block the issue from even coming up for a vote. This can only mean that the leaders of the other party want to keep the public in the dark. They don’t want you to know which interests are paying for the ads. The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”

“Nonsense,” says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R) of Kentucky, pivoting to the issue the GOP can be expected to hammer this election season.

"Americans want us to focus on jobs, but by focusing on an election bill, Democrats are sending a clear message to the American people that their jobs aren't as important as the jobs of embattled Democrat politicians," McConnell said. "The president says this bill is about transparency. It's transparent all right. It's a transparent effort to rig the fall elections."

Like so many issues, Obama and his Republican adversaries can be expected to continue arguing past each other on this one.

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