Examiner Editorial: Honesty needed in campaign finance reform 

Hard as it is to imagine, the film at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last week in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was the insipidly named "Hillary: The Movie." After all the caterwauling by people who want to continue using campaign finance laws to restrict political speech, one would have thought it was "Apocalypse Now."

President Barack Obama predicted "a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics," while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the decision "will change the course of our democracy." Public Citizen, the Ralph Nader-inspired "consumer advocate" group that has for years championed campaign finance "reform," said citizens should "shed a tear for democracy" because the decision "so imperils our democratic well-being." The group now demands a constitutional amendment to exempt for-profit corporations from the First Amendment’s protection.

But Public Citizen’s call for constitutionally banning corporations from using their profits to pay for political speech points to the fundamental hypocrisy behind campaign finance reform: Congressional advocates decry "the influence of special-interest money" then turn around and lap it up.

For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, both vigorously denounced the court’s decision. Pelosi said "we cannot allow special-interest dollars to dictate the details of public policy" while Van Hollen said the decision would "open the floodgates" at a time when "we need to be reducing the influence of special-interest money."

But their 2010 re-election campaign donor records suggest that both cashed checks worth thousands of dollars from PACs representing for-profit corporations. Pelosi’s record, according to OpenSecrets.org, shows $37,500 from PACs representing Wall Street securities firms, $26,500 from drugmakers’ PACs and $43,000 from K Street lobbyists, many of whom represent corporate clients. Similarly, Van Hollen deposited checks totaling $11,000 from Wall Street PACs, $22,000 from drugmakers’ PACs and $18,400 from lobbyists.

Or consider Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., main authors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, aka McCain-Feingold. McCain’s 2010 re-election campaign donors include AT&T’s PAC for $12,500, $6,000 from the Pinnacle West Capital PAC and $5,000 from the Union Pacific Corp. PAC, among many others. Feingold’s PAC donors include $12,500 from the entertainment industry PACs, $7,000 from insurance industry PACs and $2,000 from commercial bank PACs.

Here’s a thought: Instead of decrying the influence of special interests from which campaign reform champions accept thousands of dollars in campaign cash, how about they practice what they preach by giving it back and refusing to accept anymore?

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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