US Democrats push campaign finance reform, passage unlikely

WASHINGTON DC, USA – The Senate advanced Democratic efforts Monday, September 8, to amend the US Constitution by limiting the financial influence of corporations and billionaires on elections, but the bid appeared doomed to fail.

In the first session after summer recess, Republicans allowed rivals to move ahead with the bill, knowing they can quash it at upcoming procedural hurdles.

Democrats seek to dam the recently allowed flood of "dark money" – unlimited and sometimes anonymous campaign contributions – which they warn has pervaded US elections.

"Recent decisions rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States – Citizens United, the McCutcheon case – have destroyed our campaign finance laws, and have left the American people with a status quo in which radical billionaires are attempting to buy democracy," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Reid singled out Charles and David Koch, who preside over a vast industrial empire, for their recent efforts to help elect Republicans aligned with their corporate priorities.

Buying America?

"They are trying to buy America, at every level of government. Why? Because they want to make more money," Reid said.

"We're faced with a choice; we can keep the status quo or we can change the system and restore the fundamental principal of one American, one vote."

Because it is a proposed constitutional amendment, the bill needs the support of two-thirds of Congress to advance – a virtual impossibility for a controversial issue in Washington's toxic political climate.

But ahead of November's midterm elections, Democrats aim to capitalize on voter frustration over perceived corruption and the increasing power of the wealthy in American politics.

Many Democrats have seethed since 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled that organizations, unions and corporations could contribute unlimited amounts to groups supportive of a candidate, provided the groups did not coordinate with the candidate.

The decision opened the floodgates for campaign cash in 2010 and 2012 and led to creation of so-called super-PACs, unaffiliated groups which could accept unlimited donations from corporations and individuals for independent political expenditures.

Record campaign donations

Outside groups spent a record $1 billion plus on the 2012 elections.

"Our elections are not auctions up to the highest bidder," Senator Tom Udall, who is spearheading the effort, told reporters at an event featuring boxes with signatures of three million Americans who support a campaign finance reform amendment.

Reid has been accused of dwelling on the messaging bill during a curtailed session before lawmakers hit the campaign trail, leaving little time to address more immediate issues like funding government for fiscal year 2015 beginning October 1.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell framed the effort as a desperate ploy by Democrats to "shut down the voices of their critics at a moment when they fear the loss of their fragile Senate majority."

But Republicans may have allowed the bill to advance Monday so Democrats pursue it this week, leaving less time to address other sticking points, such as pay equality. –