Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Real and Fake Priorities

During her 2008 race, Sen. Collins often lamented the duration and expense of modern political campaigns. She bemoaned the influence of interest groups and third-party advertising. She even pledged to shun support from outside attack groups.

So, in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision, which opened the door to a limitless flood of outside money in elections, it made sense that Collins would call for new reforms. As a spokesman told The Hill:

"As a co-sponsor of the 2002 campaign reform law, Sen. Collins was disappointed that the Supreme Court struck down so many key provisions of this bipartisan legislation," Kelley said.

"She believes that it is important that any future campaign finance laws include strong transparency provisions so the American public knows who is contributing to a candidate's campaign, as well as who is funding communications in support of or in opposition to a political candidate or issue."
Several months later, with legislation taking shape to do exactly that, one would expect the junior senator to be one of its most ardent supporters. Right?

Well, not exactly:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leading proponent of greater campaign-finance restrictions in the past, is taking issue with a bill imposing transparency in political advertisements.


In a statement, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said Collins believes the public has a right to know who is contributing to campaigns but has concerns that the [DISLOSE Act] gives an unfair political advantage to unions over corporations.


In addition, Collins's spokesman said the timing of the bill should not take precedent to more pressing economic matters.

"Rather than rushing to change complex campaign finance laws mid-cycle in a manner that clearly favors one political party, Congress should remain focused on addressing the economic crisis and high unemployment rate," Kelley said.
(Anyone else having flashbacks to the health care debate, when the junior senator thought the Obama plan was pretty good until it was time to actually go ahead and pass it? At which point she registered a series of hazy and unfounded complaints about the legislation, while also groaning about its timing? Ah, the memories.)

On the substance--the charge that the bill favors unions over corporations--here's David Vance, of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, via e-mail:

One of the provisions that House Republicans criticized deals with strengthening the prohibition in current law on government contractors' efforts to influence the outcome of elections. They claimed that the provision did not include unions. That is both incorrect and an inaccurate comparison...

Nonetheless, we encourage Senator Collins to address her specific issues with the legislation with the sponsors. It is not a perfect piece of legislation as the sponsors will freely admit, but the alternative of turning a blind eye to a flood of corporate and union treasury funds--much of it anonymous--in the coming election would be disastrous.
Here's Trevor Potter, a former Republican FEC Commissioner, tackling the same criticism:
The bill requires funding disclosure for all election advertising--union and corporate.

In previous elections, unions and corporations spent millions of dollars on TV ads "paid for" by groups with patriotic-sounding names--leaving viewers with no idea of who was behind them. Under the DISCLOSE Act, these ads have to identify their actual funders.

That is the most important element of the bill--and it applies equally to unions and corporations.

The bill prohibits those with federal contracts larger than $7 million from spending treasury funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications. The treatment is identical for unions and corporations.


Based on the legislative language's equality of treatment, claims of union favoritism seem to be unsupported efforts to discredit the bill and stave off its primary goal: disclosure of those underwriting the massive independent expenditure campaigns that are coming to dominate our elections. (Emphasis mine.)
In short, Susan Collins is up to her old tricks--putting conservative orthodoxy and Republican electoral strategy ahead of sound policy and the will of Maine voters.

Loyal Republican that she is, Collins knows that the new "anything goes" campaign finance reality is just fine with her corporate allies. And her Republican colleagues. And that denying President Obama another victory can only help GOP electoral prospects.

Which is why it's necessary for Collins to trot out the "it's not the right time" talking point. (Anyone remember Collins advancing that line of argument during the debate over any of the Bush administration's major initiatives?)

And in terms of the timing, as Vance notes, again via e-mail:

It was the U.S. Supreme Court that changed the rules mid-cycle and...8 in 10 Americans were outraged by that decision to allow unlimited corporate and union treasury funds into our elections.

That decision ignored precedent and a century's worth of law to curb corporate and union abuses of the democratic process dating back to the age of the Robber Barons and staggering corruption in Washington...This legislation will address those concerns. (Emphasis mine.)
An above-the-fray, non-ideological moderate with a strong commitment to clean elections would agree.

But Susan Collins simply isn't that legislator--if she ever was. And she hasn't been for a long, long time.

No comments: