Campaign Finance Reform’s Death Knell Hidden in Spending Bill

PHOTO: Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on campaign finance. Susan Walsh/AP Photo
Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington as the court heard arguments on campaign finance.

Campaign finance reform has long been on life support, but today it can be declared nearly dead.

A proposal tucked deep inside the massive spending bill to keep the government running is a boon for political parties. It’s squirreled away on page 1,599 of the 1,603 page bill released late Tuesday night.

Under current regulations, a donor can give $32,400 to the Democratic or Republican National Committee. Soon, they will be able to give a total of $324,000 – 10 times the current limit.

In a two-year election cycle, a married couple could contribute $1.3 million to the various party committees. This financing will help parties raise money for their political conventions.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the proposal as “bipartisan.” He said it would allow political conventions to be financed privately, rather than through taxpayer funding.

“The Congress was very concerned about tax payer funding of political activities,” Boehner told reporters today.

The change effectively guts most of what is left of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, a 2002 law that put tight caps on political contributions.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has long advocated for the change, but his aides say he didn’t push for this proposal that has so far had no debate in Congress.

The political parties have gradually lost their grip on power, particularly with the flood of outside contributions allowing wealthy donors to create multi-million dollar political action committees that can help campaigns far more than the parties.

Campaign finance advocates questioned the transparency and the motive behind the proposal.

“Increasing these limits would only enable more dollars to pour into a system already flooded with cash and would encourage higher independent expenditures in the money arms race to counter them,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of the advocacy group, Public Citizen. “This embarrassing deal sacrifices the interests of everyday Americans who want clean elections while elevating the concerns of politicians who want to raise more money.”

There is a good chance President Obama will sign the bill given it is tied to the spending bill, but it’s a major change in the blurred lines of money and politics.