Senate showdown likely coming over campaign spending
May 15th, 2014
01:08 PM ET
9 years ago

Senate showdown likely coming over campaign spending

Washington (CNN) - Saying that "No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns, whether they are Democrat, Republican or independent," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday strongly backed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit campaign spending by outside groups.

Reid announced on the Senate floor that the Judiciary Committee would soon hold a hearing on the amendment, introduced earlier this year by Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and that the full "Senate will vote on that legislation."

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'][twitter-follow screen_name='psteinhausercnn']

The measure would curb unlimited campaign spending by giving Congress the authority to regulate raising and spending limits for federal elections.

"Sens. Udall and Bennet's amendment reins in the massive spending of super PACs which have grown so much since the Citizens United decision," Reid added.

That's the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that removed legal barriers preventing corporations and unions from spending unlimited sums on federal elections.

The amendment should likely pass the Judiciary Committee, where it only needs a simple majority to advance. But its chances of passing the full Senate, where it needs a two-thirds majority, are extremely slim, due to broad GOP opposition.

As he has numerous times the past few months, Reid targeted much of his firepower against the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, who have spent hundreds of millions since 2010, through the conservative non-profit political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity and other organizations, to attack Democrats and support Republicans. Overall, pro-GOP outside groups have heavily outspent their pro-Democratic rivals since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling opened the floodgates.

"There is absolutely no question the Koch brothers are in a category of their own, in both degree and kind. No one else pumping money into the shadowy campaign organizations and campaigns like they are. There isn't even a close second," Reid said. "They are doing this to promote issues that make themselves even richer."

"Why not level the playing field for everyone. Let's get this money out of our political system. Let's undo the damage done by the citizens united decision. Let's do it now," the Democrat from Nevada added.

Republicans were quick to fire back at Reid's move.

"Today's proposal by the Senate Majority Leader represents an all-out assault on the right to free speech, a right which undergirds all others in our democracy. It's also a clear sign of just how desperate elected Washington Democrats have become in their quest to hold onto power," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

"Proposing to take away this fundamental right from the American people and vest it in the federal government instead is the ultimate act of radicalism, and it should concern all Americans who care about their right to speak their minds and to participate freely in the political process," added the five-term senator from Kentucky who faces a tough-election of his own this year.

Reid's comments on Capitol Hill came at the same time that American Bridge, a pro-Democratic outside group that concentrates on opposition research against Republicans and defends Democrats, announced a new research and rapid-response project aimed at the Koch brothers.

While Democrats point to the Koch brothers as the poster boys for what they term out-of-control outside spending, Republicans point to Tom Steyer, the wealthy hedge fund manager, philanthropist, and environmentalist, who has bankrolled many Democratic outside efforts.

At play is control of the Senate. The Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the chamber (including two independents who caucus with the party). But the party's defending 21 of the 36 seats in play in this November's midterm elections, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states.

Complete Coverage: 2014 Midterm Elections

Americans for Prosperity has already spent around 25 million to attack Democrats and support Republicans in key Senate races so far this cycle. The biggest pro-Democratic spending outside group, Senate Majority PAC, has shelled out $11.1 million.

While the constitutional amendment faces all-but-certain defeat on the Senate floor, Democrats believe public opinion is on their side, and that the efforts to push the amendment could motivate their base, which is crucial in traditionally low-turnout midterm contests.

Reid first signaled his support of the Udall-Bennet amendment in a BuzzFeed report Wednesday.

The issue of campaign spending was also in the Supreme Court's spotlight earlier this spring. A 5-4 ruling last month by the justices eliminated limits on how much money individuals can donate in total in one election season.

However, the decision left intact the current $5,200 limit on how much an individual can give to any single candidate during a two-year election cycle. Until now, an individual donor could give up to $123,200 per cycle.

The ruling means a wealthy donor can give as much money as desired to federal election candidates across the country, as long as no candidate receives more than the $5,200 cap.


Filed under: 2014 • Campaign finance • Citizens United • Harry Reid • Senate
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Warren

    I can think of a much better way to spend all of that money, then to give it to a politician to get a $300.00 hair cut..Or a group of people who pay no taxes..

    May 15, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  2. Mike

    See, now. most people don't like the fact that our legislators spend so much time soliciting campaign donations. They don't like it that money plays such a big role in politics. They don't like hearing that, when wealthy contributors disagree with the majority of citizens, the wealthy usually win. They don't like it that that can reasonably and fairly be called an oligarchy, when we're told that this is a democratic country.

    And, the fact that our government serves the wealthy far more than it serves the majority of us is the worst problem facing us. It's why there's such inequality, the greatest in the Western world. That inequality is a result of the policy that the wealthy have bought and paid for.

    But, Republican voters will find a reason to support the party that's in favor of oligarchy and inequality. They'll listen to the lies about how the poor deserve to be poor, and ignore the fact that, as Piketty tells us, most of the elite inherited their wealth, and grow wealthier simply because they started out with enough excess wealth to live on a small part of their interest, while the rest makes them wealthier still. They'll listen to the harmful polarizing propaganda of the Right about inconsequential issues such as Benghazi. They'll ignore the fact that Obamacare is, overall, a benefit, because they're told, over and over about website issues, and about the "lies" that Obama told. They'll blame the economy on Obama, forgetting that it was a Republican plan to prevent the government spending and job creation that is the only means to pull us out of it, just as WW II spending pulled us out of the Great Depression. They'll listen to the lies about how all those OTHER people want their money, through the taxes that will fund the infrastructure and education that we desperately need. They'll believe that it's the liberals and progressives who are the enemy, because that's what Rush, Palin, and Ryan keep telling them.

    The enemy is the people who own this country. They tell you when and where to work, and how much you'll be paid for your services. They'll keep you divided and pointing at us, while they work behind the scenes.

    May 15, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  3. O'drama ya Mama


    Why do the Democrats want to stifle and control free speech? Let the PEOPLE decide who and what they believe. We don't need our government controlling this in any way. Wasn't it enough for these progressive/socialist/communists in the Democrat Party to take over and wreck our healthcare system with Obamacare? Now they want to restrict our rights to participate in campaigns and communicate our opinions and solutions? Demorcats are the greatest danger to this country and your personal freedom EVER.
    May 15, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |

    Donna, this is the opposite of free speech. Most Americans never have their voice heard. You have to actually pay or as they like to call it "contribute" to campaigns before you can voice your opinion over the loud speaker.

    May 15, 2014 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  4. Dems in PA

    An administration elected by low-information voters is populated with low-information officials who are ignorant of the laws (SCOTUS just ruled on this!) they are charged to enforce even though they often misuse them for their own political purposes.

    May 15, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "We are FAR closer to a leftist dictatorship than we are an oligarchy.

    Not according to a very thorough Princeton study that proved that the single biggest factor influencing policy decisions in our country over the past several decades is the money that the wealthy and corporations throw at our political systems and elections. Heck, it even showed that when the populace's opinion was aligned with the wealthy interests throwing money into our political system, the greater influence was still the money, not the fact that the majority of people supported whatever it was.

    Fact: This isn't a partisan issue unless you're afraid you'd lose an advantage.

    May 15, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  6. HoustonOilMan

    No one is limiting free speech you can still support however you want and campaign for them, but just because you may have more money than someone else doesn't mean you should have a louder voice. It's one person=one vote not 1 dollar=1 vote.

    May 15, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. Steve, New York City

    This is an extremely serious issue – out-of-control campaign donations, and college tuition costs that perpetually and vastly outstrip increases in underlying inflation, are two of the most serious issues facing America today.

    I'd love to see a bipartisan effort on this - glad Harry Reid wants to vote on it - hopefully the "criminal cartels" (more commonly known as Washington lobbyists) don't try to sabotage this effort.

    May 15, 2014 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. sonny chapman

    The 1st Amendment & the 2nd Amendment are NOT without limits. The unbridled use/abuse of these RIGHTS by the few, at the expense of the many is DESTROYING this Nation.

    May 15, 2014 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. Dems in PA

    Senator Reid wasting time on things like this shows it time for term limits, age limits; Harry Reid needs a competency test; he is delusional.

    May 15, 2014 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  10. Silence DoGood

    @Dems in PA
    Senator Reid wasting time on things like this shows it time for term limits, age limits; Harry Reid needs a competency test; he is delusional.
    Just because it might not pass, it is not a waste of time. We get to see who comes out from under a rock to fight it. Those are the folks who are trying to run things with money or the fools that think they are for "freedom".

    May 15, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
1 2