February 02, 2010

Let's Reform Campaign Finance Laws for Good

Today, I joined my colleagues on the Senate Rules Committee to discuss the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reform — a decision that strikes down long-standing campaign finance laws limiting corporate influence on elections.

With this decision, the Supreme Court has shown its willingness to rule broadly and ignore longstanding precedent when it is reviewing the constitutionality of campaign finance laws. It was a victory for special interests at the expense of the American people.

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Fifty years ago, when my father, Stewart and my uncle, Mo were running for office, elections were about finding the candidate with the best and biggest ideas, rather than the best and biggest checkbooks.  Unfortunately, we're about to see a lot more big checkbooks in the election process.

There are two paths that we can take to restore sensible campaign finance rules and I plan on pursuing both:

1. A Constitutional Amendment

Since the existing law was overturned by the Supreme Court, the best long-term solution to restore public faith in our elections is to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. An amendment would preserve the voice of the American people in the face of the vast political power and influence of corporations and other special interests.

2. New Comprehensive Campaign Finance Legislation

While in the House of Representatives, I co-sponsored Rep. Dave Obey campaign finance legislation, called the Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act. In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce a Senate version. This Act does not attempt to fine-tune the existing congressional campaign finance system or tweak the edges. Rather, it makes fundamental, wholesale changes to fundraising by candidates, regulation of outside groups, and the role of political parties.

The legislation based on the Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act would:

  • Contain a finding that America's faith in the election system has been fundamentally corrupted by big money from outside interest groups.
  • Establish a system of voluntary contributions to provide public financing of campaigns for Senate candidates in general elections.
  • Provide more funds than the current system for the vast majority of challengers to mount their campaigns. 
  • Empower voters with the knowledge that their vote affects the outcome of the current election and also affects the amount of funds distributed to nominees in future elections. 
  • Ban all independent expenditures so that only the candidate is responsible for his or her message. 
  • Provide for expedited consideration of a constitutional amendment allowing these changes if the Supreme Court rejects the plan.
  • Establish a process by which third party candidates can also participate in the system.

I will be pushing for campaign finance reform on both of these fronts in the future. Stay tuned for updates and I encourage New Mexicans to contact my office with your thoughts on this important issue.