Today is the 15th anniversary of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), also known as the McCain-Feingold Law, also known as “the worst day of Mitch McConnell’s life.”
Whichever label you prefer, it’s a milestone worth noting, a reminder that not so long ago there was a bipartisan consensus that our campaign finance system is corroding our democracy and a bipartisan commitment to improve it.
That consensus persists at the grassroots. Poll after poll, by Democrat, Republican, and independent pollsters, confirms that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all political stripes believe that – to borrow Justice Stephen Breyer’s memorable formulation – “big money calls the tune” in our politics and wants action to rein it in.
Unfortunately, a majority on the Supreme Court and a disappointing assortment of congressional leaders in both parties appears to believe the free or nearly free flow of cash into our elections is a good thing and sanctioned by the Constitution. The court and those lawmakers have effectively joined forces to roll back the progress promised by BCRA’s passage.
The battle is far from lost however. Voters and/or legislators in 18 states and 500-plus localities, home to more than 130 million Americans, have gone on record in support of a constitutional amendment that would overrule the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and again permit sensible regulation of political spending. A solid majority of senators backed such an amendment when it reached the Senate floor in 2014 but passage was blocked by a minority filibuster.
Meanwhile, state legislatures and local governments are increasingly turning to campaign finance systems that use public funds to match and supplement campaign donations from small dollar donors. These systems allow candidates of modest means to run competitive and often winning campaigns without relying on big money donors; they are working in “blue” states like Connecticut, “red” states like Arizona and swing states like Maine and in cities including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
These systems, along with strong requirements for disclosure of political spending by individuals, corporations and groups are practical, constitutional steps that can renew the promise of McCain-Feingold and make future anniversaries of BCRA even worse days for Sen. McConnell.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics