Robin Kelly’s Michael Bloomberg-fueled special election primary victory for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in Congress is the just the latest example of campaign finance reform being treated like the stepchild in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.
Gun control is just too important, you see. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had to spend $2.2 million to secure a Chicago primary fight; he had to support the anti-NRA Democrat, lest the seat turn pro-NRA Democrat.
“It was the public that was the winner,” Bloomberg said during a news conference in front of the White House Wednesday.
But it had to be done, you see, because pro-gun control forces had to prove a point in their fight against the NRA: Which is that when it comes to a flood of shadow spending that most everyone agrees is anathema to the ideals of the American democracy…two can play at that game.
You can see the same thing happen with President Obama’s decision that he needs a 501(c)4, or “social welfare organization,” to pursue his second-term agenda or conservatives’ decision they need a super PAC to pursue bogus charges against Chuck Hagel: Shadow spending is just too important to The Cause to let campaign finance reform stand in the way.
The funny thing is that it wasn’t that long ago that Democrats were cursing the Supreme Court for allowing what Bloomberg just did (for the sixth time).
January 21, 2010, to be exact.
That’s the day Citizens United opened the door for cases like SpeechNOW.org vs. FEC, which is what gave us super PACs. Immediately following those rulings, liberals, good governance groups and even a few conservatives expressed alarm at how awash in cash the American electoral process was and what that could mean in terms of candidate recruitment and fair elections.
So what happened?
Well, Republicans had no qualms about raising this kind of cash, so Democrats decided they better not have any qualms either. Now everybody is doing it. Only, Democrats have developed a rationale for why it’s different when they do it.
Bloomberg said Wednesday, “What I’m trying to do is to just give information to the public and then let the public make a decision.”
Likewise, Obama’s people say his Organizing for America 501(c)4, unlike other (Republican) ones, will disclose donors even though the law doesn’t require it. Of course, this is from the same president who swore fealty to public funding and disdain for super PACs.
To be fair, Bloomberg is pursuing a far loftier goal with his outside spending than conservatives did with their Salem witch trial of Chuck Hagel. And, to be honest, moral high grounds are easily overrun. As Woody Allen’s character noted of an early draft of his novel at the beginning of Manhattan: It’s “gonna be too preachy, I mean, you know, let’s face it, I wanna sell some books here.”
But if most of us, politicians included, agree upon money’s potential to corrupt the political process, where’s the alarm? The best we’ve heard from Obama is a Reddit conversation, back in August, where he casually suggested an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Just making sure all 501(c)4’s had to disclose donors—the DISCLOSE Act—would mark a dramatic leap forward.
Without any real push from President Obama, however, I suspect campaign finance reform only gets the lip service treatment.