A new political action committee dedicated to campaign finance reform wants to be a big player in 2016, and it's planning to funnel tens of millions of dollars to Democratic candidates running in competitive House and Senate races across the country.
The group, End Citizens United, which officially launched this month, has raised more than $2 million from small donors so far — and the group is on track to rake in a total of $25 million to $30 million for the entire entire cycle, said communications director Richard Carbo.
The group's ultimate goal is to pass a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which in 2010 gave rise to super PACs and unleashed a tidal wave of dark money into politics. So far, more than 325,000 people have signed End Citizens United’s petition demanding Congress pass such legislation. That number is likely to receive a boost, as the group has partnered with “Ready for Hillary” and will rent out its email list — which includes upwards of 4 million people — to reach out to potential liberal supporters.
This month, End Citizens United also announced its endorsement of 11 Democratic candidates, including former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
While there have been other PACs that focus on campaign finance reform, Carbo said his group is different because “there was a hole in the conversation addressing the political side of it and actually getting people elected” who could change existing laws. That means backing candidates who are in favor of campaign finance reform, who will stand up against Citizens United — in addition to those who are under attack by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers and other related dark-money groups.
The group plans on setting up an independent expenditure arm sometime early next year to financially back the candidates through initiatives including television ads, direct mailers and polling.
While End Citizens United also hopes to help enact campaign finance reforms on the local and state level, its main objective of passing a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision is being met with some skepticism by campaign finance experts. A constitutional amendment, after all, must win consent from two-thirds of the Senate and the House, in addition to being ratified by three-fourths of states.
“It’s a really high bar to for a constitutional amendment,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan group that advocates for government transparency. “It’s an uphill battle for people who choose that path.”
That's putting it mildly. America hasn't passed a single Constitutional amendment since 1992. And Washington has gotten exponentially more partisan since.
Rick Hasen, a campaign finance regulation expert and professor of law and political science at UC-Irvine School of Law, put it in more stark terms. “Let’s say the group raised $100 million — the chances that even that amount of money to get a constitutional amendment passed by electing some sympathetic members of Congress is a pipe dream.” He said a greater likelihood of getting the law changed is confirming a new Supreme Court justice — when the time comes — who could shift the balance of the court.
But, Hasen argued, groups like End Citizens United do serve a purpose in “continuing with the public awareness of the Supreme Court’s decision and it keeps political pressure on both the Supreme Court and other political actors to not make things worse.”
And Carbo argued that having access to $25 million to $30 million can mean a significant ad buy that could “really impact a House race.”
So why isn’t End Citizens United backing Republicans? “Even though many Republicans and Independent voters agree that undisclosed political spending is out of control, Republican leadership in Congress is standing squarely in the way of overturning this disastrous Supreme Court decision,” the group says on its website. “It has to stop. So we will do what we can to support candidates who are champions for meaningful campaign finance reform.”
The group boasts of receiving 136,000 donations so far and having vast grassroots support with an average donation of $14.86.
The D.C.-based PAC has just five staff members, including senior advisers Valerie Martin, who worked on Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2006 campaign, and Reed Adamson, who helped manage Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider’s 2012 victory.