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John Cornyn Open to Campaign Finance Reform

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn said campaign finance rules could be simplified, but he called a previous reform measure a failure.

UPDATED: 10:35 p.m.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) has seen enough of the perils of outside influence on elections in his two terms as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman that he's now taking an unusual position for a GOP leader: Congress should consider campaign finance reform next year.

"I think it would be a worthwhile exercise, not now - not 46 [or] 47 days before the election - but next year, to look at our campaign finance system in light of the Supreme Court decisions and say, 'What makes sense in terms of accountability and with concerns to transparency?' That I think would be important," Cornyn told Roll Call last week.

Being the chairman of the campaign arm for either Senate conference has never been a coveted role. But Cornyn's two turns at the top of the NRSC have featured a shift in power from a playing field dominated by party structures to one where every Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) or Karl Rove with an overstuffed wallet can pursue their own campaign strategies on behalf of candidates chosen for ideological purity but not broader electability.

Because of that, GOP advantages in key states this cycle and in 2010 all but evaporated when primary winners skewed too far right or expressed views too far outside the mainstream.

That has put Cornyn in the unenviable spot of being the guy who could get blamed for the GOP's failure to win back the Senate majority, even if it isn't his fault.

It's rare for a Republican leader to express a "transparency" or "accountability"-based argument when it comes to campaign finance. And Cornyn by no means voiced support for the Democrats' DISCLOSE Act, which has failed multiple times to clear Congress and would force more disclosure from corporate-funded super PACs.

Cornyn expressed support for the right of groups to be engaged in the political process.

"The First Amendment is a fundamental value in this country, and the Supreme Court said as a constitutional matter, you can't suppress free speech. And we knew all along that McCain-Feingold carved out for organized labor and other groups, so it was really a lopsided deal in the first place," he said when asked if recent court decisions, such as Citizens United, which prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, have made the system worse.

Cornyn later clarified in a statement that his concern is primarily with how the political parties have been sidelined:"I believe we should strengthen the political parties, not limit free speech, and that starts with revisiting the federal fundraising restrictions and coordinated limits on both parties.  Anyone who supports more campaign finance transparency should support a stronger political party system."

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