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Bevy of Fixes Might Complicate Efforts To Reshape Campaign Finance System

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Cornyn said he was interested in campaign finance changes, then flagged “revisiting the federal fundraising restrictions” as a key place to start.

“It’s time for another bold, audacious proposal that goes beyond the conventional range of debate and actually implements the comprehensive change that is required, that reflects the gravity of the crisis,” said Josh Silver, director of the Represent.Us campaign and CEO of the advocacy group United Republic.

There’s also the campaign finance transparency bill, known as the DISCLOSE Act, that congressional Democrats are determined to revive despite their inability to win a single GOP vote in the Senate earlier this year. For backers of a campaign finance overhaul, the act is the first order of business. They’re pinning their hopes on Republicans, such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have signaled openness to new disclosure rules.

“We’re going to get disclosure in the 113th Congress one way or another,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. His group plans a news conference in December to call on President Barack Obama to replace five out of six Federal Election Commissioners whose terms have expired. Organizers will also be pushing for shareholder disclosure rules at the Securities and Exchange Commission and for IRS action to curb political activities by non-disclosing tax-exempt groups.

To Price, the many competing proposals and players do not dilute efforts to rewrite the political money rules.

“I don’t think there’s any problem at this point with a lot of discussion, a lot of proposals being floated,” he said. “I think it’s in fact healthy and a sign of energy that there are a number of members and groups in the game.”

Still, advocates of a political money overhaul acknowledge that their campaign will reap more fruit if they unify around a single goal. They are negotiating with Price, Larson and Sarbanes in hopes of bringing the three lawmakers behind a single bill that would match small donations with public money.

“It would make a stronger case on the Hill if people were working from the same page,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not always easy, and I don’t know how quickly we will get there.”

If their proposals reach too far and wide, the self-described “reform lobby” might end up empty-handed. They do have one thing on their side: time.

“We are at a point now where we have a system of great excess and a system that is going to lead to scandal and corruption,” Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said. “And that is the context in which major reforms have been enacted in the past and can be enacted in the future.”

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