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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.

Unrestricted spending in the 2012 elections has created tantalizing openings for advocates of overhauling the campaign finance system, but it’s also fueled a rush of competing remedies that might complicate attempts to rewrite the rules.

In theory, the 113th Congress presents a golden opportunity for proponents of a fix. Polls show voters are more disgusted than ever with big money in politics. Republicans hit by outside ad attacks are starting to join in calls for change, and new progressive players are mobilizing to put pressure on Capitol Hill.

But the one rules change that most attracts Republicans is the one that good government watchdogs reject out of hand: raising the contribution limit on candidates and political parties. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CQ Roll Call he was interested in campaign finance changes, then flagged “revisiting the federal fundraising restrictions” as a key place to start.

“It’s almost incredible to me that anyone would suggest that the solution to this is to simply raise all limits on everybody,” said Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., author of one of three house bills that would, in one form or another, offer matching public funds to candidates who collect low-dollar donations. Reps. John B. Larson, D-Conn., and John Sarbanes, D-Md., have introduced similar bills.

But Price and his allies said their GOP colleagues are looking at political money through fresh eyes. Lawmakers in both parties faced millions in attack ads bought by unrestricted and often secretive outside groups in the recent elections, the first presidential contest since the Supreme Court deregulated political spending in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

“I’ve heard privately from a number of Republican colleagues that they’re appalled at the way the money is sloshing around,” Price said. Sarbanes agreed, saying lawmakers are spending time raising money that they would prefer to spend on legislation and building relationships with colleagues.

“I think there’s a recognition that the system the way it currently exists is unsustainable over the long term, and people are more willing to look at solutions,” Sarbanes said.

But which solution? Voters and lawmakers eager for a change face a dizzying array of options, some so ambitious it’s hard to picture them succeeding. Close to a dozen states and more than 350 municipalities have called for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling, and 125 members of Congress have introduced bills in the same vein.

A new grass-roots group called Represent.Us this month unveiled a sweeping overhaul package dubbed the American Anti-Corruption Act that includes strict new limits on super PACs, curbs on lobbyist fundraising and a $100 tax rebate that voters could give to their favorite candidates, parties or political committees.

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