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Roll Call

Bipartisan Group Pitches Overhaul of Political Money System

A bipartisan coalition that includes campaign reform advocates, academics, business leaders and tea party and Occupy Wall Street activists proposed a sweeping overhaul of the political money system today.

Dubbed the American Anti-Corruption Act, the plan “would completely reshape campaign finance, lobbying and advocacy,” declared lead organizer Josh Silver in a media conference call. “The revolving door as we know it would slam shut.”

Silver also announced the launch of a new organization and grassroots campaign dubbed Represent.Us that will work to build public support for the plan, and will target lawmakers who block it. The campaign “will actively work to unseat members from both major parties” who fail to support it, said Silver, the new group’s executive director.

The board of advisers includes former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter; convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff; Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, founder of an anti-corruption group known as Rootstrikers; Richard Painter, a former ethics adviser to President George W. Bush; and GOP strategist Mark McKinnon.

The group’s proposal includes tough new restrictions on lobbyists and super PACs, broad new federal disclosure requirements, and a $100 tax rebate that voters could use to support candidates and political committees that agree to low contribution limits. It would limit lobbyist donations, block coordination between super PACs and the candidates they back, and strengthen enforcement by the FEC and the Internal Revenue Service.

“It would cut the link between what members are doing officially in their committees, and the people they are seeking money from,” said Potter, who is one of the plan’s chief architects, a politics lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale and founding president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.

The plan would also block members of Congress from raising campaign money from lobbyists with business before them, and it would subject unrestricted super PACs to the same contribution limits as conventional PACs.

Potter acknowledged that the proposal directly challenges the federal appeals court ruling known as SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which authorized super PACs to raise unlimited contributions. The Supreme Court had ruled in January 2010 in Citizens United v. FEC, to lift limits on independent corporate and union campaign spending. In SpeechNow.org v. FEC, a lower court ruled the following May that in light of Citizens United, contribution limits should also be lifted for organizations operating independently from candidates.

“It takes SpeechNow head on,” Potter said. He added that the Supreme Court never endorsed SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which he said was wrongly decided. The recent election showed that super PAC donations are “effectively corrupting contributions,” given the close ties between those organizations and the candidates they back, he said.

The Represent.Us campaign and the American Anti-Corruption Act come on the heels of what the Center for Responsive Politics predicted would be a $6 billion election. The plan is one of several that reform advocates are pitching to Capitol Hill, including disclosure legislation and a public financing plan that would match candidates’ low-dollar contributions with federal funds. Some Republicans are mulling changes that would deregulate the system and lift contribution limits on parties and candidates.

The Represent.Us plan “is truly dramatically different from anything that has ever been attempted before,” said Silver, who is co-founder and former CEO of the media advocacy group Free Press.

Also participating in today’s call were Lessig, Painter, and Theodore Roosevelt IV, a Republican conservationist who is senior executive with Barclays. The campaign’s other advisers include Occupy Wall Street organizer Cecelia Frontero; Tom Whitmore, head of the D.C. Tea Party Patriots; investor Hadi Partovi; Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Better Markets; Nick Penniman, executive director of Fund for the Republic; David Levine, co-founder and executive director of the American Sustainable Business Council; and progressive strategist Susan McCue.

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