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Record Spending in 2012 Elections Could Spur Rules Changes, Experts Say

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said the DISCLOSE Act’s backers will look for opportunities to work with Republicans, such as Murkowski, above, who have voiced support for disclosure in a bid to come up with a new version of the legislation that draws bipartisan support.

The $6 billion spending record set in the 2012 elections will soon be outstripped by future campaigns, but it also opens the way for new political money restrictions, a team of election law experts said at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

“It’s not a bad place to start when both sides don’t like the status quo,” said Trevor Potter, president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. The failure of Republican- friendly super PACs to win either the White House or the Senate may soften GOP resistance to proposed rules changes, he added.

“The perceived great Republican advantage of having all this outside money didn’t, in fact, produce the expected results,” said Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman. “That opens up the possibility for changes.”

First up will be efforts to revive the Democrat-authored DISCLOSE Act, Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said. He said the bill’s backers will look for opportunities to work with Republicans, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have voiced support for disclosure in a bid to come up with a new version of the legislation that draws bipartisan support.

But Wertheimer stressed that Democracy 21 and its allies are not open to a compromise that would include raising the contribution limits, as some Republicans have suggested. Republicans argue that raising or even eliminating contribution limits would lead to greater accountability and transparency, he said.

“They leave out the third factor, which is that it would lead to a system of legalized bribery — pure, legalized bribery,” Wertheimer said.

Groups endorsing a campaign finance overhaul are also working with lawmakers on several Democratic bills that would, in various forms, match low-dollar campaign contributions with matching public funds. Organizers hope to eventually coalesce around a single proposal, Wertheimer said.

Several other progressive groups, some focused more on grass-roots organizing than congressional action, are also pushing for proposals that range from a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling to a comprehensive anti-corruption law that would rein in unrestricted super PACs and lobbyist fundraising.

A key issue going forward will be the hundreds of millions in campaign spending that goes unreported, either because it flows through shell corporations or through non-disclosing tax exempt groups, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

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