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Senate Democrats Criticize Super PACs

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sens. Charles Schumer (left) called the system of fundraising that sprung up after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling “a disaster for our democracy” today.

Senate Democrats today voiced outrage over recent public disclosures showing tens of millions in corporate donations to largely GOP-friendly super PACs and announced plans for a task force, hearings and legislation to rein in unrestricted campaign money.

“We’re now living in a world created by the Citizens United decision, and it’s a disaster for our democracy,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a Capitol Hill news conference with Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Schumer was referring to the landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited treasury money on campaigns.

Campaign finance reports filed in time for a Tuesday Federal Election Commission deadline have offered a vivid picture of the big money flowing into super PACs during the GOP primary. Super PACs backing GOP presidential candidates, which have been the biggest spenders, have collectively spent more than $40 million so far, in many cases outspending the candidates themselves.

Restore Our Future, a super PAC that spent about $10 million helping former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney win the Florida primary, received close to a dozen donations totaling $1 million or more and several dozen of $100,000 apiece from wealthy individuals and corporations, many in the financial services industry.

The “silver lining” to the big spending by super PACs, Schumer said, is that “it offers us a fresh opportunity for reform, and we are going to seize it.” Whitehouse and Franken will help lead a seven-member task force focused on reforms. Schumer said his Rules and Administration Committee will hold hearings on super PACs and their donors later this month.

Senate Democrats will also push once again for disclosure legislation to improve transparency for super PACs, which Schumer assailed for failing to publicly report their donors until after several early GOP primaries and caucuses had come and gone. Congressional Democrats pushed for disclosure legislation in the previous Congress but fell one vote short of passage in the Senate.

Schumer said Democrats will also push a coordination bill to ensure that super PACs keep candidates and campaigns at arm’s length, as required by law. Election laws already bar coordination, but Schumer and other reform advocates say the rules mean little given that many super PACs are run and funded by candidates’ aides, associates and even relatives.

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