Parties Squabble Over Meaning of Campaign Finance Ruling

Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:23am

The leaders of the two Senate campaign committees expressed strikingly different views Sunday of the recent Supreme Court decision that threw out limitations on corporate and union money in political races.

While Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,— called the ruling “a dark day for democracy and a dark day for average citizens,— National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) predicted that the decision would have little practical effect.

“I think it’s been overstated, the impact,— Cornyn said on “Fox News Sunday.— “Since campaign finance reform, it hasn’t done anything to stop the flow of money in.—

Since the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 ruling Thursday on a controversial campaign finance case, political reform groups and many Democrats have warned that an unlimited amount of cash will now be dumped into campaigns, enabling powerful interest groups to intimidate political opponents and buy elections.

But Republicans — who may stand to gain politically if businesses are able to invest an unlimited amount of money into campaigns — have generally been less critical of the high court’s ruling.

“I don’t know who it benefits, but it’s an important victory for the First Amendment,— said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a longtime critic of campaign finance reform, on NBC’s “Meet the Press— Sunday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a chief architect of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which set up the current finance system for federal campaigns, conceded on CBS’ “Face the Nation— that with the Supreme Court ruling, campaign finance reform was effectively dead. But while he predicted that the “influx of special interest money into the political system and the diminishment of the average citizen— would create a long-term political backlash, he expressed doubts that anything could be done in the short term to reverse the court’s decision.

Speaking on the same program, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hoped the high court ruling would kick-start efforts to pass a bill providing public financing for Congressional elections.

“I can’t wait to see my Republican friends who preached against judicial activism explain this decision…[which] allows political extortionism,— he said.

And Menendez warned that there could be political consequences for Republicans if they do not join Democrats’ legislative efforts to mitigate the effects of the Supreme Court ruling.

“If Republicans want to stand with big-monied interests, with-big business interests, versus the average citizen, to try to influence elections, that’s fine with me,— he said.

But also appearing on CNN, NRSC Vice Chairman Orrin Hatch (Utah) said Democrats are overstating the electoral advantage the ruling gives the GOP.

“If anybody thinks businesses are Republican, especially big businesses, they’re mistaken,— he said.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.