By Linda Killian, the Thomas Jefferson Street blog
When the Democrats announced campaign finance reform 3.0 Thursday on the steps of the Supreme Court, their answer to the court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporate funding of political activity, one man was noticeably absent. John McCain, whose name is on the 2002 campaign finance reform measure which was the focus of the court’s decision, was nowhere in sight.
When I asked Sen. Russ Feingold, the legislation’s other namesake, where McCain was, he quipped that McCain was a little busy fighting off a primary challenge in Arizona and would probably ultimately support the legislation.
Feingold was probably trying to be ironic, but his comment was closer to the mark than he may have meant it to be. McCain’s personal political situation, and that of many others this election year including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are inextricably linked to major legislation dealing with some of the most difficult issues this nation faces. These days in Washington there is very little you can count on except that the Republicans will ultimately oppose whatever the Democrats are trying to do and the Democrats will largely ignore the Republican position unless they have no choice. Also, that politicians will inexplicably change their positions on things if they think it is politically expedient.
Even when fragile bipartisan agreements and compromises are worked out they can crumble in a moment. Witness what has happened with both climate change/energy legislation and immigration reform.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is one of the few Republicans willing to try and work out legislative solutions to major problems with the Democrats and he has been closely involved in both issues. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided his troubled reelection bid might be helped if he could motivate the Hispanic vote by moving immigration reform up in the legislative queue ahead of the American Power Act sponsored by Graham, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, all hell broke loose. Partially out of pique over all the work he had done and the Democrats backing out on a deal, and partially out of loyalty to his friend McCain, Graham said all bets were off, threatening the future of both pieces of legislation.
Immigration reform is the hottest of hot button issues in Arizona right now after the adoption of an almost certainly unconstitutional state law that has the potential to disrupt the lives of every Latino resident there. So McCain has reversed his previous support of immigration reform and may do the same thing on campaign finance reform.
After President Obama equivocated this week on the order that immigration and climate/energy reform should be considered, or whether immigration could be done at all this year, Reid had to back down. Obama was actually pretty candid about it in an impromptu press conference on Air Force One when he acknowledged that “It’s a matter of political will” and “there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue” because the mid-term elections are coming up. In announcing that immigration reform may be going nowhere this year, Reid acknowledged that without any Republican support "We're not going to have a bill on the floor."
Never mind what’s happening in the House, where there’s even less bipartisan cooperation. House Minority Leader John Boehner said “in the middle of a boiling political pot” immigration reform had no chance and called Reid’s efforts a “cynical ploy … to engage some segment of voters to show up in this November’s election.”
“In the middle of an election year, after we've had bills like health care shoved down our throats, and the process twisted, tortured, pressured, bribed, you cannot do a serious piece of legislation of this size with this difficulty in this environment," Boehner said. Well … tell us what you really think. Which brings us back to campaign finance reform.
The Democratic bill would prohibit political involvement by foreign corporations, large federal contractors and companies that received federal bailouts, but more significantly it would require disclosure of all corporate interests funding political efforts and the big contributions that independent groups raise to make political ads. Independent groups would have to publicly name their top five donors in ads and corporate CEOs could be required to appear in any political ads they paid for.
There are plenty of corporate interests that give generously to the Democrats, but there’s no doubt they like the Republicans more. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which not surprisingly celebrated the Supreme Court decision and opposes the Democrats’ legislation, has announced plans for a major campaign effort to defeat congressional Democrats in November. Which is why I have my doubts that campaign finance reform will get many Republican backers, although the House version does have the support of moderate Republican Mike Castle who is running for the Senate in Delaware and conservative Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina.
At the risk of sounding horribly pessimistic, I’m not sure there will be much of anything done in Congress for the rest of this year in a bipartisan way. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I will be.