2016 Republican Platform on Campaign Finance is a Far Cry from the Teddy Roosevelt Days

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American flag and 100 dollar bill

The Republicans unveiled their 2016 Platform yesterday at the Republican National Convention. Even though presumptive nominee Donald Trump spent much of the primary campaign blasting the current out-of-balance and “rigged” political system, the 2016 platform continues the GOP’s hostility toward reforming our democracy. 

On Money-in-Politics

The 2016 platform calls to eliminate almost all campaign finance laws. It states: “Freedom of speech includes the right to devote resources to whatever cause or candidate one supports. We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the public square or limit their ability to promote their ideas, such as requiring private organizations to publicly disclose their donors to the government. Limits on political speech serve only to protect the powerful and insulate incumbent officeholders. We support repeal of federal restrictions on political parties in McCain-Feingold, raising or repealing contribution limits, protecting the political speech of advocacy groups, corporations, and labor unions, and protecting political speech on the internet. We likewise call for an end to the so-called Fairness Doctrine, and support free-market approaches to free speech unregulated by government.” 

The 2016 platform mirrors the 2012 platform’s specific language attacking campaign finance reform measures such as the McCain-Feingold law, contribution limits and the proposed DISCLOSE Act. It reiterates the party’s stance against regulation of political spending, as well as its opposition to the Fairness Doctrine and any regulation of political speech on the Internet. The 2016 platform also makes no mention of reforms such as enhanced disclosure, but instead includes a proposal to “guard against foreign involvement in our elections” through “vigilance regarding on-line credit card contributions to candidates and campaigns.” (This is especially ironic given that Trump is illegally soliciting donations from foreign nationals!)

It’s important to note that the GOP once touted the importance of disclosure laws and was a leader in efforts to prevent the wealthy from having too much influence on our elections, at the expense of the everyday voter. In fact, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was the first major political figure to propose overhauling America’s campaign finance system. 

Even into the 21st century, Republicans showed support for preserving the integrity of our democracy through reform. The 2000 platform pledged to “stop the abuses of corporate and labor ‘soft’ money contributions to political parties” and to “require full and timely disclosure on the Internet of all campaign contributions.” Similarly, the GOP’s 2004 platform boasted that Republicans had “enhanced financial disclosure requirements for political campaigns, corporations, and pension funds in order to bring about more transparency and accountability in the political system.”

By 2008, the party was shifting. That year, the GOP platform stressed opposition to “any restrictions or conditions . . . that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray,” and it made no mention of disclosure. The 2012 platform repeated verbatim the 2008 platform’s language extolling the virtues of unfettered political spending. Indeed, it went much further, calling for “repeal of the remaining sections of McCain-Feingold” and “raising or repealing contribution limits,” while opposing the DISCLOSE Act. The 2016 platform embraces these positions, as well.

On Voting Rights

When it comes to protecting the right to vote, the platform states that Republicans “pledge to protect the voting rights of every citizen.” However, the platforms adds, “we are concerned . . . that some voting procedures may be open to abuse. For this reason, we support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting. We strongly oppose litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws.”

The Campaign Legal Center, in efforts to truly protect the right to vote, has brought a challenge to Texas’ voter ID law – a law that the GOP platform states it fully supports, despite the fact that it has been found by 3 federal courts to disenfranchise more than half a million Texas voters, and was enacted with a racially discriminatory intent.

During the primary season, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump broke with GOP orthodoxy on democracy reform – claiming to self-fund his campaign, decrying super PACs as “a scam,” and assailing his opponents as “puppets” of wealthy donors. However, his general election campaign has welcomed super PAC support and courted some of the same donors. It now seems, with the unveiling of this platform, that Donald Trump is about to become the latest puppet on a string to the billionaire class.   

Daniel Lynch is a legal intern with the Campaign Legal Center this summer and a rising second-year law student at Harvard Law School.