Convention season is upon us, and the Democratic National Convention is getting underway in Charlotte this week. Given that the Republican platform unabashedly celebrates Citizens United and denounces campaign finance reform of any kind, the Democrats now have their turn to show where they stand on changing the current campaign finance system as well as voting rights.
Last week, the GOP stand was clear and, in a word, radical. The platform opposes increased disclosure, including disclosure of the identities of those bankrolling the millions of dollars in “dark money” ad buys by social welfare groups and trade associations. The GOP, not surprisingly after the debate on the DISCLOSE Act this Congress, frames its opposition in terms of constitutional rights, and declares campaign financing to be free “speech that is protected.”
Unfortunately, this speech isn’t free. It’s very expensive, costing unprecedented millions of dollars and putting the power of “free speech” in the hands of an elite few able to afford it, while drowning out the voices of the majority and obscuring the truth with misleading advertisements.
Yesterday, the Democratic Party released its platform, which includes a section on campaign finance reform and articulates the dangers of deregulation. While the platform calls for “immediate action to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests on our political institutions,” it does little to detail tangible proposals for how campaign finance reform could be achieved. It contains no new ideas to incentivize smaller donors in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.
With its radical convention platform, the Republican Party has now abandoned decades of Republican support for meaningful campaign finance disclosure. By contrast, the Democratic Party’s language is fairly pro forma, and in all truth, disappointingly tepid. The President’s party has missed an opportunity to present a stronger defense of the future possibilities for reform.
At this point in the campaign, the American people are tired of negative campaigning and turned off by the inaccurate and misleading advertising. The Democrats should have seized this chance to articulate why campaign finance reform is necessary to protect the integrity of American democracy and real free speech. The absolute rejection of any reform as a violation of free speech must be countered with specific policy initiatives that Americans would approve and the Courts would uphold.