Will Candidates Address Our Troubled Campaign Finance System in Next Debate?

a row of microphones

The next presidential primary debate is Thursday, September 12th on ABC and Univision (with a Spanish translation). It will be the third Democratic debate of this primary season and there are 10 candidates certified by the Democratic National Committee to participate.

Absent from most of the first two debates was a discussion about what candidates would do to reform our broken campaign finance system. This is troubling, given the alarming state of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the nation’s only federal agency dedicated to overseeing the integrity of our political campaigns.

During the 2016 and 2018 election seasons, we saw unprecedented campaign finance violations – illegal foreign spending in elections, a lack of transparency around the sources of millions in election spending, candidates and super PACs illegally working hand in hand.

Now, the agency has been shaken by another resignation and it has lost a voting quorum, rendering it incapable of policing illegal foreign spending in elections and ensuring transparency and accountability in political campaigns. So it’s reasonable for people to expect that candidates for President of the United States present a plan for ensuring that our government is ready to handle threats to election integrity both foreign and domestic.

After all, the Mueller investigation revealed that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion. And alarm bells about the threat of foreign interference in 2020 have been sounding for months by intelligence agencies.

Some presidential candidates have treated this as a priority. Senator Amy Klobuchar, for example, sent a letter to President Trump, urging him to act swiftly to ensure that the FEC is able to fully function, calling it unacceptable that foreign adversaries continue working to influence the U.S. political system.

It’s fair to wonder what the other candidates would do to ensure that the government is properly equipped to handle allegations of campaign finance violations as the country moves towards an election in 2020 where political spending is expected to reach nearly $10 billion.

Besides the proper enforcement of our nation’s campaign finance laws, there are other mechanisms to counteract the negative impact of Citizens United, which systematically drowns out the voice of everyday Americans.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is the latest candidate who qualified for the previous debate to drop out. She was the only candidate to put out a “clean elections” plan to provide a public option for campaign financing, encouraging the participation of voters that don’t have the means to contribute large checks in support of candidates.

This leaves space for other candidates to consider similar plans that would take on the outsized role of big donors in our political campaigns. With a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that is skeptical of campaign finance protections, voters need to know what options candidates are considering that would address the influence of special-interest money in politics. The country will be watching.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter