Obama Faces Liberal Backlash on Campaign Finance Failures

Image: Obama Faces Liberal Backlash on Campaign Finance Failures Federal Election Commission (FEC) Commissioner Ellen Weintraub.

Tuesday, 30 Apr 2013 09:54 AM

By Melanie Batley

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President Barack Obama has failed to follow through on campaign finance reform promises, allies say, despite pledges he made during his re-election campaign to stop the influence of money in politics.

In a joint letter to Obama on Monday, seven reform groups said they have a “deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as president to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy,” The Washington Post reported.

Campaign-finance reformers from both parties argue that there’s a sizable list of items demonstrating the president’s failure to take action. In some cases, they say, he has opened the floodgates for more money in politics.

“It’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008 and spent years working to limit the amount of money in national political campaigns.

For one, all five members of the Federal Election Commission, the agency responsible for enforcing the country’s campaign finance laws, are currently serving past the formal expiration of their terms. A sixth seat is vacant and the president hasn’t made a nomination to the FEC in more than three years.

Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC, recently joked to a group of schoolchildren, “Anyone want to be commissioner? Write the president and tell him you want to be a commissioner, because we need somebody.”

Obama has also failed to pursue a campaign promise to overturn a 2010 Supreme Court judgment allowing corporations to spend unlimited money on politics. And for two years, the White House has left open a high-profile appointment which oversees ethics and government reform, a position the president created when he took office in 2009.

Reformers, however, are most despairing of the president’s decision this year to convert his campaign committee, Organizing for Action, into an advocacy group that can collect unlimited donations. It had previously raised record-breaking levels of money during his election campaigns after Obama rejected public financing. Both moves, critics say, fly in the face of promises to limit big money in politics.

“The president has engaged in uncharted waters that open the door to influence,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. He thinks the decision to convert Organizing for Action into a pressure group will set a precedent that other lawmakers are likely to follow.

But White House spokesman Eric Schultz insisted in a statement to the Post that Obama “has taken historic steps to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics. President Obama has done more in the past four years to close the revolving door of special-interest influence than any president before him.”

As an example, he pointed to an executive order signed by Obama on his first day in office in 2009 that restricts the ability of lobbyists to serve in the administration and bars appointees from lobbying for two years after they leave office, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, polls suggest voters aren’t particularly concerned about the issue and one expert excuses the president for not making it a top item on his agenda, saying it’s understandable for other political priorities to come first.

“Reforms are seen as a zero-sum game between the parties,” Columbia Law School professor Nathaniel Persily told the Post. “Any time or effort spent on campaign finance is time and effort not being spent on the budget, North Korea and/or immigration, all of which have a better chance of having a legislative solution.”

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