Campaign Finance Refomers: What Now?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 12:54 PM EST

As of Thursday, ExxonMobil is allowed to run election-day phonebanks. The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that corporations should be free to make independent expenditures in political campaigns. The decision overturned most existing campaign finance law and dealt a severe blow to supporters of campaign finance restrictions. But it didn't take reformers by surprise. Groups like Common Cause, Public Campaign, and Change Congress have been anticipating this defeat for months. In a confidential internal memo obtained by Mother Jones last year, Common Cause and Public Campaign warned, "Without an aggressive media effort, reporters will likely call a bad decision in Citizens United another sign that campaign finance reform is a fool's errand." That effort continued with a massive press call midday Thursday, with the presidents of the top reform groups going on at length about their problems with the decision. "It is a disaster," said Nick Nyhart, the president of Public Campaign, told reporters. "It's an immoral decision that puts the Roberts court on the side of Wall Street and big money lobbyists." That was typical. 

So what's the reformers' plan? Last month, Mother Jones reported that disparate reform groups had been merging staff, budgets, and agendas to coordinate their efforts to deal with the fallout of the Supreme Court decision and to push for public financing of elections. On Thursday's press call, Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, confirmed that strategy. "For the past year we've moved towards having a specific campaign with a campaign structure," he said. "A whole host of groups have put together a common staff, a common budget, a common agenda to get the financial resources together and the staffing in place." Common Cause and Public Campaign, the two older, DC-based groups, combined their campaign finance reform teams late last year to focus their energy on pushing for publicly-funded elections. They'll be the good cops, playing the Washington "inside game," working with Capitol Hill allies like Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) to sign up more support for reform. Change Congress, the newer organization founded by Larry Lessig, will play the bad cop, attacking members of Congress who don't support reform and accusing them of corruption.