McNerney proposing campaign financing change
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, plans to introduce a constitutional amendment on the House floor today that would open the door to campaign-finance reform to prohibit funding from political parties, or other groups attempting to influence elections by only allowing contributions from individuals.
McNerney acknowledges that getting the necessary approval from Congress and three-quarters of state legislatures is a “big lift,” but he said there also is a feeling from the grassroots level that something is wrong with the way campaigns are financed and that it should change. It's a view he shares.
“There’s no time like the present to get this out there and get people to start talking about it,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I feel very strongly that it’s something that needs to be done.”
The proposed amendment would eliminate campaign funding from corporations, political groups known as super PACs and other organizations by allowing contributions only from individuals.
The only source of funding to support a candidate or ballot measure would have to come from these individuals to a candidate-controlled committee or from funds provided through a system of public financing, according to the amendment proposal.
The amendment would go further, limiting the amount of outside money individuals can contribute to an election. This means that in state or local races, the combined amount of money contributed by individuals who are not eligible to vote in the contest cannot exceed the amount contributed by eligible voters.
It would not be the first attempt to amend the Constitution to change how political campaigns are financed. A Democratic push for an amendment just last year was blocked in the Senate.
There’s a slim chance that a proposal such as McNerney’s could amend the Constitution, but an amendment would be necessary because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that campaign finance is protected speech, said Bob Benedetti, professor emeritus at University of the Pacific and visiting scholar at the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento.
The current system allows the influx of the kind of money needed to run a campaign under the current system, he said. And the politicians used to that system and the big donors who benefit from it are not likely to want to see it changed, he said.
But the role of money in politics needs to change, he said.
“This is the largest single challenge to our system of democracy right now,” Benedetti said.
McNerney says that protection of speech might have been the intent of the Supreme Court, but that is not what is happening.
“I think the absolute opposite is what has happened,” he said, saying that the big money buys messaging that drowns out everybody else. “What I’m really trying to do is protect free speech.”