“Who cares? . . .The Supreme Court doesn’t care, and I don’t care, and the [Federal Election Commission] doesn’t care. No one that matters cares.”
So says James Bopp, dismissing critics when he announced his new “Republican Super PAC.” A virulent opponent of rules regulating money in politics, Bopp set up the PAC to allow candidates and party committees to raise unlimited amounts of money for the 2012 election. Super PACs are like regular PACs. But because they agree to only do their political spending independently — and without coordinating with candidates and political parties — they are allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds from corporations, unions, and individuals under the 2010 SpeechNow decision.
Mr. Bopp admitted that his group plans not to do any fundraising itself, but to raise money by “harnessing the fundraising operations of . . . the RNC . . . and federal candidates.” Bopp’s plan is to have these entities direct their donors to his group once they’ve given the maximum legal contribution directly to a particular candidate or party committee. Federal law caps direct contributions to candidates and parties to protect against corruption and the appearance of corruption in government. Bopp’s fundraising plan ignores the fact that national party committees are banned from raising or spending unlimited money, and federal officeholders are banned from soliciting unlimited donations in connection with a federal election.
Recognizing that the law prohibits coordination with candidates, Mr. Bopp protests that the group will not coordinate its spending with anyone — basically arguing that coordinated fundraising is entirely unrelated to coordinated spending. But donors to his organization will be able to specify exactly how they want their money spent, which group of voters they want to try to influence, and which candidates they want to help elect or defeat. Candidates soliciting these donations, over the legal limits that they themselves can accept, will surely be indebted to these donors, which will open the door to the political corruption and appearance of corruption that our campaign finance laws stand as a bulwark against.
This new move to evade campaign contribution and coordination limits should be seen in the context of Mr. Bopp’s decade-long attempt to fight against the very idea that money in politics needs to be regulated in a healthy democratic society. Last year he told the New York Times, “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down. . . . And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law. . . . We have been awfully successful, and we’re not done yet.”
Eight in ten Americans disagree with the Citizens United decision, which led directly to the creation of Super PACs, and 72 percent support efforts to impose limitations on corporate and union spending to influence elections. Meanwhile, Mr. Bopp wants to do away with all campaign finance rules, portraying any regulation of money in politics as an affront to free speech. He is plainly relying on the intransigence in our political system, and the calcification of traditional campaign finance regulators, to allow him blithely to ignore applicable campaign finance laws, to say nothing of the desires of the vast majority of Americans. He scoffs that “no one that matters cares.”
He is wrong. The American people care about the influence that money in politics has on our democracy, and the American people matter. Though certain avenues of unchecked spending have been opened by the courts, other restrictions, such as the ban on soft money to political parties and coordination rules between candidates and Super PACs have been upheld. We must remain vigilant and firm in our defense of campaign finance reforms designed to protect our government from corruption, and not allow the entire regulatory structure to be washed away in a flood of rising spending. Now is the time for our enforcement agencies to show that they care — by stepping forward and enforcing the law.