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Dark Money and Citizens United: What Obama and Romney Would and Wouldn’t Do About It

We look at where the candidates stand on money in politics.

We look at where President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stand on money in politics. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

With campaign finances limits rendered nearly meaningless, election spending is on pace to set records. Where does each presidential candidate stand on how to regulate money in politics?

President Obama talks about changes but hasn’t instituted many. He favors legislation that would require disclosure of donors to dark money nonprofits. The president has also floated a Constitutional amendment to address Citizens United — an idea that’s currently politically impossible. Yet advocates point out Obama hasn’t even instituted campaign finance measures that he could do on his own using executive power.   

Mitt Romney has mostly stayed mum. His campaign doesn’t have an official position paper on campaign finance and wouldn’t answer questions. When asked, Romney has said he favors removal of contribution limits to candidates, as a way to bring money from outside groups back into campaigns. He has also said he favors donor disclosure but hasn’t signaled support of specific legislation.

Here are the details:

President Obama

Obama supports the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would require disclosure of donors to politically active nonprofits, which are currently funded with anonymous money. In July, the bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate after Republicans opposed it. An earlier version passed the House in 2010 when Democrats were in the majority.

In its statement on the disclosure bill, the administration criticized the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United as “bringing about an era where corporations and other wealthy interests can exert vastly disproportionate influence, including through anonymous donations.”

In August, during a Q&A session on the website Reddit, Obama said the country should eventually consider a Constitutional amendment.

“Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it),” the president wrote. “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”

He did not give specifics on what such an amendment would say.

Meanwhile, campaign finance regulation advocates in Washington have been disappointed by Obama’s first term.

“There are a lot tangible things that he could have done that he did not do,” says Lisa Gilbert, director of Congress Watch at Public Citizen.

Gilbert and other advocates pointed to an executive order drafted by the White House and floated in the media in 2011 that would have required government contractors to reveal political spending, which would shed light on otherwise unreported corporate contributions.

A year later, the Hill reported that the administration had “all but abandoned” the idea. It’s never been implemented.  

Regulation advocates also complain that the administration has not offered nominations for the five of six FEC commissioners whose terms have expired. The agency, which has three slots for members of each party, is paralyzed by partisan deadlock on many issues.

The administration said in June in response to a petition that “the Obama Administration is committed to nominating highly qualified individuals to lead the FEC” — but nominations have not materialized.

Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said he could not comment on whether Obama would take any actions without Congress — such as executive orders or FEC recess appointments — in a second term.

Pro-regulation groups are also unhappy with Obama’s reversal on super PACs, which the president’s campaign had criticized but later embraced.

Mitt Romney

Asked for details about Romney’s position on campaign finance, spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded with a link to a page on Romney’s website on “cutting the red tape” of regulation.

The page doesn’t mention campaign finance. Instead, it promises Romney will roll back regulations generally.

The campaign did not respond to questions about Romney’s stance on the DISCLOSE Act and other specifics.

During the Republican primary in February, Romney was endorsed by James Bopp, the arch-foe of campaign finance regulation. At the time, the Romney campaign told the Boston Globe that Romney believes Citizens United was correctly decided.

That followed comments Romney made to RealClearPolitics in December in the midst of a Republican primary dominated by single-candidate super PACs. He said he supported a system that would allow unlimited individual donations to candidates. The limit on individual donations directly to candidates is $2,500 per election, one of the few regulations left intact after Citizens United.

“[W]hat we have right now is unlimited political contributions, but they’re not controlled by the campaigns,” Romney said. “They’re controlled by unaffiliated or uncoordinated entities, which, in my opinion, is the worst of both worlds. It means that large contributions have a big impact, and it means that the campaign can’t control them, so if we’re going to have big contributors, wouldn’t it be nice to have the campaigns responsible for what those contributors say?”

In an interview with the Portsmouth Herald editorial board last year, Romney also endorsed the idea of donor disclosure.

“I wish we could find a way to get money out of politics. I haven't found out a way to do that,” he told the New Hampshire newspaper. “I think the best way, by the way, is to let people make whatever contributions they want and have it instantly reported and know what conflicts exist so we know where the money is coming from.”

There is one area where Romney has floated tighter restrictions: money from teachers unions.   

At an NBC forum in September on education, Romney criticized the unions’ donations to candidates who later negotiate contracts with teachers.

"I think we [have] got to get the money out of the teachers unions going into campaigns,” he said. “It's the wrong way for us to go. We've got to separate that."

Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan has opposed the DISCLOSE Act, calling it “unconstitutional” in a 2010 statement.

clarence swinney

Oct. 23, 2012, 1:24 p.m.

BUSH COSTS INCREASES
NYTIMES 7-24-11
2002-2009
1.two wars=$1469 Billion
2.Tax cuts=$1812 Billion
3.Stimulus—$773 Billion
4.Non-Defense Discretionary=$608 Billion
5.Tarp=$224 Billion
6.Part D=$180 Billion
TOTAL=$5070 BILLION

Barry Schmittou

Oct. 23, 2012, 3:21 p.m.

Republicans Blackburn, Grassley, and Issa are ignoring the Obama manslaughter and bribery evidence linked below even though many citizens and prominent regional business leaders have requested action. This evidence should destroy Obama’s campaign !!

Part One - I discovered two MetLife executives gave Obama huge contributions. One year later they both signed page 5 of the DOJ agreement where no one was prosecuted for bid rigging and “related fraudulent conduct”.

Evidence filed under oath with Blackburn and linked below includes - Quotes I compiled from numerous Federal Judges prove MetLife (and doctors paid by MetLife) ignore life threatening medical conditions (including Multiple Sclerosis, brain lesions, cardiac conditions and cancer) when patients file claims on the policies that MetLife rigged bids to sell !! Judges also wrote MetLife conceals documents from patients and MetLife’s attorneys lie in Court if the patient lives to get to Court. U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen wrote “MetLife and its henchmen” because MetLife also endangers many psychological patients.

I asked the Court to stop this. Federal Judge Bryant’s written response to me included : “the enforcement of such provisions is the exclusive prerogative of the Attorney General”.

Obama and the AG he appointed refuse to take action after receiving all this evidence many times via certified mailings, court documents, and personal visits to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office !! The Republican leaders don’t seem to care !!

Part Two - You’ll see evidence that proves this is happening in five types of insurance. Because of this : (1) Many Injured Workers have committed suicide (2) Long Term Care patients have been denied treatment when insurance companies fabricated pre existing conditions (3) Patients are forced to go without medical treatment and surgery while insurance companies intentionally ignore medical evidence (4) Civilian contractors supporting our troops in War Zones suffer devastating injuries but insurance companies are illegally denying or delaying medical treatment and replacement limbs.

There are more patterns of deadly crimes Obama is protecting linked below. They include Wachovia Bank laundering $378 Billion for the Mexican Drug cartels that have murdered over 50,000, are present in 1,000 U.S. cities and associated with horrendous crimes including gang violence and kidnapping children in the U.S.  The $378 billion laundered is enough to fund the entire decade long Afghanistan war twice, but no one was prosecuted by the Obama administration. Obama received contributions from Wachovia !!

After many citizens requested action Blackburn’s assistant called me from Washington and said “Health insurance is a state issue”. I read her all the U.S. Title 29 Health Care laws being violated. Blackburn is also completely ignoring all the other patterns of crimes the Obama administration is protecting !!

Republican Blackburn publicizes her visits to Churches and “Faith and values coalitions” she created and speaks on national television news about Health Care laws. Republican leaders often publicize their Christian values. They would be late now but they could still do something about ALL the evidence of mass manslaughter I’ve compiled. If they do not they are far from living God’s words about seeking justice and helping the oppressed. Thousands of lives are being destroyed every year. I urge you to read the following website and immediately contact Marsha Blackburn and the legislators listed in Exhibit A of that site. Please also call your friends about this : http://www.obamabriberyevidence.blogspot.com 

I’ve had cancer burned from the inside of my eye, please excuse and redundancy between this page and the website. Sincerely, Barry Schmittou

Joe Biden's Brain

Oct. 23, 2012, 3:21 p.m.

Perhaps someone should ask the al-Bama Campaign if they would agree to stop accepting donations from foreign sources. Talk about “dark money”.

@clarence swinney: fyi, bush isn’t on the ballot.  tax cuts are not “spending”.  and how much of that total did joe biden and al-Bama vote for?

Did you ask any of the third party candidates what they think? When you report on this stuff like it’s all about Romney vs Obama and nobody else it just makes you part of the problem. That type of manipulation is how our elections are being rigged these days.

As Daniel Ellsberg says,

    Obama may be bad, but Romney is worse, much worse in all sorts of ways which involve democracy and decency.

OMG. So Romney is for individual donars and corporations donating millions to him and other Republicans but prohibit teachers unions from donating to Democrats. Now who would have thought that that would be his position! Everything is designed to favor him and his millionaire buddies. Elect him and you will get more of this.

clarence swinney

Oct. 24, 2012, 7:10 a.m.

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
We must get away from being 4th on Inequality and 3rd Least taxed in OECD nations.
Least taxed led to Inequality
1. Fed fund campaigns and elections—-
hang corporate person—-
Six months—3 primary 3 general—-
        Free equal tv time—-use no $$$$$ personal or donations
        Debate a week=12=adequate to evaluate candidates

2. Federal employees can accept nothing with a financial value
3. Progressive Tax system—Burn tax book start over—tax enough to pay our way—and pay down horrid debt—We did it 1945-1980—-Since 1980, we borrowed $15,000 Billion as the rich became ultra rich partly on borrowed money. Richest on earth cannot pay its way. DUMB. In 2012, we taxed 2450B of 14,000B income for 17.5% tax rate. We needed $1100 more in taxes to pay our way. 8% more of our income. We can afford it. We are better than Chile and Mexico?? Pay our way.
Stop President non-stop flights all over the nation to speak to his choir.
Behind oval desk on tv speak to all americans. Stay at work.
Clarence Swinney peeved in North Carolina

The best solution is to criminalize spending money on campaigns.  It’s 2012.  Everybody has some access to the news and/or the Internet in some way, shape, or form, all of which give candidates a national dias to speak from, live or in summary.  Volunteers line up to do the work of canvassing, polling, and so forth.

I say “criminal” to deputize the campaigns themselves.  If Obama’s staffers, say, see an advertisement for Romney, they’ll make sure it’s public.  Likewise, they’ll police their own supporters to prevent accusations.

Even if not criminal, though, it should disqualify any candidate who spend more on the campaign than they’d get in salary.  They should be disqualified and kicked in the crotch for spending that kind of money while talking about how the deficit needs to be fixed through fiscal responsibility or the suffering of the underprivileged.

Not that it matters.  Both candidates have credible accusations of accepting foreign money (Romney from his fundraisers in England and Israel, Obama through naive code on his website) that nobody seems interested in investigating.  If nobody’s going after that, it’s not like changing the law will stop anything else.

clarence swinney

Oct. 25, 2012, 7:37 a.m.

CONGRESS AND WHITE HOUSE ARE OWNED BY $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
GET $$$$$ OUR OF OUR GOVERNMENT

IT IS A SHAME THAT OUR SENATOR WAS A FRESHMAN AND HAD 1.3M IN HIS CAMPAIGN PIGGY BANK ONLY A FEW MONTHS AFTER BEING ELECTED

Max Baucus—Chair Senate Finance Comm—70% poll for Public option—
Bill hit his comm—- first act—removed public option for debate
shocked me—I trusted him. Zap. Report=he had $1,900,00 in his campaign kitty from health care industry..

The millions spent by thousands of Lobbyists expect favors. Buy them.

We need a Washington revolution and kick all out


Obama lost me with Gay Marriage. Totally disgusted. I am in a position I trust no one in Washington. I know few are very good but $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ BUYS ANYONE

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$  OUT OF GOVERNMENT———QUICK

NYT had superb article on Wall Street employees going into many many many government jobs in Congress and White House

They left for a much lower paying job.
Conclusion—Wall Street biggies are placing them in positions to make decisions for Wall Street.
Pay under table or? Many have done this. Worked in Wash for few years then back to Wall street into a higher paying job

This is sad sad.  RULES MUST CHANGE

NO $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$  IN WASHINGTON  

NYT had article on Interconnectivity between Board Of Directors in WSA firms
You vote for my pay+pension I vote for yours
sickening

5 big banks own 50% of deposits in 7000 banks and 10 own 80%

Restate Glass Steagall—-separate Casinos from local banks

County Banking Systems—local wealth kept local to create more local wealth and jobs
WASHINGTON SOLUTIONS (Congress + White House)
Requires overturning Corp is a person
1. fed fund election—6 mos-3 primary 3 general—free equal tv time—debate a week=12=adequate to evaluate candidates NO $$ =O
2. Since they will not need campaign funds Ban them from receiving anything of a financial value   this closes K St.
3. Progressive Flat Tax by group—We have the income to pay our way-do it
We rank #2 as lowest taxed in OECD nations. We have an income of $14,00 billion yet tax 2400 and borrow 1300. Dumb?
clarence swinney Lifeaholics of America Political Historian for 21 years

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues in the 2012 election you won't read about elsewhere.

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