Senate Democrats want to boost the profile of campaign finance reform as the 2016 elections draw closer.
They’re preparing to unveil a wide-ranging package of proposals to overhaul laws governing money in politics and improve government ethics, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming leader of Senate Democrats, is coordinating the effort through the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the leaders of the effort.
“The purpose is to respond to the public’s frustration about a Congress that is jammed up by special interests and as a result isn’t meeting the needs of the American people,” Whitehouse told National Journal in the Capitol.
The measures are unlikely to advance, given the dwindling legislative calendar and widespread GOP resistance to imposing major new regulations on political spending.
But the election-season effort could help lawmakers tap into voters’ interest on the topic, which has played a high-profile role in the campaign of Bernie Sanders.
It will offer Democrats, who are fighting to win back the Senate majority, a way to put Republicans on the defensive politically over the role of money in politics. The package could also be a preview of what Democrats—led by Schumer—hope to do if they do capture control of the Senate.
“The presidential elections have shown that what used to be considered abstract, process, inside-baseball stuff is resonating in a way that it hasn’t for many, many years,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, a liberal Democrat.
Schumer, asked by National Journal about the effort, replied: “Stay tuned.”
“We believe reform is a very important issue this year,” Schumer said in the Capitol on Wednesday, noting that he meant “reform in general, including campaign finance reform.”
Lawmakers say the specifics of the package are still being worked out, and did not say when it would be unveiled.
In the past, Whitehouse has pushed the Disclose Act, a measure with wide support among Democrats. It’s aimed at cracking down on so-called dark money by forcing outside groups to reveal information about their donors and activities.
Another lawmaker involved in the effort, Sen. Tom Udall, has previously sponsored a measure that would amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and other rulings that have helped to open the floodgates for money in politics.
Udall has also proposed a measure that would replace the Federal Election Commission, which has been hamstrung by internal disputes, with a more effective watchdog.
Udall’s office declined to provide any specifics on the upcoming package, but the New Mexico Democrat said in a statement that “Americans are sick and tired of corporations and the super wealthy controlling our politicians and our elections.
“I’m working every way I can to reform our campaign finance system, overturn Citizens United and shine a light on billionaire donors hiding in dark corners—so we can get money out of politics,” he said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill said the effort also addresses ethics reforms and voter-participation issues.
One proposal that’s likely in the mix is Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act, a plan that Hillary Clinton has endorsed.
It restricts people from getting bonuses from private-sector companies when they enter government; creates new safeguards against financial-services regulators using their positions to benefit former employers or clients; and places new limits on regulators’ post-government lobbying and work for financial institutions.
Baldwin told National Journal that she has discussed the legislation with Schumer, and suggested that he was supportive. Asked if Schumer was on board, Baldwin said: “We are talking about a larger reform package, and I expect that you will see it included.”
The effort arrives amid a presidential campaign season that has renewed attention to campaign finance, in large part because a central pillar of the Sanders campaign has been his argument that billionaires and corporations control the political system and unduly influence policymaking.
Sanders and Clinton have both said they would appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose Citizens United, and both support the long-shot idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
Both also support an array of other measures to impose new regulations on money in politics, boost disclosure, empower small donors (who have greatly aided Sanders), and expand and strengthen voting rights.
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