Common Cause president discusses campaign finance reform on UI campus

BY JENNY EARL | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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With the general election around the corner, officials say campaign finance is a growing concern.
Bob Edgar, the president and CEO of Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens' lobby, gave a lecture Tuesday to University of Iowa students and local residents discussing the need for campaign-finance reform.


"Money has become more corrosive and more important today than when I was in office," Edgar said, a former Pennsylvanian congressman. "We hope every state will consider public financing for state legislative races."

But not everyone is on board with these ideas.

Tim Hagle, a UI political-science associate professor, said Common Cause focuses its attention on campaign-finance issues with the Republican Party.

"They're obviously against certain people contributing in certain ways to campaigns," Hagle said. "In other words, they complain about the way Republicans get their money but don't complain about the way Democrats get their money."

The effects of campaign finance are being seen in the GOP nomination race, Hagle said, because nominees are getting assistance from super political action committees — Super PACs, organizations in the United States that campaign for or against political candidates.

In Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, there's been a major gap between the amount of contributions from PACs candidates and the Democratic incumbent have received.

Rep. David Loebsack, D-Iowa, has received $354,459 from PACs for his 2012 re-election campaign, which is $353,459 more than all the Republican challengers combined.

In the 2010 Citizens United court case, the Supreme Court ruled corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment.

That decision, officials said, is the reason campaign finance has grown into more of an issue.

"Today, special-interest groups come first with their checkbooks, then with their talking points," Edgar said. "Congressmen and senators aren't as interested in the talking points as they are with the checkbook."

Common Cause is working with other groups toward a Constitutional amendment that would reverse that court's decision.

Their goal is to no longer treat corporations as individuals for purpose of political contributions.

"We hope at the end of the day either through reinterpretation through Citizens United or amendment that we'll love corporations for being corporations, but we'll recognize corporations aren't people — they don't marry, they don't die," Edgar said.

He said his overall message is to restore campaigning to its old roots and to eliminate the influence of money in government, allowing candidates to focus more on big issues like the environment, poverty, and health.

"You need to create elected officials who come committed to those big issues," he said. "I'm afraid the current issues of money in politics is going to disable us from dealing with the issues we have."

Colin Gordon, a UI history professor who teaches the undergraduate class Policy Matters, said there shouldn't be much debate with the idea that we should have more transparency and less corporate influence in campaigns.

"There's an old saying in politics," he said, "'Whatever issues you're interested in, the second issue should be campaign finance.'"

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