by jordan blum
Advocate Washington bureau
July 26, 2012
WASHINGTON — Former Gov. Buddy Roemer took to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to testify before Congress on the need to enact campaign finance reform and rein in runaway corporate spending in elections.
Roemer, who recently ran for president as a No Party candidate after being left out of the Republican debates and disowning the party, chimed in as an invited panelist during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing. The hearing was dubbed, “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs.”
Much of the discussion focused on the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that essentially allowed unlimited corporate giving in political campaigns. Several Democratic senators argued that a constitutional amendment is the only way to ensure that corporations are not deemed the equivalent of people with free speech.
“Our institutional corruption places our elections in the hands of the mega contributors,” said Roemer, who was a former Democratic congressman before becoming governor and switching parties.
Roemer argued he won the Governor’s Office as an underdog without taking any contributions from special interests. But that is no longer possible, he said, and his presidential bid proved it when he capped his donations at $100 and failed to get an invitation to any major debates.
An online presidential nomination process that Roemer participated in and led also failed to garner enough support.
Earlier this month, Roemer announced the creation and his chairmanship of the new nonprofit group, The Reform Project, which is aimed at issues such as campaign finance reform and congressional term limits.
“The system is not broke … It’s bought,” Roemer said.
While a constitutional amendment may work, he said, Congress can make campaign finance progress by requiring full disclosure on donations to political action committees, or PACs, requiring donations reporting within 48 hours, banning lobbyists from contributing, banning members of Congress from lobbying for five years after retiring and limiting PAC contributions to individuals.
Roemer joked about candidates not being allowed to coordinate with their Super PACs because no one believes that separation is taking place. Roemer noted that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was standing right by his top Super PAC donor while giving a victory speech after one win in a state GOP primary.
“There was no coordination,” Roemer said. “He was just standing four feet away from him.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke out against the Republican filibuster and the Senate falling short of the 60 votes on the Disclose Act legislation that would have required Super PACs to name their top donors.
“We should call them, not Super PACs, but super-secret PACs,” Durbin said.
The bill would have required any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more.
The Super PACs are allowing billionaires to “control our political agenda” and disenfranchise the average voter more than in several decades, Durbin said.
“It’s an uphill movement and it may take years,” Durbin said of a push for a constitutional amendment, which he said seems necessary even though such a strong action should not be taken lightly.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., said the Supreme Court decision is turning the U.S. back into an “oligarchic system” in which all the power is in the hands of the few. The U.S. Supreme Court told the millionaires and billionaires they already own the economy, Wall Street, the oil and coal corporations and that now they should own the U.S. government as well, he said.