Campaign Finance Transparency for Thee, but Not for ... Dems

January’s Supreme Court ruling freed corporations, unions, and non-profit groups to air political advertising during election season, repealing a key part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. To counter this, Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen and New York Senator Charles Schumer, both Democrats, plan to introduce legislation to require these organizations to disclose who’s behind each advertisement. From Van Hollen:

We’re exploring ways to enhance transparency and disclosure of a range of political expenditures.

Excellent idea. But why don’t congressmen practice what they preach? Congressional Democrats appear focused on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

The nation’s biggest business lobbying group, the Chamber spent $47 million on so-called issue advertising last year. ... An additional $144 million of Chamber spending went for lobbying last year. ... That spending isn’t affected by the court ruling or proposed legislation.

What seems to be the key issue is that the Chamber ran ads supporting 10 Republican candidates in 2008, and spent another $1 million supporting Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown’s candidacy. To put the Chamber’s $191 million in perspective, during the 2008 election cycle:

-- Unions contributed over $60 million to pro-Democratic 527s, and 92% (over $68 million) of their direct campaign contributions went to Democrats.

-- Democrat/Liberal 527s spent over $160 million on issue advertising, compared to Republican/Conservatives’ $61 million.

-- Ideology/Single Issue organizations spent $304.7 million, with 66% (over $200 million) going to Democrats. They spent another $167.6 million on 527s.

-- Lawyers and law firms spent $233.7 million, with 76% ($178.7 million) going to Democrats.

Open Secrets is the internet resource run by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), an organization claiming to be “the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.” They argue that congressional gun control deliberations reflect support for gun rights because the “gun lobby” buys more votes. Open Secrets explains this money-for-votes premise:

If lawmakers are guilty of tiptoeing around gun control issues, it is because the NRA and other gun rights groups wield an enormous amount of influence in Washington. The source of that influence is money.

Open Secrets reports the entire “gun lobby” contributed $2,397,743 during the 2008 election cycle.

The Associated Press concurred:

Campaign contributions from the NRA are proving to be an accurate barometer of how individual senators would vote on gun control.

According to these sources, money insures successful election campaigns and buys congressional votes from grateful recipients. In this vein, there’s a positive correlation between lawyer campaign contributions and pro-gun control voting. The 223 incumbent House Democrats reelected in 2008 averaged an NRA grade of D+, highlighting their support of gun control. Lawyers contributed 6.9% of their total campaign contributions. The 156 incumbent House Republicans averaged an NRA grade of A, garnering 3.5% in lawyer contributions. F-graded Democrats received 7.2% of their funding from lawyers, while A-graded Democrats received 6.0%, and Democrats receiving A+ NRA grades averaged 5.1%.

If money buys influence, how does it reflect on Democrats’ stated goal of transparency?

During the 2008 election cycle, one of Obama’s biggest donors was the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom, LLP, which contributed $530,839 to his presidential campaign. They contributed a total of $1,716,042; 82% (over $1.4 million) went to Democrats.