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Winning Senate seat on $14,000 a day

Reformers decry cost of 2012 campaigns

- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2013

Successful Senate candidates raised an average of more than $14,000 per day during the last election cycle — a sum that campaign finance reform advocates said shows a system begging for an overhaul.

According to MapLight, a nonprofit group that tracks money in politics, those who won election to the Senate last year raised more than $10 million, which translates to the staggering $14,000-a-day figure.

But there's little appetite in Washington to revisit the system amid all of the government's other priorities, even as the rules get more complex and shadowy new campaign organizations continue to test the boundaries of interest-group advocacy.

Asked if campaign finance reform was high on the White House priority list, spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't rank the issue, saying only that "it remains a priority."

The new data come as President Obama's re-election campaign organization transforms into a permanent campaign-style advocacy group, prompting even greater skepticism from reformers that Mr. Obama will follow through on promises to overhaul the current system.

Four years ago, then-candidate Barack Obama made history by becoming the first to go wire-to-wire rejecting taxpayer-funded financing for a presidential election.

"It was hard to make the case in 2008 that you could run a viable campaign" with taxpayer-funded war chests, said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Indeed, Mr. Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, took public funds and was limited to $84 million. In the critical month of October 2008, Mr. Obama spent $140 million as he raised money relentlessly, while Mr. McCain spent $44 million, struggling to spread out the limited money he was allotted under the public financing rules.

Both Mr. Obama and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney abandoned public financing entirely last year and together raised more than $2 billion, to say nothing of the millions spent by third-party groups to influence the race.

Still, Ms. McGehee said meaningful reform could theoretically happen — if Mr. Obama and his team were to expend some political capital.

"They pretty much have deserved, and earned, an 'F,'" she said. "The only thing that's going to make things change is [if] the American people say, 'We're fed up,' and start punching people."

The U.S. Supreme Court's January 2010 Citizens United decision — sharply criticized by Mr. Obama at the time — also ended the restrictions on corporate and union donations to independent, third-party groups who want to influence congressional or presidential elections.

But since chastising the justices to their faces in his 2010 State of the Union Address, the president has not put much muscle behind his call for new legislation.

In fact, Mr. Obama's 2012 campaign team recently transformed that operation into Organizing for Action, a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization legally barred from coordinating with candidates' campaigns. Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak at an OFA dinner this week.

"President Obama came to power in 2008 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment and the promise to change the way Washington works," said Bob Edgar, president of the advocacy group Common Cause. "He has an opportunity now to make good on that promise and through it to advance other items on his agenda."

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