After months of false starts and compromises, the House today was set to begin debating a Democratic bill that would make it clear how much companies, unions, and other groups spend on independent campaign ads made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. As part of the bill, the House was expected to also vote on a revolutionary amendment offered by Republican Steve King of Iowa that would drop all restrictions on federal campaign contributions, meaning a donor would be limited only by the size of his or her bank account.
King’s proposal is one of just six amendments, and is the sole Republican-sponsored one. Democratic offerings include a proposal by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to ban campaign-related spending by energy companies with leases on the Outer Continental Shelf and an amendment by Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania to require campaign ads by independent groups feature “the city and state of the ad funder’s residence or principal office.”
But unlike the bill and the Democratic amendments — which aim to tighten campaign finance rules — King’s proposal would eliminate the decades-old limits on contributions to candidates, political action committees, and parties. Donors now face a $2,400 contribution limit per candidate in each election.
On its blog, the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that opposes campaign contribution limits, said that while it supports the concept of the King amendment, the language is unlikely to win House approval. The current federal contribution limit of $2,400 is “arbitrary, self-imposed by Congress and well below a level that most Americans find potentially corrupting,” the group said.
Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, supports the overall legislation but strongly condemned the King proposal. She told the Center “If it is someone’s ambition to open the floodgates … and further deluge the system with money that drowns out the voices of average Americans, then it’s a great amendment.” But, she noted, “When you open the floodgates, you get a flood.”
Though the bill has two Republican co-sponsors, a House Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday to set the terms of debate broke down largely along party lines. Democratic Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter of New York argued that the House “would be derelict” if this bill was not quickly passed. Republican Dan Lungren of California disagreed, terming the bill a “frontal assault on the Constitution.”
UPDATE (3:31pm): The House overwhelmingly defeated the King amendment, with 369 no votes and just 57 yeas. All 57 came from Republicans.
UPDATE (4:29pm): The DISCLOSE Act passed the House by a 219-206 margin. It now moves on to the Senate, where no Republicans have thus far publicly indicated support.