Republicans are taking a run at a ban on corporate cash donations to parties and campaigns — a gamble that could pay big financial dividends, but opens them up to attacks from Democrats.
The Republican National Committee filed a brief in a campaign finance case this week, arguing that the RNC and other party committees and candidates should be allowed to take money from corporations, as super PACs can.
Party committees have struggled to stay relevant in the presidential race as super PACs and other outside groups, empowered by 2010 court decisions allowing them to accept unlimited corporate cash, have dominated the airwaves – and the narrative – with millions of dollars in hard-hitting advertisements.
A ban on corporate cash for committees “artificially disadvantages political party and candidate committees by forcing them to rely on aggregating small-dollar donations from individuals while allowing other political actors, such as (super PACs), to receive unlimited corporate donations,” the RNC’s lawyers wrote in a brief filed Tuesday.
Democrats quickly pounced the RNC’s brief as evidence that the GOP is beholden to corporate cash. But, if the courts adopt the RNC’s view, it could help also help the Democratic party committees raise money. And, it comes as operatives on both sides of the aisle are growing increasingly nervous about the marginalizing of their respective party committees as super PACs have become an outsized force in the 2012 presidential campaign.
“I do think that the political parties are concerned about keeping their relevance in the process, and if they can get more money in, they can become more important in the process,” said Harold Ickes, board president of the super PAC Priorities USA Action that supports President Barack Obama.
And, though Democrats have sought the moral high ground when it comes to campaign cash, political operatives say the party wouldn’t mind corporations lining their coffers, either.
“I’m sure Dems off the record would want parity and corporate money because they will get crushed when the story is told [after] this election,” said a former insider at the party’s House committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In fact, though the Democratic National Committee is honoring Obama’s request that it refrain from accepting contributions from political action committees and lobbyists, the DCCC and the party’s Senate committee are not. And prominent Democrats have previously opposed restrictions on party fundraising.
Notably, leading Democratic Party lawyers warned that Democrats could suffer under the 2002 McCain-Feingold law that stripped the ability of party committees to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. Before McCain-Feingold passed, parties could use such cash for party-building and issue ads, but not for the types of ads super PACs are now airing.
Still, Bob Bauer – who represented the party’s House and Senate committees at the time and went on to serve as Obama’s White House Counsel and top campaign lawyer – cautioned Democratic Senators that the bill could hurt their party committee. And former DNC counsel Joseph Sandler, was also wary of the restrictions on soft money, telling Atlantic Magazine that the law was “a fascist monstrosity.
“I think there was a group of Democratic operatives and party leaders who privately were concerned about the impact of McCain-Feingold on the party institutionally,” said Sandler, who no longer represents the DNC. “Personally, I thought it was ultimately going to result in a weakening of the parties institutionally, as opposed to other outside, less accountable groups and I think that some of my prophecy has come true.”
Ickes said that while some in the party would like the DNC to take corporate contributions, he doesn’t think that would fly under the Obama administration. “Given the position that President Obama has taken against contributions from lobbyists, I suspect that he would not be happy about the DNC taking corporate contributions,” he said.