Mitt Romney’s supporters spent more than $700 million and their candidate lost this year. But Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, which advocates for campaign finance reform, argues that big money won even if a handful of high-profile conservative billionaires fell short of their goals.
In an interview on billmoyers.com, Nyhart says that donors like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson may not be happy with results of the presidential election and a small increase in the Democratic majority in the Senate, but they were successful in retaining many of the seats that tea party candidates won in 2010.
More important, Nyhart said everyone loses when candidates in both parties become more dependent on big donors to fend off attacks from SuperPACs and other ideological groups.
Nyhart advocates for a system of small donations plus public financing to replace the current system. He also seeks broader reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court or the Constitution.
To get the big money out we either need a changed court or a changed Constitution. And it’s not just about Citizens United. There was a series of court decisions. Citizens United has been the most publicized, but there were other ones, like Wisconsin Right to Life, or the McComish decision in Arizona, that have chipped away at the framework. Even before Citizens United, we had a system tilted towards billionaires. In fact, all these billionaires could’ve spent that same money influencing elections before Citizens United. The case that gave them the right to do that, or at least the interpretations of the case, was Buckley. So it’s not enough to overturn Citizens United. You really need a court that views speech differently and understands it in a different way than the Roberts court does. If there’s an opening on the Supreme Court in the next four years, we need a justice who’s within the mainstream of the American people, and certainly the thinking of the founders of the country on the issue of speech and the power of ordinary citizens in our democracy.
Otherwise, we’ll need to go through a longer process and amend the Constitution. There are efforts that have begun to do that and the results are not to be sneezed at. Right now there are 24 returning senators who have introduced or co-sponsored constitutional amendment measures that would allow reasonable limits to be placed on individual expenditures in politics. In the House, there are 73 representatives in the returning class who favor a constitutional amendment.
Nyhart supports the Fair Elections Now Act in Congress that borrows from several campaign finance models in place at the state level. In Maine and Arizona, for example, candidates must collect a large number of $5 contributions to qualify for public financing. In New York City, candidates got a 6:1 match for small contributions of $175 or less.
Nearly 80 percent of Americans want campaign finance reform. Is anyone out there hopeful that we’ll actually get it?