PIRG decries campaign spending

Free spending vs. free speech


US SENATE CANDIDATES must raise an average of $3,300 per day over six years to equal the median haul of winners during the 2014 election cycle, according to a report released Wednesday by groups opposed to a US Supreme Court ruling on campaign finances.

U.S. House candidates have to raise $1,800 a day over two years, according to the report from MassPIRG’s national affiliate and Demos.

The report was released at a rally across the street from the State House, on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, which allowed greater spending by corporate and union interests to influence electoral outcomes. Rep. Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord, also attended the small gathering.

“We need to get big money out of campaigns,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of MassPIRG, a consumer advocacy group, who was joined by representatives from the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

But another group celebrated the 2010 ruling as a win for “free speech” and “free association rights.”

“The Supreme Court got it right in Citizens United, which allows anyone of any means to be heard, and we hope the decision will stand in the face of so much misguided activism,” Paul Craney, executive director of the nonprofit Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a statement.

Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, called for additional campaign finance reform efforts and praised the 2014 state law that required greater disclosure by super political action committees (PACs), including listing their top five donors at the end of television and internet ads.

“There’s still a few loopholes that need to be closed,” she said, adding that her organization will be filing legislative proposals calling for additional disclosures.

The League of Women Voters will seek more frequent campaign finance reports from super PACs, according the group’s co-president, Anne Borg.

Rep. Atkins said she plans to file a bill calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution and knock down the Citizens United ruling. The bill would set up a six-month time limit, and if Congress fails to pass the amendment, Massachusetts would push for a constitutional convention with other states.

“People who have more money, have more speech,” she said.

Domenitz highlighted a reform bill at the federal level that will be re-filed by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, which would offer refundable tax credits to donors in order to incentivize small donations.

The USPIRG/Demos report described several recent Congressional candidates as “locked out” because they were outraised by their opponents and lost, including Kelly Westlund, a Wisconsin Democrat; Rev. Michael Walrond, a New York Democrat; David Smith, a Florida Republican; and Amanda Renteria, a California Democrat.

According to the report, Senate candidates would have to snap up 17 daily contributions from small donors, while House candidates would have to pick up nine a day, if they wanted to keep up with the winners.

“The House winner reporting the largest contribution total in 2014 raised nearly $8 million in contributions, while the Senate’s leading fundraiser collected more than $18 million,” the report said.

“This system makes fundraising prowess – rather than good policy ideas, a genuine desire for public service, or strong connections with a broad base of potential constituents – the primary qualification for holding elected office,” the report added. “The first question any aspiring candidate for Congress must him or herself is, ‘How much money can I raise?'”

In a post on Twitter, the social networking site, US Sen. Ed Markey noted the fifth year anniversary of the Citizens United, and in tagging Common Cause in the post, added, “we’re with you 100 percent in fight to #GetMoneyOut of elections.”

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Markey, who was elected to the Senate in a 2013 special election after 37 years in the House, widely outpaced his Republican opponent in spending when he ran for a full six-year term last year. In November, he received 1.3 million votes to Brian Herr’s 791,950 votes.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Markey’s campaign committee’s top contributors included people affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters, Mintz Levin, Harvard University and Granite Telecommunications, and top sectors that donated to Markey included law firms, securities and investments, as well as real estate.