Democrats Split on Citizens United Response for 2012

As efforts to amass historic advertising warchests for 2012 continue, there are no clear rules on how much the public gets to know about where that money comes from. The Senate tried and failed to pass legislation requiring more disclosure last fall, and now Democrats are split on making calls for more reform – or lining up to work the system as is.

And in the absence of legislation, don’t expect the Federal Election Commission to step in, the chairwoman said.

“It’s too optimistic to expect the FEC will lead the way to increased accountability,” Federal Elections Commission Chairwoman Cynthia Bauerly, a Democratic appointee, told a campaign finance symposium in New York on Friday.

Bauerly said commission does not have the votes “to begin the process of providing further guidance or creating clear rules, and that’s extremely disappointing to me.”

“Many corporations and labor organizations will be struggling to comply with the rules that are now out of date, doing the best that they can to live up to the basic expectations with respect to reporting,” she said.  

She went on to take a dig at the structure of the Commission, which has six members, split evening between political parties, so passing anything requires a commission to cross party lines. That’s created a posture that makes it more responsive rather than agenda-setting, and quipped “perhaps other industries, if they were to choose their regulator, might choice a similar format.”

And in the midst of that regulatory gridlock, the money haul continues. Politico reported today that a new money juggernaut has organized to support Democrats and go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. The new effort includes two separate groups – Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, which will follow different disclosure laws. One will disclose donors, one will not – despite Obama’s stated opposition to big spending without disclosure.

Meanwhile, another Democrat – Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) – is suing the Federal Election Commission for not requiring more donor disclosure. In a complaint filed last week, Van Hollen argues that FEC “has frustrated the intent of Congress by creating a major loophole,” (And he makes his personal interest clear: If [the regulation] stands, Rep. Van Hollen likely will be subject to attack ads or other ‘electioneering communications’ financed by anonymous donors, and will not be able to respond by…drawing attention of the voters in his district the identity of persons who fund such ads."

At the same time, the Obama administration is at work on a draft executive order that would require government contractors to disclose donations to political groups. It’s raised the hackles of conservative bloggers, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the effort is in line with Obama’s stated position on campaign donation disclosures.

“What the president is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going,” Carney said at a briefing this week.