One of the most common displays of hypocrisy in American politics has landed in Maine, as Mike Michaud has joined other Democratic politicians who pretend to embrace campaign finance reform while utilizing every possible loophole in the mad dash for cash.
This was particularly blatant recently, as a coalition of liberal special interests announced a $2 million ad campaign on his behalf, not long after their candidate spoke at a rally in favor of campaign finance reform. It would appear, after killing a bill to sell off the Blaine House last year, Democrats have now set their sights on simply purchasing it outright.
The coalition, which will operate under the innocuous name Maine Forward PAC, is made up of a combination of unions, environmentalists, the Democratic Governors’ Association, and the Maine People’s Alliance — in other words, the core of the Maine Democratic Party.
The reason for creating such a group is obvious, of course: to obscure who’s paying for the ads. Though it’s revealed in campaign finance filings, donors aren’t revealed in the ads themselves — and many of these groups have murky funding sources, making it hard to track down where their money really comes from.
This sort of obfuscation was decried by Sen. Angus King when he held hearings on dark money back in April. “No matter who you are, or whether you live in a ‘red state’ or a ‘blue state,’ you deserve to know who’s funding the ads on your TV during an election year,” King, who has not endorsed in the gubernatorial race, said at the time.
Although it didn’t directly affect Maine law, because direct contributions by corporations and unions were already legal here, this was exactly the sort of spending expanded at the federal level by the Citizens United ruling. It was this ruling that the activists listening to Michaud were rallying against. As he was plying for their votes, Michaud’s supporters were directly undermining their efforts by engaging in these sorts of back-room shenanigans.
This hypocrisy is nothing new, of course. It begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, runs through congressional leadership, and on down to Democratic candidates at all levels. President Obama has frequently argued for campaign finance reform and directly rebuked the Supreme Court for its ruling in Citizens United. However, he’s made no concerted push for new finance regulations, and as a presidential candidate he backed out of a promise to participate in public financing for his campaign, raising record amounts privately instead.
Under the Capitol dome we’ve seen the same behavior, most notably from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As he’s lambasted the Koch brothers for their political spending, he’s ignored casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, another billionaire Republican donor. Why, you might ask? Because he gives money to Harry Reid, whom he needs for his crusade against Internet gambling. This hypocrisy was so blatant that it earned him a brutal comedic takedown from the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart — who’s hardly known for being sympathetic to conservatives. It makes one suspect that Reid’s attacks on the Kochs are less idealistic and more just an attempt to shake them down for donations.
If Democratic politicians really believed in campaign finance reform, they would practice what they preach. This doesn’t mean that they have to stop raising money, just that they have to stop trying to hide where it comes from. If any of their own supporters create shadowy political action committees, they should denounce them publicly, not stand idly by and reap the benefits. They should discourage their own donors from supporting any such efforts as well.
We certainly need campaign finance reform to make it easier to see where political money comes from. What we don’t need is another attempt to circumvent the Constitution, or a lot of talking points intended to get votes more than to solve the problem. We need reforms that make spending more transparent and put more of it under the control of campaigns and political parties rather than fly-by-night, third-party groups.