What Are You Going To Do About It?

It’s a total coincidence that it came out the same day as the new Stan Greenberg piece showing white working class voters want American politics cleaned up, but a New York Times/CBS survey also calls into question the conventional wisdom that campaign finance reform is a preoccupation of a narrow band of “wine track” goo-goos. Nick Confessore and Megan Three-Brenan have the details:

Americans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

The findings reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by “super PACs” and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question….

More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.

Those concerns — and the divide between Washington elites and the rest of the country — extend to Republicans.

Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors.

Republicans in the poll were almost as likely as Democrats to favor further restrictions on campaign donations, even as some prominent Republicans call for legislation to eliminate existing caps on contributions.

I’d say this almost understates the gap between rank-and-file Republican opinion and that of GOP elites and conservative activist groups. Among the latter, the idea of non-profits having to disclose donors is viewed as a gateway to IRS persecution, and the “money equals speech” doctrine of the Supreme Court majority is viewed as fundamental to our system of government.

So why don’t Republican politicians hear the discordant views of their own rank-and-file? For one thing, obviously, money does talk louder. But for another, and this is why some observers will dismiss the new findings, it’s unclear this is a “voting issue” for many people:

More than half of those surveyed said they were pessimistic that campaign finance rules would be improved. (Republicans and independents expressed more pessimism, while Democrats were evenly divided.) Over half of respondents said that the current rules equally benefit the Democratic and Republican Parties.

And virtually no one in the poll ranked campaign financing as the most important issue facing the country.

But Greenberg’s research suggests a different way to look at the disgust of voters with the power of money in politics: if they were convinced someone was actually willing to do something about it, that conviction could affect how they feel about solutions to the problems–especially economic insecurity and inequality–they do rank at the top of their list of concerns. And that’s why it should be of considerable importance to progressives, since it’s the other side that benefits from the cynical belief that corruption is just the way the game is played.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.