U professor part of conservative effort to reform campaign finance system

REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
To encourage small donors, Take Back Our Republic suggests making contributions to federal campaigns up to $500 exempt from disclosure.
Richard Painter
Richard Painter

A University of Minnesota law professor and a political consultant who’s worked on five Republican presidential campaigns – both alumni of the George W. Bush administration – launched a campaign finance reform group Wednesday tilted toward the conservative point of view. 

Richard Painter and Mark McKinnon lead the board of Take Back Our Republic, a fledgling group that does not so much decry the evil of big money as the evil of foreign money in campaigns. 

The group is encouraging political campaigns and third party groups to be vigilant in following the law that prohibits foreign contributions to American campaigns. “We must be careful lest our political system be seen by foreign interests as a carnival in which all can participate and get the results they seek, even if those results weaken American interests, our national unity, and our national security,” the group states on its website.

A crackdown on accepting foreign money is the stick in the equation, but Take Back also offers a carrot. To encourage small donors, it suggests making contributions to federal campaigns up to $500 exempt from disclosure. Currently, any contribution over $200 must be disclosed. 

The group also supports a tax credit for small political donors, giving contributors a credit for donations up to $200 and a deduction for donations up to $600. Minnesota allows a tax refund  — up to $100  — for contributions to state campaigns.

Take Back describes itself as an education and advocacy group and promises to make all its donations transparent. The group has a six-member paid staff headed by former Republican political operative John Pudner. In his biography on the group’s website, Pudner says he joined Take Back Our Republic to lead “a team of ex-political wonks to help change the very industry in which they once thrived.”

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/14/2015 - 02:17 pm.

    Odd distinction

    “We must be careful lest our political system be seen … as a carnival in which all can participate and get the results they seek, even if those results weaken American interests, our national unity, and our national security,”

    I agree completely, but perhaps Mr Painter can explain why the group is targeting donations from “foreign interests” and not donations from domestic interests that are similar in their destructive effect on our national interests, unity and security, but far more consequential in magnitude.

    Absent that explanation, one might conclude that the group’s intent is to provide a xenophobic distraction from the damage that domestic political money is causing.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 01/14/2015 - 02:36 pm.

    How does raising the disclosure limit for donations to $500 constitute a reform?

    I think we know that this is about doubling down on xenophobia by opposing a problem so small that it barely exists.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/14/2015 - 03:23 pm.

    What did we expect?

    The “conservative” plan goes after the convenient scapegoat of foreign contributions without telling us why they are more destructive to the process than anything coming from America. I know they are the low-hanging fruit, and bringing them up is a handy distraction, but what will it accomplish?

    Similarly, what will raising the disclosure limit accomplish? Why are secret donations a thing to be encouraged?

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/14/2015 - 03:26 pm.

    A few questions and an answer.

    First, I assume we can all agree that government refunds of campaign contributions is simply indirect government funding of those campaigns, funding in which no one but the donor has a say. Doesn’t sound like a plan for conservative, small government to me. When combined with an increase in the cap from $200 to $500, one has to conclude that it’s intended to benefit the GOP more than the DFL.

    Second, with respect to foreign money: how do you define that in an era of multinational corporations and “issue” organizations?

    Want real reform? Let’s deal with disclosure of donors to so-called issue organizations.

  5. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 01/14/2015 - 04:47 pm.

    Citizens United

    I wonder about the impact of stricter regulation of foreign contributions would have on the ability of public corporations to contribute to candidates or parties. How would it affect a US Corporation like Target with, I assume, many shares owned by citizens of foreign countries or the governments themselves? What about our new Irish Medtronic?

    • Submitted by David LaPorte on 01/15/2015 - 01:48 pm.

      Distraction from the real issue

      I’d guess that Citizens United vs the FEC, one of the rulings that made corporations “people” with First Amendment rights, is exactly the issue that the DON’T want anyone talking about. By getting people to rally around preventing a (possibly nonexistent) takeover of our political process by foreign powers, they can claim that they’re pursuing election funding reform while not risking any of the influence of the 1%ers.

  6. Submitted by Roy Everson on 01/15/2015 - 02:30 am.

    Let’s get serious

    While they are at it they may as well forbid the implementation of Sharia Law to regulate campaign financing. That would shore up their base and guarantee the integrity of Our elections.

  7. Submitted by John Clouse on 01/15/2015 - 11:41 am.

    Campaign “Reform”

    I distrust any group that labels itself “Take Back…” anything.
    Take back what from what?
    They inevitibly are against progressive change and only support reactionary change.
    The single most toxic element in our political system is the large amount of anonymous money that is infecting the entire system.
    One single change could make that less toxic: make all political donations transparent.
    Foreign or domestic, the public needs to know who is buying access and influence.

  8. Submitted by Ken Bearman on 01/15/2015 - 12:59 pm.

    No data

    “A crackdown on accepting foreign money is the stick in the equation …”.

    The article lacks any mention from these two guys or their group of evidence of foreign contributions in U.S. elections. Is there any?

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/15/2015 - 02:02 pm.

    I see a glaring contradiction here: they want to prohibit foreign contributions to our political campaigns, but they want to increase the anonymity of contributors to campaigns and to those weird non-profit “social” benefit organizations that massively distort our electoral experience.

    Conservatives are desperate to make the small contributor, who is perfectly comfortable with having his or her neighbor know that they’re a Democrat or Republican or whatever and that they contribute to candidates of their persuasion, be fearful of such public knowledge. Only if the little guys can be made to fear their politics being known will they begin to side with the Kochs and other huge name-withheld contributors in maintaining secrecy.

    This is not “reform.” It is a PR ploy to continue enabling Big Secret Money to manipulate us. Transparency is a dirty word to these guys.

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