Why We Need Campaign Finance Reform

April 19, 2016

It’s been a while since I posted a blog entry. I had been decrying what had been happening in the GOP-led House: the prominence of legislation that serves as political messaging rather than having serious legislative intent to become law. You see, if you want a bill to become law, you really have to work with both political parties. But many of the bills we see now are simply GOP message bills. And this last week was a good example.

There have been some legislative efforts I’ve been involved in that represent good bipartisan cooperation. For example, H.R. 8, The Architecture of Abundance Act, started out with the best intentions of both parties to create energy policy that would encourage investment and help move our country toward long-term energy security and economy. Tough compromises were made on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, H.R. 8 fell into partisanship at the last stages, unraveling all the compromise and hard work that my colleagues and I had put into it, ultimately turning it into a message bill for the GOP.

Three additional GOP message bills were brought to the House floor for consideration this week: H.R. 3791. H.R. 3340, and H.R.2666. H.R. 3791 would force the Federal Reserve to allow additional leveraged buyouts of banks and savings and loan holding companies by raising the threshold of small bank status from $1 billion to $5 billion. This would help larger banks gobble up more community banks, putting more people out of work and reducing local community access to community banks. This bill was proposed to please the larger financial institutions. Okay, I get that. But just the year before the threshold was raised from $500 million to $1 billion. (And for the record, the community banks were not the ones that caused the financial meltdown of 2008.) So the point here is that this was a message bill to the financial institutions that the GOP is on their side. There was no effort to include the Democrats in the process. It was executed on a strictly party line, and has no chance whatsoever of getting signed into law. So, why do it? For messaging – pure and simple.

H.R. 3340 basically undermines reforms in the Dodd-Frank Act that was passed in response to the abuses in the financial sector leading to the 2008 Great Recession. This bill eliminates independent funding of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the Office of Financial Research. It will not pass the Senate, and if it did, the President would veto it. So, why pass this? You guessed it: for the GOP to send a message to the financial sector that the GOP has their backs.

The last bill considered this week was H.R. 2666, “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act.” Okay, this is a clear cut example of the GOP’s abhorrence of any kind of regulation. This bill’s language is so broad that it will likely undermine the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) ability to act on a wide range of issues and undercut its ability to act on even the most basic consumer protections. This is another example of a message bill. I offered an amendment to the bill that would at least give the FCC the ability to act in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Sounds pretty straightforward, but no, it was rejected by every single Republican on the recommendation of Chairman Walden of the Telecommunications Subcommittee. If there were any intent to actually get something passed into law, they would have accepted my amendment, and it might have had a chance. But there was no compromise, and the intent is clear – send a message to their stakeholders and to the most extreme wing of their party who believe that all regulation is bad.

So, you can probably sense my frustration. In the GOP-controlled House, precious legislative time is spent fighting over pure message bills. And this is a common theme this year. Don’t indulge in any serious lawmaking, just produce message bills to please certain stakeholders. This is a strong reason to enact some serious campaign finance reforms – because we can’t get desperately-needed laws enacted in this environment. I hope week after week to see something different, but thus far, it’s the same old thing.