Dark Money is Center Stage at Largely Ignored Debate
While President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, heartily disagree about the role of money in politics, campaign finance reform was never breached in any of the three presidential debates this month.
But the issue was front and center during a debate Tuesday in Chicago sponsored by the nonprofit Free and Equal Elections Foundation that featured four dark-horse presidential candidates.
During the debate, which was moderated by former CNN host Larry King, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein advocated for a constitutional amendment to “clarify that money is not speech and corporations are not people.”
Rocky Anderson, the former Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City Mayor now running for president under the banner of the Justice Party, assailed the “corrupting influence” of money and alleged that both Obama and Romney have been “bought and paid for.”
Former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, the nominee of the conservative Constitution Party, called for the elimination of all political action committees, including super-PACs, saying the nation should sever ties with the groups just as we “threw off” King George during the American Revolution.
Even Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former two-term GOP governor of New Mexico, suggested that politicians be required to wear NASCAR-like jackets with the logos of their sponsors.
Stein, Anderson, Goode and Johnson were barred from participating in the three presidential debates between Obama and Romney, but their names will appear on the ballot across the country.
The Libertarian Party is qualified for the ballot in nearly all 50 states, and both the Green Party and Constitution Party will appear on the ballot in dozens of states. The Justice Party will appear on the ballot in 16 states, including the swing states of Colorado and Florida.
During the 90-minute debate, both Stein and Anderson promoted the idea of a WPA-style program for green jobs, while Johnson and Goode endorsed curbing the size of government.
The four candidates also discussed — and frequently disagreed on — the legalization of marijuana, the drug war, immigration policy, the affordability of higher education, climate change, term limits, poverty and taxes.
Third-party presidential candidates typically don’t receive a significant portion of the vote — a point countered by Johnson with one of the most memorable lines of the night.
"Wasting your vote is voting for somebody you don't believe in," Johnson declared. "Waste your vote on me."
Both Johnson and Stein have qualified to receive public funding for their presidential campaigns.
Records show that Johnson has raised more than $2.1 million for his presidential quest through the end of September, including about $333,750 in public financing, while Stein has raised about $644,000, including $100,000 in public funds.
Through the end of September, Goode raised about $193,000, including $94,000 transferred from his old congressional campaign committee, while Anderson raised about $46,000 through the end of June. A campaign finance report detailing his third-quarter fundraising has not yet been posted to the Federal Election Commission website.
Neither Obama nor Romney is utilizing the nation’s public financing program — with its associated spending caps — making this the first election in which neither major-party candidate has participated since the program was implemented in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. Obama also rejected the public financing program in 2008, when he raised a record $750 million.
This year, both Obama and Romney are raising hundreds of millions of dollars in private contributions, though individuals are prohibited from donating more than $5,000 to either man’s campaign.
For his part, Obama, who hammered those trying to “buy this election” in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last month, has said that the country should “seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that lifted restrictions on corporate and union electioneering.
Romney, meanwhile, has called for campaign contribution limits to be lifted and opposes a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
The Republican Party platform additionally calls for the repeal of the campaign finance reform law authored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and opposes the DISCLOSE Act, Democratic-sponsored legislation that seeks to implement new disclosure requirements for groups that run political ads.