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Would lack of campaign donation limits unleash a new level of super-donors?

October 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
The Supreme Court heard a case challenging the cap on total donations one individual can make to politicians during an election cycle. Would changing the law increase corruption or help with donor disclosure? Judy Woodruff gets debate from Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and Rep. David Price, D-N.C.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: To debate the issue, I spoke just a short time ago with Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. The RNC brought the case to the court. And U.S. Representative David Price, Democrat of North Carolina, who filed a brief with the court in support of current campaign finance donation limits.

Reince Priebus and Representative David Price, welcome to the NewsHour.

Mr. Priebus, let me start with you.

Why does the Republican National Committee want to make it possible for people make unlimited contributions to the candidates and the parties of their choice?

REINCE PRIEBUS, Republican National Committee: We’re not challenging the idea that people still have individual limits to congressmen and parties across the country.

All we’re challenging is the aggregate limit that a person can give in total to all candidates or to all political parties. And part of the problem is this. And I think what we saw today, no matter where you were — no matter where you were sitting, I think there was agreement today that the current state of the law, the way that things are going as far as money and politics, is not a sustainable model.

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And so what we have been trying to advocate is that parties, at least from our standpoint, should have more ability to raise money, because we are disclosing everything and all of our donor information on a monthly basis to the Federal Election Commission.

What’s happened is, the money has gone outside of the candidates and outside of the party committees. And they have gone to other independent PACs or super PACs, as people call them, and they have unlimited access to money, but they disclose nothing to anybody. So what’s happened in the law is the total opposite of what I think most people intended. And so that’s what we’re really talking about today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and, Congressman Price, why is it a bad idea to do what the Republicans are saying, to put, in other words, no limits on the total amount that can be given?

REP. DAVID PRICE, D-N.C.: Well, if I’m the one who’s supposed to defend super PACs, think again. I think it’s a terrible decision, the Citizens United decision.

But the notion that the cure to that is to open up a whole new category of super-donors, I think, is likely to compound the problem. It would even further dilute the voice of small donors and of small contributors. And, also, it would override that distinction that the court has maintained for a long, long time that the danger of corruption and the appearance of corruption is much greater when we’re talking about contributions.

And, of course, aggregate contributions are going to add up to huge amounts of money and compound that perception of corruption.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reince Priebus, why isn’t it a concern that, in allowing these large contributions, then you would be, as Congressman Price said, potentially overriding the voice of small donors, people who cannot afford to give very much to a politician?

REINCE PRIEBUS: No, I don’t think that’s the case at all, because each individual candidate is still going to have a limit as to how many — what the individual limit of the contribution is.

So, in other words, if today, under the law, I can give to 18 particular candidates at a full maximum level, the question is why is giving to 19 supposed to be illegal under the law?

Here’s the point: I’m trying to put more disclosed money into the system, not more money. The money’s going to be there. I mean, guys, we’re living in a different universe if we don’t think that there’s boatloads of money in politics.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask Congressman Price.

This point about disclosure that he’s making, and the point he’s making that it’s just a matter of not raising how much you can give to one candidate, but you can give to more candidates?

DAVID PRICE: Well, I’m delighted to hear the chairman’s commitment to disclosure. I hope he’s in good touch with Senator McConnell, because we have been proposing in the DISCLOSE Act on the Democratic side for full disclosure.

Whatever you think of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, surely, we can agree, as we did for many, many years, until Senator McConnell changed his position, surely, we can agree that disclosure is desirable, that we need to have a full accounting of who’s giving to these super PACs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And…

(CROSSTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, I think the congressman’s — the congressman is sort of missing the point here.

The point is whether or not, by keeping the base limits in place and allowing people to donate to as many candidates as they want to, is that — is that creating corruption within a system that already allows a person to write a $10 million check to a super PAC? I mean, the point is, it doesn’t.

And that’s the question before the court. The question before the court isn’t how to just make everyone feel and, boy, isn’t this too much none? That’s not the question before the court. The question before the court is, is keeping the base limits in place, but allowing people to contribute to as many candidates as they want, does that — does that encourage corruption? That answer is no.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me give Congressman Price a chance to answer that.

DAVID PRICE: So, if you’re worried about parties and candidates not having a piece of the action, even with the new rules in place in 2012, they gave over $5 billion, 83 percent of the contributions.

So, as bad as these super PACs are and as unaccountable as they are, they still account for 17 percent of the contributions. So the parties and candidates are doing just fine. But the really exciting thing that I have heard in this interview is the commitment to disclosure.

We could level that playing field with regard to disclosure. So let’s have at it. Let’s make sure that the super PACs and the so-called social issue groups disclose who’s financing them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Price, quickly, his other point about adding — in other words, being able to contribute to more candidates?

DAVID PRICE: McCutcheon, Mr. McCutcheon, who brought this case, he’s not been hamstrung just because he could give to an aggregate of 17 candidates. The guy gave $300,000.

He has a super PAC himself. I’m not really worried about Mr. McCutcheon’s free speech rights or his ability to support as many candidates as he wants.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick final word, Reince Priebus.

REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, here’s the issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

REINCE PRIEBUS: If a person wants to give to the Democratic Senatorial Committee, the Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee, under the law, the law says that they couldn’t do that.

And I don’t understand how by giving to two and $10,000 to a third actually prevents corruption. I mean, that’s the issue before the court. And we’re getting into a conversation about issues that are not before the court. And the freedom of speech should ensure that a person under the individual limits should be able to give to whomever they want to give to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you have a final comment, Congressman Price, about that corruption point?

DAVID PRICE: Well, all I can say is that for four decades, the court has said that there’s a particular problem with direct contributions in terms of corruption and the perception of corruption.

Now, I — I think there’s the same problem with respect to expenditures, but the court has not thought so. The court has thought that contributions were warranted special — special regulations, and — and that’s what our Republican friends are saying should be overturned. It’s a major unleashing of a whole new class of super-donors.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to have to leave it there, gentlemen. We will be watching the court, Congressman David Price, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.