Elected officials from five states who are alarmed by the explosion of campaign spending by corporations, unions and independent groups have formed a coalition aimed at mitigating their influence on elections.
In a conference call Monday, New York City Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio announced the formation of the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is a founding member, as are Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord; North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell; New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli; and Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel.
All are Democrats, except Greuel, whose office is officially nonpartisan. Both Quinn and DiNapoli are seeking re-election this year.
The group was formed in response to the Supreme Court ruling in January last allowed corporations, unions and other groups to spend freely on campaign ads, often without disclosing the source of their donations. Campaign spending by outside groups has surged since then, with money favoring Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 6-to-1.
In June, the House passed legislation that would have required such groups to disclose donor names and to personally approve of the content of their advertising, just as candidates are required to do. But the measure failed to advance in the Senate.
DeBlasio said the coalition's mission would be to urge state and local officials to consider similar legislation, and for corporations to voluntarily refrain from campaign spending. He noted the blow-back retail giant Target suffered over the summer after it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. Target publicly apologized for the donation under threat of boycotts by gay rights and some consumer groups.
"When we see companies spend with reckless abandon, it makes us worry about the long-term stability of that company," DeBlasio said. "If there was ever a slippery slope, this is it."
McCord, the Pennsylvania treasurer, said his goal was to promote disclosure of donors and to increase journalistic and public scrutiny of the groups' activities.
"There's a difference between something being legal and something being right," McCord said.
With so much independent spending being aimed at benefiting Republicans this year, McCord acknowledged the new coalition would be perceived by some as a front group for Democrats. But he said such spending could easily shift to Democrats in a different election cycle, so it was in Republicans' interest to speak out about curbing such activity.
"My hope is, there are some good government, pro-transparency Republicans who would step forward and say this is a bad idea," McCord said.
So far this year, three major groups -- American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, launched under the direction of former Bush administration political operative Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- have together spent more than $13 million to attack Senate Democrats.
In the House, four Republican-leaning groups are spending more than $6 million combined in roughly three dozen races compared with less than $1 million for Democratic groups like the Service Employees International Union.