Nolan sets sights on campaign finance reform

By Devin Henry
MinnPost D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Throughout his campaign, Congressman-elect Rick Nolan devoted a chunk of his stump speech to decrying the new rules of running for office, especially the heavy emphasis on raising money.

Nolan has said he doesn’t remember raising more than a quarter-million dollars to wage races in the 1970s and ’80s, during his first tenure in Congress. He raised at least $1 million this year, but that’s a pittance compared with the amount outside groups spent on his Eighth District race this cycle.

“Successful members of Congress are expected to spend 30 hours a week in call time, raising money,” he said. “And there is a clear relationship: Generally the ones with the most money get the most votes. We never, ever used to do that.”

When Nolan enters Congress in January, he plans to set forth to overhaul the way federal elections are run. Beyond overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a liberal rallying cry since the court opened the door to unlimited corporate or labor spending on elections in 2010, Nolan wants public financing for elections and to limit the length of election cycles.

He’ll join a pair of Minnesotans in the congressional fight against big political spending, especially super-PAC money, but it’s probably a fruitless exercise; even good government activists say there’s unlikely to be any movement on campaign finance reform in 2013.

Super-PACs spent an astonishing $1.4 billion

Nolan knows a thing or two about heavy political spending. The Chip Cravaack-Rick Nolan race in the Eighth District was the third-most-expensive House race in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics – outside groups spent $10.6 million in the 8th, and all but $1 million of that went toward negative ads.

The 8th was just a sliver of the overall picture, of course. From the presidential race on down, according to the Sunlight Foundation, outside groups spent $1.4 billion on the 2012 election, the first post-Citizens United presidential election cycle. In 2008, that number was $262 million.

Kathy Kiely, the managing editor of Sunlight’s reporting group, compared the spending to a “money bomb with a really long fuse,” since most of that money, an enormous $860 million, was spent in the last two months of the race.

“It’s hard to expect numbers of this magnitude,” Kiely said. “I think we all figured there would be an explosion of outside spending because of the new rules.”

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