New Report: Obama’s Campaign Finance Legacy


(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

A new report published online by the grassroots organization Demand Progress explores what President Obama’s legacy will be in the realm of campaign finance reform.

The 34-page report, titled, “A Legacy of Inaction: President Obama and Secret Money in Politics” begins:

At first glance, President Obama appears to be among the strongest critics of the Citizens United decision and its effects. He famously broke decorum to criticize the Court’s decision while six justices sat before him at the first State of the Union address following Citizens United.
Repeatedly, he has drawn from the rhetorical well of decrying the harm he says the decision has done to our political system, stating “ordinary Americans are shut out of the process” in a system with “millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed.”
Yet, President Obama’s record has not lived up to his rhetoric. As this report will detail, the president has numerous avenues to take executive action to fight the impact of secret money in politics, without needing the approval of Congress. With little more than one year left in his term, he has taken none of them.

The report cites several instances where the president could have done more for campaign finance reform, including:

  • when he backed away from signing an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose political spending
  • how he has failed to appoint members of the Federal Election Commission as their terms expired. So far, he has only appointed two of seven commissioners
  • when he signed into law “a six-fold increase in the contribution limits governing how much money donors can contribute to political parties in the 2014 CRomnibus bill and legislation repealing public financing for political party conventions”

The report listed several things it claims the president must do before the end of his term to fulfill what it refers to as his former campaign promises.

The actions include:

  • issuing an executive order regarding the political spending of federal contractors, requiring all spending to be reported within 24 hours
  • appointing members to fill all five open commissioner seats on the FEC

The paper concludes:

“The president alone will choose the legacy he leaves. He has shown a willingness to take strong executive action to deliver for the American people and bolster his legacy on issues like climate change, criminal justice, and preserving the open internet.
After years of telling Americans he agrees that ordinary people should not be drowned out by big money in politics, President Obama still holds a final chance to live up to those words. If, on the other hand, he does not take action and remove this stain from his legacy, he will only further empower the cynics who say participating in politics is a fool’s errand and politicians are never deserving of our trust.”

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