Now a Target, Lungren Wants Campaign Finance Reform

Photo from Office of Dan Lungren

The New York Times this week ran an article about some GOP incumbents who are not so big right now on the whole Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which has resulted in unprecedented amounts of money flowing into electoral campaigns. One of those disgruntled incumbents is the Sacramento-area’s Dan Lungren, locked in one of the most tightly contested races in the country against Democrat Ami Bera.

From the Times:

An expansive onslaught of negative political advertisements in congressional races has left many incumbents, including some Republicans long opposed to restrictions on campaign spending, concluding that legislative measures may be in order to curtail the power of the outside groups behind most of the attacks…

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign-finance issues, has been a target of negative advertisements. He has drafted legislation that he said would force more responsibility for the tone and messages of the campaign onto the candidates and political parties and away from the third-party groups. The staff of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is also working on proposals…

Lungren said the attacks on him began just months after the 2010 election, with radio advertisements and automated phone calls. They have accelerated into an onslaught of television commercials in what has become the most expensive House race in the country. Lungren’s opponent is Ami Bera, a doctor and Democrat.

“What I’m trying to do is transform the system so people participating as candidates can be held responsible for what is said,” Lungren said of the legislation he is drafting.

He said the 2012 experience could be transformative for other Republicans who have spent the past six months enduring the grim piano music and disconsolate faces of “voters” in negative ad after ad, sometimes against them, sometimes on their behalf but always without their signoff.

“We had to see how this worked out for a cycle,” he said. Full article

KQED’s Tara Siler talked with Lungren opponent Ami Bera earlier this month. Bera thought the big money was going to be an equal-opportunity weapon. “The Super PACs are going to play on both sides in this election. I think they’re going to end up neutralizing each other, and I think this election is going to come down to a battle of ideas.”

Jesse Ferguson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told Siler he’s not buying Lungren’s recent turnaround on tightening campaign finance laws. “At some point you have to question the credibility of somebody who is putting forth election day ‘Hail Mary passes,’ when they’ve consistently opposed smart reforms during their time in congress,” he said.

As for the general role of unregulated money in politics, Daniel Newman, president of Maplight.org, which tracks donations, told Siler while there are many people representing the ideas of large donors, no one is representing the voters’ ideas.

“The whole livelihood of our state and our country is on the line with each election, and so a few million dollars … is trivial compared to what that can buy.”

What can it buy? Said Newman: a lot of influence over policies and laws that ultimately benefit big donors who may have little, if anything, to do with the California districts in which they’re throwing around money, or the needs of those who live there.