Reform Mantle Is Passed to Castle, Price

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:07pm

When ex-Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) was defeated for re-election in November, the House lost not only its last GOP Member from New England, but also the remaining point person for campaign finance reform issues in the chamber.

But the former 11-term lawmaker isn’t concerned.

Although he and his fellow Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 co-author, ex-Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), have left Capitol Hill, they anointed successors before skipping town: Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.).

“They’ve both been very strong supporters of campaign finance reform,” Shays said on Monday. “When Marty left, Price stepped up and, really, Mike Castle was right up there on every discussion I had on campaign finance reform … [They’re] two very fine Members who both sides of the aisle respect.”

In separate interviews, both Price and Castle said their first priority was reintroducing legislation overhauling the presidential public financing system, a bill President-elect Barack Obama once co-authored but is uncertain to support.

Obama opted out of the program in the previous cycle for the primary and general election — the first-ever nominee to do so — and stands to handicap himself financially by reviving the subsidy.

The duo is mixed on the prospects for passage, with Price expecting the president-elect to put his weight behind the legislation, while a pessimistic-sounding Castle doubts “there’s the will to change it.”

“This president stiff-armed the presidential public financing campaign — he obviously is a prolific fundraiser and decided that was the way to go,” Castle said. “How welcoming this administration is to changes in this area is very much up in the air … we’ll see how it goes.”

Castle, who considers himself “a soulmate of Chris Shays,” also supports legislation requiring stand-by-your-ad disclosures on Internet and e-mailed political advertisements paid for by committees and outside groups, as well as reining in groups that organize under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code.

“They collect a lot of money for these so-called issue ads, which to 98 percent of the population are campaign ads,” Castle said.

The First State lawmaker also appears to support a new proposal by campaign finance watchdogs such as Democracy 21, which would change how commissioners are chosen for the Federal Election Commission. The group, led by Fred Wertheimer, currently is lobbying Obama’s transition team on changing the agency’s nomination process.

“I have been a little concerned that the people on the Federal Election Commission tend to be Republican and Democrat, when in reality they should have administrative responsibilities of making sure that elections are being run correctly,” Castle said.

Price described the presidential public financing system as a “moving target,” adding that “we really do need to act to get it back on the books or we can forget it.

“We’ve got to modernize this statute or see it die,” he said.

A former political scientist, Price first mastered the ins and outs of campaign finance in academia, learning from recently deceased campaign finance expert and academic Herb Alexander.

Flexing his campaign finance chops, Price doesn’t hesitate to criticize the John Roberts-led Supreme Court, which he said in recent years has “gone way too far in the direction of equating money with speech.”

On the Senate side, the duo said they continue to work with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on overhaul measures.

But the prospect of former presidential nominee and campaign finance advocate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — the beneficiary of millions of dollars in unregulated ad buys by outside groups last cycle — putting the band back together remains uncertain.

“We certainly are still working with Feingold,” Price said. “But I don’t know more than that.”

The Tar Heel State lawmaker applauded the earlier work of both Meehan and Shays, and he defended BCRA — Shays and Meehan’s swan song — from critics on all sides.

“Despite the skeptics who talked about the soft money finding simply another channel and a lot of criticisms about being subjected to more stringent rules on advocacy ads, I think a lot of those criticisms have been dispelled,” Price said.