Democracy Alliance President: Campaign Finance Reform a Means to Push Liberal Policy Goals

Admission belies claims that reformers are concerned primarily with corruption, transparency

Gara LaMarche
Gara LaMarche

The campaign finance reform efforts of a massive network of liberal and Democratic groups are explicitly designed to limit conservatives’ ability to oppose key parts of the left’s agenda, according to the head of the group coordinating those efforts.

The admission comes as parts of that network attempt to present the case for campaign finance reform as politically and ideologically neutral, and to recruit and reach out to conservatives and Republicans who might support it under those pretenses.

Democracy Alliance president Gara LaMarche presented the organization’s push for such reform, which involves a litany of major left-wing political and policy groups, not simply as a foil against corruption or corporate capture but as a prerequisite for the group’s other policy goals, all of which are left of center.

In a presentation at the Democracy Alliance’s April donor conference in Chicago, LaMarche lamented recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United vs. FEC and McCutcheon vs. FEC—that loosened restrictions, respectively, on political speech by corporations and unions and individual campaign contributions.

"If we can't succeed in turning this around, and it will take some years to do it, we will never make the progress we need to make on critical issues facing the country and the world like climate change and gun violence," he said, according to prepared remarks obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Altering the nation’s campaign finance laws, he said, would allow the Democracy Alliance and its network of affiliated groups to more easily advance liberal policies that have nothing to do with campaign finance.

"In that crucial sense, dealing with the distorting effect of money on our politics is a prerequisite to every other advance we seek," LaMarche said.

The Democracy Alliance and groups to which it steers tens of millions of dollars every year frequently denounce Republican political donors, chiefly libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch.

"Increasingly, elections in the U.S. are in the grip of a handful of our version of the Russian oligarchs," LaMarche told DA conference attendees. "The money in this room does its best to compete in our current broken system, but unlike our conservative counterparts, we want a new system in which all voices and votes are equal."

Democracy Alliance critics say that concern for a supposedly level political playing field actually masks the group’s true intent: to restrict its political opponents’ ability to oppose the larger left-wing policy agenda.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner and the head of the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, said LaMarche’s comments betray the partisan motives behind the group’s campaign finance reform push.

"This is really a stunning admission by the misnamed Democracy Alliance that the real purpose of so called campaign finance reform is to silence those who don’t agree with the progressive, liberal agenda of Gara LaMarche and all of his political allies, who consist of the most liberal donors in the country," he wrote in an email.

Von Spakovsky said LaMarche and his organization want to "throw out the First Amendment—the Bill of Rights is obviously an inconvenient, archaic anomaly to him."

The DA’s push for campaign finance reform has involved a number of groups that its donors fund that push for additional restrictions on social welfare nonprofits and corporate political spending (though labor unions are rarely targeted).

One of those groups, the Fund for the Republic, has worked to present the case for such reforms as bipartisan and politically neutral.

The group recently hired a number of Republicans in an effort to reach out to potential conservative supporters, though one of those Republicans was formerly a senior staffer for the Democratic governor of Massachusetts.

Despite denunciations from LaMarche and others associated with the group of the country’s post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, Democracy Alliance conference attendees have encouraged its network of high-dollar donors to support political groups empowered by the Citizens Untied decision.

The Alliance’s perceived closeness with the Democratic Party and the Obama White House led to a schism among its supported groups in 2012. A number of them, seen as more movement than party-oriented, parted ways with the Alliance as a result.

LaMarche acknowledged those misgivings in a June letter to former Democracy Alliance donors urging them to take another look at the group and its work.

"Some former partners had the perception we were not sufficiently independent of the Democratic Party or the White House, or failed to take a long enough view of infrastructure and power-building beyond the next election cycle," he wrote.