DENVER– Speaking on the steps of the U.S. Federal Appeals Court building here Thursday, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff blasted the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier in the day that set aside campaign finance laws limiting corporate spending in the elections process. The controversial ruling played well into Romanoff’s recent campaign theme, that of the outsider-reformer ready to stand against the encroaching power of special interests. Romanoff said the court’s decision would only further erode the American people’s faith in the political system.
“If you like the way Washington works, you’re going to love this decision,” Romanoff said. “It’s as if the justices took a look at America’s political system and concluded that special interests don’t have enough power.”
Romanoff read out choice lines from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion.
“This Court now concludes that independent expenditures.. do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”
Romanoff said Kennedy was wrong.
“Americans are losing faith. That’s why Congress rewards Wall Street bankers with taxpayer-funded bonuses, instead of holding them accountable for jeopardizing our savings and capsizing our economy.
“The halls of Congress are flooded with corporate cash and the Supreme Court just destroyed one of the only levees we have left.”
But the former Colorado House Speaker said the ruling also presented Congress with an opportunity. He called on lawmakers to pass the Fair Elections Now act. He also urged them to pledge not to accept campaign contributions from special interests and to return any special interest money donated to their campaigns. He was quick to note that he was the only candidate in the race for the U.S. Senate in Colorado to do so.
Indeed, his speech today raised eyebrows in the crowd. Romanoff has suffered barbs in the press for his thus far lackluster fundraising and seemingly rudderless campaign. Even now as he appears to be finding his voice, it is difficult to imagine special interests redirecting to Romanoff any largesse being lavished now on either Michael Bennet, the incumbent Democratic senator, or Washington insider Jane Norton, the GOP frontrunner.
In any case, Bennet at least seemed to agree with Romanoff’s dismal assessment of the Court’s ruling.
“Allowing corporate influence to flow unfettered into federal campaigns will only undermine the confidence the American people have in their government and serve only to stack the deck further in favor of special interests at the expense of hardworking Americans,” Bennet wrote in a release.
“At a time when Washington is already too out of touch with the American people and too in tune with special interests, this decision sends exactly the wrong message.”
Norton’s campaign did not return phone calls asking for comment. She tweeted today on Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Special Senate Election and on the failures of intelligence that led to the Christmas Day attempted airplane underwear bomb attack over Michigan.
Citizens United President David N. Bossie called special interest spending limits an attack on free speech, a position the Court’s majority agreed with.
“By overruling Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and striking down McCain-Feingold’s ban on so-called electioneering communications, the Supreme Court has made possible the participation in our political process that is the right of every American citizen –- a right that had been severely curtailed under McCain-Feingold,” Bossie said.
In a Q&A session with the press after his talk, Romanoff responded to statements made by the Bennet campaign noting Romanoff’s acceptance of PAC and special interest money during his time in the Colorado General Assembly. Romanoff said the comments amounted to a “desperate act.” He conceded he had in fact accepted the special interest money. It was that experience, however, that revealed to him the corrosive powers that money can have on lawmaking.
Romanoff elaborated to the Colorado Independent.
“There was not a single decision that I cast in eight years in the legislature that was anything but in the interests of my constituents. I defy anybody to find an example of special interest playing a part in those decisions.”
But it’s more than that, he said.
The problem lies is not directly in the votes cast. The biggest donors, he said, “shape the debate by creating pressure to not bring up proposals or to squash consideration of other proposals. It is a much more insidious process than outright bribery– though that goes on too.”
Romanoff said that candidates who are elected after this ruling will have to think twice about offending the special interests who will now be bankrolling most television and radio advertising.
“This is a real blow to the power of democracy and the power of the people. It is a real boost to the power of big money interests groups.”