In a recent story about the role of super PACs, the political action committees that spend money in support or opposition of a candidate outside of that candidate’s campaign (a structure enabled by the 2010 US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), The Economist highlighted a proposal by US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM. Udall’s idea: a joint resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to regulate contributions and spending for federal campaigns. (States would have the same powers for statewide elections.) If the resolution passes, Congress could then establish the actual spending and donation limits—but according to The Economist, “it has almost no chance.” SFR sat down with Udall to pick his brain about this and other concerns.
[on House Republicans’ assertion that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 1,000 days]
They’re wrong. We do have a budget. We put it in place. Just because they didn’t vote for it doesn’t mean we don’t have a budget and we didn’t address that whole issue.
[on his proposed joint resolution]
[If it passes,] then we’re in a position...to regulate in any way we want the campaign finance system. Any of the things that people are thinking about that are good, solid reforms, we can put in place and not have the Supreme Court writing all the laws—or un-writing all the laws, as the case may be.
[on whether it’s a conflict of interest for Congress to set limits for its own elections]
It’s true that Congress is regulating itself in a certain sense. I mean, you’re trying to lay the rules for future elections, which you are going to participate in. There’s no doubt about that. But the reality is that we’re in a much better position to do it than the [Supreme] Court, and the court has swept aside the good things we’ve put in place.
[on super PACs]
With a super PAC, you have television commercials—which everybody knows are some of the most influential in terms of elections—and the organization that’s running the ad, 40 percent of its donors aren’t known. That, I think, undermines the fundamental idea that democratic elections are a marketplace of ideas where the best idea is to be selected. If someone’s advocating an idea and you don’t know why and who’s doing it, it’s a big problem.
[on money in politics]
If you ask people, ‘Is there too much money in politics?’…most of the time, a wide majority of people say, ‘There’s too much money; they spend too much time raising money; the lobbyists and special interests have taken control.’
[on his support of the Protect IP Act, a bill aimed at halting online piracy that was withdrawn after a backlash]
I’m still a co-sponsor. The reason I got onto the bill was because I think we have a big problem in terms of piracy—and really, when we talk about the theft of intellectual property, we’re talking about jobs.
[on whether the Senate will reconsider PIPA before the November elections]
I don’t know if we will…with all the things that are on the schedule. It could be, but the later we get in the year, the more it turns into a political battle rather than a true legislative endeavor.