Today, John Lewis released his C.L.E.A.N Platform for reforming Congress, a plan to ensure that the body be responsive to the needs of constituents, pass budgets, and stop the revolving door between Super PACS and candidates. It’s a proposal that has a lot of merit, despite the difficulty any member of the Congress will face trying to convince the body to reform itself.
In particular, I enjoyed one element of the first part of the plan, which will extend the “cooling off” rules to prevent candidates from starting or leading Super PACS right before declaring their candidacy for office. Under the current law, candidates and Super PACs cannot coordinate their campaigns, but a certain, ethically-challenged candidate from Montana decided to exploit a loophole, founding a Super PAC that did little other than pay him consulting fees before resigning his chairmanship days before announcing his candidacy for the US House.
When Ryan Zinke pulled off that absurd farce, Molly Redden, writing at Mother Jones, compared Zinke’s action with the satirical the Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC run by Stephen Colbert, and then John Stewart:
The point of Colbert and Stewart’s comedy bit was to demonstrate that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had rendered campaign finance law remarkably flimsy—so weak that it was legal for a person to start a super-PAC, raise unlimited heaps of cash from big-money donors for that super-PAC, quit the super-PAC, and then run for federal office supported by that super-PAC. Here was an easy way to escape the $2,500 limit on what individuals may give to federal candidates.
Now Ryan Zinke—a 52-year-old ex-Navy SEAL and former state senator who is running to be Montana’s only congressman—is putting Colbert’s theory to the test.
Since then, Zinke’s Super PAC, Special Operations for America, has certainly contributed to ZInke’s electoral success. Initially located just across the street from Zinke’s former home in Whitefish, the Super PAC allowed Zinke to claim he wasn’t attacking fellow Republicans while the Super PAC ran negative ads against his chief rivals in the GOP primary, ran radio and TV ads in support of Zinke, and shared media with his campaign.
Zinke’s Super PAC not only helped him in the campaign, it gave him an unfair advantage before the campaign began, as Common Cause’s vice president Mary Boyle noted, saying that Zinke:
essentially got a two-year head start fundraising for his campaign, soliciting unlimited donations that he could not ask for as a candidate, and now that money is being used to support him,” adding that this method of circumvention “just doesn’t pass the straight-face test.
Lewis is right: Congress needs to clean itself up. One way to begin that slow, difficult process will be for Montanans to send John Lewis to Congress instead of a candidate who has flouted campaign laws in his first federal campaign.