Robert Bauer, general counsel to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and a former White House counsel, said Monday that an anti-reform movement has been dismantling rules that aim to protect confidence and integrity in government.
“I’m very troubled that there is an extremism in the opposition to reform, a sort of reckless and doctrinaire quality that is going to go a long, long way if it is taken to its logical conclusion to further undermine the fragile and critical trust the people have in their government and in the quality and effectiveness of self-governing,” said Bauer, speaking in Caplin Pavilion at the University of Virginia School of Law.
For roughly three decades after the Watergate scandal, Bauer said, there generally was bipartisan support for political reforms. Yet that support has frayed in recent years, particularly since the enactment of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in 2002 that limited soft-money contributions by corporations and unions.
A number of challenges to that law have been brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, and many of those challenges have proven successful.One provision of the law sought to ban “sham issue advertising,” or political ads paid for by corporations or unions that circumvented longstanding restrictions by not being explicit about their electioneering but unmistakable in their intent.
“Most of you would recognize ads of this kind as the ones that say various unpleasant things about Bob Bauer and then close by saying, ‘Call Bob Bauer and tell him to stop being a bottom-feeding slimeball.’” Bauer said. “Most people thought broadcasting something like that before an election would narrow Bob Bauer’s election prospects.”
The Supreme Court significantly narrowed that provision to only advertisements that run immediately before an election and that referred to a particular candidate, Bauer said.