Discuss as:

Senate Dems plan super PAC hearings

 

Senate Democrats decried the influx of millions in unregulated dollars in the 2012 elections, announcing Wednesday that they will hold hearings looking into the impact of super PACs.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrats' messaging chief in the Senate, announced that the Rules committee will begin hearings this month on super PACs.

Joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), Schumer pointed to Mitt Romney's victory in Florida's Republican primary as evidence of the outsize influence of super PACs. He then bashed Karl Rove-tied groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS for raising money by the millions without having to disclose all of its donors.

"It doesn't pass the smell test to say some of these groups aren't coordinated," Schumer said, pointing to the example of a super PAC in favor of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, an erstwhile GOP presidential contender, which was funded by Huntsman's father.

A number of super PACs made their filings with the Federal Election Commission by midnight last night, a deadline that Schumer said was "laughable." The New York senator said it made more sense to disclose those records before voters participated in January's Republican primaries.

"We think the disclosure should be as instantaneous as possible. The voters deserve to know the ugly truth of whose behind these Super PACs," he told reporters.

Schumer also didn't spare Democrats, who also have used super PACs.

"No matter who does it, the system needs to be fundamentally changed," he said.

Using charts with Karl Rove's name on them, Schumer said the donations made in secret to non-profit groups were the most troubling. He pointed to the $33 million dollars raised by Crossroads GPS as reported in the FEC filings this week.

"This is a mystery as to who is giving the money. Could it be one person who gave $33 million dollars? Could it be somebody who might have foreign links? Or huge contracts with the government ? We have no idea," he said.

The senators placed the blame on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

"Everyone has the right to do it. No one is going to unilaterally disarm. So we're now forced into this system," Franken told reporters.

Whitehouse mocked the idea that Super PACs operate independently of the candidate. He said these donations lead to corruption. 

"You cannot pretend that people who are giving millions of dollars in support of a candidate anonymously aren't communicating that to the candidate and aren't going to come back and expect some kind of pay and we will never know who they were and what they promised," he complained.

It's not just Democrats who are worried about the corrupting influence of these new, monied groups.

We have -- on both sides of the aisle -- these incredible amounts of money and I guarantee you there will be a scandal," Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) said last Sunday on Meet the Press. "There is too much money washing around politics, and it's making the parties irrelevant."

Schumer expects the Rules committee will hold hearings sometime in February to look at ways to make disclosure of donors more regular and to improve the coordination rules between outside groups and campaigns.