After three days of hour-long technical political speeches, panels of a who's who of conservative commentators, and dozens of American flags, the Conservative Political Action Conference came to a close this weekend. Throughout the conference a consistent theme amongst speakers was the influence of money in politics.
Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as well as a panel of election finance attorneys, paid lip service to the dynamic, each with different conservative approaches. Similarly, throughout the conference, Organizing for Action, Obama's former campaign committee turned social welfare organization, drew sharp jabs from many of the event's speakers.
The group's fundraising model was the prime target for criticism, often linked to breeding corruption in the White House.
Following initial reports that campaign bundlers who raised over $500,000 would be rewarded with quarterly meetings with Obama, the group quickly revised its incentive model, according to OFA's executive director, Jim Messina.
Sen. Cruz used part of his keynote address to emphasize the importance of small contributors to political causes. Wrapping up the conference with a call for attendees to text the word 'GROWTH' to support the conservative cause:
"When you do that you will be joining us in helping spread the word. Helping spread the word that freedom works."
Sen. McConnell spent much of day two touting his opposition to Obamacare and was the most outspoken critic of Organizing for Action. Yet, his record challenging campaign finance laws, like the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, has given fundraising for such groups unlimited potential.
"I've been waging a fight on behalf of the first amendment for a long time... The constitution doesn't say you can abridge speech if it's during an election year or if it's coming from a businessman whose politics you don't like. It says you can't abridge speech period. Period. Tweet quote: Tweet
McConnell's First Amendment argument for ending campaign finance regulations was the one that prevailed in 2010 in the Citizens United case, ending limits on contributions to political action committees that should legally remain independent of candidates. Likewise, McConnell's recent efforts to increase money in politics, or as he may see it, increase speech in politics, includes a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida.
The $1,000 to $5,000 per person dinner is set for Friday and is hosted by John Castle, CEO of the Castle Harlan private investment and equity firm.
The campaign finance panel, attended by Benjamin Barr, Allen Dickerson, and Dan Backer, had strong words for the Federal Elections Commission. Held on the first day, the panel openly opposed the FEC.
Dan Backer highlighted the general opposition to disclosure requirements and spending limits, saying, "I don't think anyone here is going to shed a tear if the FEC goes away." Tweet it: Tweet
The panel continued to point out the commission's dysfunctional structure and agreed it was not an effective check on elections in it's current form. All of these criticisms were offered without concrete solutions to replace any proposed deregulation with checks on money in politics.
If the FEC and current election spending laws are not effectively upholding constitutional doctrine as well as keeping elections fair, then conservatives could have easily used the opportunity to challenge their colleagues to come to solutions that might dissuade the corrupting nature of money in politics.