The campaign finance system is so broken that legislative changes, including a constitutional amendment, are needed to rein in runaway, secret spending in elections, congressional Democrats said Thursday.
Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico said they want to put Congress in charge of setting campaign contribution limits and regulating "super" political action committees. These committees can spend unlimited money supporting candidates as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates, yet are required to reveal little about who they are.
The two senators proposed the amendment late last year. But the issue is receiving renewed attention in light of GOP-leaning super PACs that are spending millions of dollars on ads this election season.
Bennet said most people can't evaluate ads or know if their backers have an axe to grind. He said a 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United that removed limits on corporate and union spending in elections has made matters worse.
In the House, top Democrats introduced long-shot legislation that would require outside groups running campaign ads to quickly identify themselves and their top contributors. It also would beef up reporting requirements for corporations and lobbyists.
"The American people have a right to know who is bank-rolling these television ads," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a chief sponsor.
A similar effort to increase disclosure about campaign spending died in the Senate in 2010. This year's version is given little chance of clearing Congress.
The efforts come at the start of an election year that has already seen spending by super PACs swamp expenditures by Republican presidential candidates' own campaigns.
Through last week's Florida GOP primary, super PACs had spent at least $21 million on television ads. Expenditures by super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum exceeded spending by the campaigns themselves.