Bipartisan Campaign Finance Bill Aims to “Follow the Money”
The Follow the Money Act of 2013, introduced in the Senate last week, would establish a real-time reporting system for campaign contributions and independent spending by corporations, associations, and other organizations.
To help boost transparency in campaign finance, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation last week that would require corporations, trade associations, unions, and Super PACs to disclose their sources of spending to influence political campaigns.
The Follow the Money Act would also direct the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish a new reporting system for contributions so that the public can monitor independent spending and candidate campaign contributions in “real time,” rather than having to wait for quarterly reports.
“Americans expect accountability and transparency from their candidates, and those deciding to influence elections should be held to the same standard,” Murkowski said in a press release. “A majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents were concerned over the role of big money and secret donors in the last election, proving that this not a partisan issue; this is an issue about having the best-informed voters possible.”
The bill also increases the threshold at which candidates and political committees must disclose contributions on their FEC reports from $200 to $1,000. Murkowski and Wyden said this “safe harbor” provision allows groups that give “small money” to exercise their First Amendment rights without disclosing receipts or expenditures.
“These reforms reflect the belief that where there’s significant campaign spending, everyone has to play by the same rules and that voters deserve to know where the money is coming from and where it’s going,” Wyden said. “This will bring an end to the most flagrant abuses that have made a mockery of campaign finance and tax law.”
Super PACs, in particular, have come under fire for enabling abuses of campaign finance laws.
“Many analysts say that Super PACs are evading, avoiding, and flagrantly violating the FEC reporting provisions, mainly because their donors’ identities can be filtered through nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their contributors,” explained Robert Portman and Peggy Tighe, attorneys with Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville PC, in a recent ASAE Association Law & Policy newsletter article [paywall]. “As Super PACs are not subject to traditional PAC spending caps, they can be a more attractive option for wealthy donors and give corporations a way to be involved in federal campaigns that did not previously exist.”
In December 2011, the FEC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding reporting and disclosure rules for Super PACs in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Final rules are still pending.