Appropriations Bill Threatens to Take Our Campaign Finance System in the Wrong Direction


WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) called on the Senate to ensure that the appropriations bill does not further expand the role of big money in our political system.

A letter sent to Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairman Leahy by CLC called on the Senate to oppose appropriations measures that would supercharge the problems arising from massive checks to joint fundraising committees and that would protect dark money.

Trevor Potter, president of CLC, and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission said: “It is critically important that the appropriations bill not be used to further entrench the role of secret, unaccountable money in our political process. The tax bills should not undermine important protections for democracy by handing megadonors even more power over our elections.”

Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform program at CLC said: “If adopted, these measures have the potential to make an already problematic campaign finance system even worse. Giving presidential candidates even more control over how massive joint fundraising committee checks are spent only further tilts the political playing field toward the interests of megadonors rather than voters.”

How the appropriations bill could expand the role of big money:

1. First, an appropriations measure altering party coordinated spending limits would supercharge the big money problems arising from six- and seven-figure donations raised through joint fundraising committees. As we saw in the 2016 cycle, the tens of millions raised by the presidential candidates for their joint fundraising committees was eventually routed from the state parties to the DNC or the RNC, but there were limits on how much a presidential candidate could control how that money was spent. The appropriations bill eviscerates those limits, allowing presidential candidates control over how the parties spend the massive checks raised through joint fundraisers.

2. Second, other appropriations measures appear to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from enforcing existing laws limiting tax-exempt entities from engaging in partisan political activities, and from issuing new rules defining nonprofit political activity. This deprives tax-exempt groups of the clarity needed to protect robust civic engagement, while allowing dark money actors to continue abusing their tax-exempt status.

3. Third, the appropriations bill prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from studying or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to shareholders.

Read CLC's blog on these issues.