As congressional appropriators work to fashion a mammoth spending bill to keep the federal government running, Republican leaders are again trying to use the “must pass” spending legislation to advance their guerilla war against sensible campaign finance laws.
And as usual, Common Cause and a coalition of other democracy reform groups are calling them out on it.
In a letter sent Thursday to every member of Congress, the groups urged the defeat of a series of “riders” that GOP leaders apparently hope to attach to the spending bill. The Republican proposals would:
- Allow tax-exempt charities, including churches, to endorse and contribute to political candidates;
- Gut limits on the amount of money political parties can spend in coordinating activities with their candidates:
- Block the Securities and Exchange Commission from even studying a proposal to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders;
- Bar the Federal Election Commission from drafting new rules to guide non-profit groups in how much they can spend on political activity while retaining their tax-exempt status.
By attaching the proposals to the omnibus appropriations bill, the Republican sponsors hope to avoid the public hearings and press scrutiny that they would attract by going through the regular legislative process.
“Any effort to rewrite the nation’s campaign finance laws or to restrict related campaign finance measures should be done by regular order through the legislative process,” the groups wrote. “This should not be done through the back-door misuse of the appropriations process that prevents members of Congress from voting on the specific provisions.”
The most corrosive of the GOP proposals would repeal the “Johnson Amendment,” a campaign finance law cornerstone since the 1950s. It blocks churches and other charities from endorsing or opposing candidates and making campaign contributions.
Repeal of the amendment would allow wealthy political donors to use charities to funnel unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns without disclosing their identities and get a tax-break in the process. Those donors already can make large, anonymous political gifts through “social welfare” organizations, but cannot deduct the contributions on their tax returns.
The campaign finance groups noted that more than 5,500 charities and 4,300 faith leaders from every major religion have gone on record in support of maintaining the Johnson amendment. They see it as protecting their independence from government intrusion.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics