Brian Gladstein Executive Director, Common Cause Illinois email@example.com
on August 26, 2015
Today, Common Cause Illinois Executive Director Brian Gladstein provided testimony to Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel on the need for campaign finance reform. A summary of his statement is below:
In Common Cause’s view, the FEC should make badly needed changes to improve disclosure, prevent circumvention of contribution limits, and provide common-sense rules around coordination between candidates, their campaign committees and other entities.
This is all the more urgent in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon, which ripped a massive hole in the fabric of crucial federal campaign finance laws, which were enacted in response to scandal to prevent corruption and enable Americans to see who is trying to influence their votes. In the 2014 federal elections, political spending from undisclosed sources reached a new record for midterm elections of over $173 million. During the 2012 presidential election, outside spending from secret sources topped $308 million. Contribution limits have become virtually meaningless, as candidates freely solicit (with a wink and a nod) enormous gifts for “independent” outfits created and run by their friends, associates and family to bankroll their election. The American public sees what is happening, but the FEC has looked the other way.
Common Cause urges the Commission to revise its disclosure rules pertaining to electioneering communications and independent expenditures and bring them into alignment with the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).
Transparency in political spending is important for at least three reasons. First, disclosure protects voters’ right to know who is trying to influence their decision on Election Day. Voters are able to evaluate the merits of an appeal for their vote if they know who is speaking to them. Second, disclosure curbs corruption and its appearance, including the specter of undue influence over public policy. Third, disclosure is critical to the enforcement of our campaign finance laws.
While Common Cause believes that the core holdings in McCutcheon and Citizens United are egregiously misguided, the Commission should bring its regulations more fully into alignment with the decisions’ reliance on assumptions about the existence and value of disclosure, as well as controlling provisions of law that remain on the books.
Earmarking and Affiliation
The Commission should amend and enforce its earmarking rules to clarify that a contribution to an independent expenditure-only committee supporting one candidate counts as a contribution to that candidate.
In the most recent 2014 congressional midterms, at least 102 candidate-specific Super PACs collectively raised over $68 million. Irrespective of whether a contribution went to the candidate’s committee or the candidate’s Super PAC, candidates know to whom they owe a debt of gratitude.
More action on behalf of the Commission is necessary to address Super PACs that support a more limited number of candidates greater than one – those, too, could be used to circumvent contribution limits. The Commission should clarify what constitutes a “substantial portion” of a contribution that could be expended on behalf of a candidate to count as a contribution to the candidate. Common Cause believes “substantial portion” is far less than 50%, but more than 10%. The Commission should clarify this provision of the rule.
The Commission should also amend its affiliation rules to include, as circumstantial factors in determining affiliation, whether former associates, employees or family members of a candidate operate or form a political committee in question.
Joint Fundraising Committees
Post-McCutcheon, under the current FEC rules, candidates may solicit multimillion-dollar checks on behalf of joint fundraising committees. However, the Court left open the possibility that the Commission could amend its rules to limit the size and scope of these committees. Doing so will lessen opportunities for corruption and its appearance.
The Commission should consider prohibiting candidates from forming joint fundraising committees with parties. Specifically, FECA authorizes candidates to form joint fundraising committees – but says nothing about whether they may include party committees. The regulation which allows these committees to form with party committees is inconsistent with FECA.
This is all the more important because late last year, Congress greatly expanded the number of accounts that political party committees may use to solicit funds. Whereas previously an individual could give $259,200 to national party committees per election cycle, now an individual can give as much as $1,555,200. This massive increase is an open invitation to corruption, particularly after McCutcheon’s evisceration of aggregate limits.
It is imperative that the Commission revise its rules to limit the size and scope of joint fundraising committees, starting by aligning the regulation with the statute. To the extent candidates continue to form joint fundraising committees, they should be independent and exclusive of political parties. Otherwise, the Commission’s rules will continue to allow candidates to solicit millions of more dollars from deep-pocketed donors, weakening confidence in a democracy that should be responsive to constituents instead of contributors.
Lastly, Common Cause strongly urges the Commission to strengthen its coordination rules. They are easily exploited in ways that do an end-run around contribution limits and otherwise vitiate the independence assumed by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. For example, the Commission should adopt new regulations that will curb the creation of candidate-specific Super PACs that operate as little more than phantom arms of candidates’ principal campaign committees, except for the ability to raise unlimited money from any source.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.