Common Cause Comments in FEC Billionaire Transfer Rulemaking
On August 31, 2020, Common Cause filed comments urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to conduct a rulemaking proceeding in order to adopt a regulation to prohibit billionaires like Michael Bloomberg from evading federal law limits on contributions to party committees by routing funds through their own campaign committees. Bloomberg’s $18 million contribution to the Democratic National Committee—and hundreds of thousands of dollars in-kind contributions to state Democratic party committees—from his self-financed presidential campaign committee took advantage of a longstanding allowance for candidates to transfer unlimited leftover campaign funds to party committees. Previously those funds were raised under existing contribution limits, but Bloomberg self-financed his campaign to the tune or more than $1 billion.
“Americans deserve a Federal Election Commission that enforces the laws passed by Congress to curb the outsized influence of deep-pocketed individuals and special interests on our elections,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “The FEC needs to take immediate steps toward closing the glaring loophole, because history has shown repeatedly that any end-around existing campaign finance law will be exploited and exploited on an industrial scale.”
“The blueprint is now there for any wealthy individual to declare themselves a candidate and evade party contribution limits by routing unlimited funds through their own committee to party committees,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause Vice President for Policy and Litigation. “The FEC needs to adopt a regulation making clear that the unlimited transfer provision applies only to funds that candidates raise under limits from others and does not apply to their own unlimited personal funds.”
Bloomberg’s transfer of $18 million of his own money circumvented the $35,500 contribution limit from individuals to party committees. But the move also created the roadmap for any billionaire to evade the party contribution limits. Under federal campaign finance law, to become a candidate, all one needs to do is file two short forms with the FEC and open a bank account. The unlimited transfers from candidate committees to party committees utilized by Bloomberg applies at any time—during and/or after a campaign. The Bloomberg loophole would allow a billionaire to file candidacy paperwork with the FEC, open a bank account, and then route unlimited personal funds to national, state and/or local party committees through their own campaign account. The billionaire would not even need to pretend publicly to be a candidate, just on paper with the FEC.