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The Fight to Reform Campaign Finance Laws Continues

There is a lot of work to be done as we march forward to reform our campaign finance system. Legislatively, bills have been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to provide for greater disclosure. The Supreme Court will also hear a case that has potentially far reaching effects on current laws and past rulings this fall. Finally, the League continues to put pressure on President Obama to stand by the promises he made to fix our broken system and appoint new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The summer and fall months of 2013 are shaping up to play an important role in the fight to reform our broken campaign finance system. Here’s a little more detail on what is going on around this issue.

Legislation in Congress is moving forward. In the House, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act has been reintroduced by Representative Chis Van Hollen (D-MD). The bill currently has 52 sponsors and is similar to earlier versions from previous years. The bill aims to enhance reporting of campaign related activity, require outside groups to stand by their ads and disclose the spending of lobbyists, corporations and unions on campaign related activities. The House has not voted to move this legislation forward since 2010, and the Senate was unable to cross the 60-vote threshold to move the bill forward in the summer of 2012. A companion bill in the Senate has not been introduced yet, but Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is preparing the Senate version of the DISCLOSE Act.

Last year’s failure to achieve cloture on the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate has helped to move another type of legislation forward after the late night debate caught the attention of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). For the first time since 2002, a piece of bipartisan disclosure legislation has been introduced by Senators Murkowski and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The Follow the Money Act of 2013 is intended to address the growing influence of Super PACs in the election cycle. The bill sets disclosure requirements and provides for real time reporting of expenditures from independent groups and candidates. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered within this legislation, but it is exciting to have a bipartisan proposal on campaign finance come forward.

While there is movement in the legislative branch of government, President Obama continues to drag his feet in making meaningful changes to fix the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Last year the League and other reform groups pressured the President to appoint new commissioners to the FEC. After the Administration’s lackluster response to a petition from over 25,000 Americans, the League has continued to strongly urge the President to take steps toward meaningful reform. Last week, another letter was delivered to President Obama expressing disappointment and frustration with his failure to provide meaningful leadership or to take effective action to solve the campaign finance problems facing our country.

Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case next fall on abolishing contribution limits. The case of McCutcheon v. FEC will determine whether the overall caps on the amount of money that individuals can donate to multiple candidates or political parties are a violation of the First Amendment. If the Court finds these aggregate limits to be unconstitutional, it would create a tsunami of challenges to other types of contribution limits, including limits on donations to individual candidates. This would also effectively reverse a key portion of the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which said that contributions can be limited due to their potential for corruption. The League will continue to monitor this case closely.

The League will continue to be active at all levels of the government, advocating to stop the flood of secret money that threatens to drown out the voices of voters across the country and that distorts our political system. As with all of our legislative priorities, continue to check back on the website, especially our money in politics page, for steps being taken to speak out on this important issue.