Campaign Finance Reform: 7 Bills to Change Election Spending
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court has re-ignited the political zeal behind campaign finance reform. The high court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (a case that has been dubbed “Citizens United II” after the controversial 2008 Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission) strikes down the limit on total individual campaign finance contributions. In the original 2008 Citizens United case, the Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional for the government to restrict spending by corporations and unions. In the recent McCutcheon ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the aggregate limits of how much an individual can contribute to campaigns, nominees, or Political Action Committees (PACs) during an election cycle.
Why is this important? The answer depends on one’s ideological view. According to conservatives, the ruling affirms that limiting individual campaign contributions is a violation of the First Amendment. On the other side, liberals say that campaign finance restrictions are necessary to prevent individual wealth from distorting the democratic process.
Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have introduced campaign finance legislation. The 113th Congress has introduced over 50 bills addressing campaign finance reform. Most recently S.J.Res.19 from sponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) was considered by the Senate in a political move in the run up to the mid term election to show that Democrats, and not Republicans, are eager to rein in costly federal elections. S.J.Res.19 would allow Congress and states to get back greater control of the federal elections process.
The following bills would lessen the impact of individual wealth on elections by promoting grassroots and public involvement in campaign financing:
H.R. 20 – Government By the People Act, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) on March 6, 2014– would create a “Freedom from Influence Fund” that would match contributions of $1 to $150 on a six-to-one basis, and a tax credit for the first $25 contributed by an individual, and would use public funds (instead of corporate) to finance the system.
H.R. 268 – Grassroots Democracy Act, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) on January 18, 2013– would allow a $25 nonrefundable tax credit ($50 for a joint return) for congressional campaign contributions.
H.R. 269 – Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) on January 15, 2013 – would provide public financing for Congressional campaigns as well as a 5 to 1 federal match of contributions below $100 from residents from the candidate’s state in both the primary and general elections.
H.R. 270 - Empowering Citizens Act, introduced by Rep. David Price (D-NC) on January 15 2013 – would establish a system of public financing for congressional elections, increase the amount of matching funds for presidential primaries, and prohibit presidential primary candidates from accepting contributions from lobbyists of PACs.
H.R. 2520 – 501(c)(4) Reform Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham on June 26, 2013 – would prohibit tax-exempt social welfare organizations from engaging in political campaign activity.
On the other side, here are 2 bills that would expand the role of private campaign contributions:
H.R. 127 – To restore the Free Speech and First Amendment Rights of Churches and Exempt Organizations by Repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment, introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), on January 3, 2013 – would repeal the prohibition against churches and other tax-exempt organizations from participating in and/or supporting candidates and campaigns.
H.R. 95 - To reduce Federal spending and the deficit by terminating taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns and party conventions, introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) on December 12, 2013 – would eliminate the taxpayer-funded Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
2008 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission: http://www.supremecourt.gov/Search.aspx?FileName=/docketfiles/08-205.htm
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-536_e1pf.pdf