U.S. PIRG Testifies Before FEC, Calls for Broader Disclosure, Closing Easy-to-Game Loopholes

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Dan Smith

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

WASHINGTON – The FEC held a public hearing today to consider updating campaign finance rules in the wake McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate contribution limits to candidates and political committees. U.S. PIRG Education Fund Democracy Campaign Director Dan Smith was invited to testify before the commission. Below are excerpts from his remarks:

 “It has become clear beyond dispute that the tide of big money unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision risks drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans…The Commission has the opportunity to play an important role in helping to protect our democracy from the tide of big money unleashed by recent Supreme Court decisions, and we urge [the commission] to take strong action to require broader disclosure, and eliminate the easiest-to-game loopholes in current regulations.

“…This Commission has an opportunity to strengthen its regulations to better protect our democracy. Implicit in both Citizens United and McCutcheon is the premise that adequate disclosure will allow the public to know the source of all electoral spending, and that safeguards are in place to prevent the rules from being too easily gamed.  We urge the Commission to update its regulations to bring them more closely in line with that premise, which currently falls too far short of reality.

“…The Commission should modify its regulations to bring…’dark money’ expenditures into the light of day.  As the court in Van Hollen v. FEC recently ruled, the current regulations make it too easy for special interests to funnel their electoral spending through innocuous-seeming organizations that cloak the true origin of their funds. 

“The McCutcheon and Citizens United rulings pose special dangers to the extent that they allow large donors to circumvent per-candidate contribution limits by taking advantage of Super PACs and joint fundraising committees that can accept larger contributions, and are able to funnel these increased contributions to the intended candidate.  The current per-candidate limit of $5,200 is already unreachably high for most Americans; the additional contributions made possible by these alternate fundraising vehicles make the voices of ordinary Americans even less relevant.

“To reduce the risk of these vehicles being used to create an end-run around the per-candidate contribution limits, the Commission should revisit its treatment of single- or few-candidate Super PACs to ensure that they provide more than a fig leaf of reassurance that a particular contribution is not necessarily going to a particular candidate.”

Click here to read the full comment submitted by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund to the FEC.

Click here to read a recent study released by U.S. PIRG and Demos, quantifying the dominance of big money in the 2014 midterms.