Campaign Finance: An Overview

Order Code RL33580 Campaign Finance: An Overview Updated April 20, 2007 Joseph E. Cantor Specialist in American National Government Government and Finance Division Campaign Finance: An Overview Summary Concerns over financing federal elections have become a seemingly perennial aspect of our political system, long centered on the enduring issues of high campaign costs and reliance on interest groups for needed campaign funds. Rising election costs had long fostered a sense in some quarters that spending was out of control, with too much time spent raising funds and elections “bought and sold.” Debate had also focused on the role of interest groups in campaign funding, especially through political action committees (PACs). Differences in perceptions of the campaign finance system were compounded by the major parties’ different approaches. Democrats tended to favor more regulation, with spending limits and public funding or benefits a part of past proposals. Republicans generally opposed such limits and public funding. The 1996 elections marked a turning point in the debate’s focus, as it shifted from whether to further restrict already regulated spending and funding sources to addressing election-related activities largely or entirely outside federal election law regulation and disclosure requirements (i.e., soft money). While concerns had long been rising over soft money in federal elections, its widespread and growing use for so-called issue advocacy since 1996 raised questions over the integrity of existing regulations and the feasibility of any limits at all. Following 1996, reform supporters offered legislation whose primary goals were to prohibit use of soft money in ways that could affect federal elections and to bring election-related issue advocacy communications under federal regulation. In both the 105th and 106th Congresses, the House passed the Shays-Meehan bill, but the Senate failed to invoke cloture to allow a vote on the companion McCain-Feingold bill. The 106th Congress did, however, agree on an aspect of campaign reform, in passing P.L. 106-230, to require disclosure by certain tax-exempt political organizations organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. Such groups exist to influence elections, but many had not been required to disclose financial activity (to the FEC or IRS). In the 107th Congress, the Senate passed McCain-Feingold, as amended, and the House passed the companion Shays-Meehan bill, as amended. The Senate then passed the House bill, which was signed into law by President Bush as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 — BCRA (P.L. 107-155) — constituting the first major change to the nation’s campaign finance laws since 1979. In the 2004 elections, some $435 million was raised and spent by “political organizations” organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code but outside of federal election law regulation. In response to this perceived circumvention of election law regulation, the 109th Congress examined the role of 527 groups in federal elections; while the House passed legislation to address it, no Senate bill was passed. Similar bills — H.R. 420 and S. 463 — have been introduced in the 110th Congress. This report provides an overview of campaign finance law governing federal elections, issues raised in recent years by campaign finance practices, and recent legislative activity and proposals in Congress. It will be updated as developments warrant. Contents Evolution of the Current System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Campaign Finance Practices and Related Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Enduring Issues: Campaign Costs and Funding Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Increased Campaign Costs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 PACs and Other Sources of Campaign Funds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Today’s Paramount Issues: Perceived Loopholes in Current Law . . . . . . . . . 4 Soft Money . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Issue Advocacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 527 Political Organizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Policy Options to Address Campaign Finance Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Addressing the Enduring Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Campaign Spending Limits and Government Incentives or Benefits . . 7 Changing the Balance Among Funding Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Closing Perceived Loopholes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Soft Money . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Issue Advocacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 527 Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Legislative Action in Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 109th Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 110th Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Major Legislation in 110th Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 For Additional Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 List of Tables Table 1. Receipts and Disbursements by Federal-Related 527s: 2000-2006 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Campaign Finance: An Overview Evolution of the Current System Today’s federal campaign finance law evolved during the 1970s out of five major statutes and a paramount Supreme Court case. That case not only affected earlier statutes, but it has also continued to shape the dialogue on campaign finance reform. The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), as amended in 1974, 1976, and 1979, imposed limits on contributions, required disclosure of campaign receipts and expenditures, and set up the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a central administrative and enforcement agency. The Revenue Act of 1971 inaugurated public funding of presidential general elections, with funding of primaries and nominating conventions added by the 1974 FECA Amendments. The latter also imposed certain expenditure limits, later struck down by the Supreme Court’s landmark Buckley v. Valeo ruling [424 U.S. 1 (1976)]. In the Buckley ruling, the Court upheld the act’s limitations on contributions as appropriate legislative tools to guard against the reality or appearance of improper influence stemming from candidates’ dependence on large campaign contributions. However, Buckley invalidated the act’s limitations on independent expenditures, on candidate expenditures from personal funds, and on overall campaign expenditures. These provisions, the Court ruled, placed direct and substantial restrictions on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in protected First Amendment free speech rights. The Court saw no danger of corruption arising from large expenditures, as it did from large contributions, and reasoned that corruption alone could justify the First Amendment restrictions involved. Only voluntary limits on expenditures could be sustained, perhaps in exchange for government benefits. Such a plan was specifically upheld in the existing presidential public funding system, as a contractual agreement between the government and the candidate. The Court’s dichotomous ruling, allowing limits on contributions but striking down mandatory limits on expenditures, has shaped subsequent campaign finance practices and laws, as well as the debate over campaign finance reform. In 2002, Congress enacted the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 (popularly known as McCain-Feingold for its Senate sponsors). This statute made the most significant changes in the FECA since the 1970s, featuring higher contribution limits, a ban on the raising of soft money1 by political parties and federal candidates, and a restriction on broadcast ads by outside groups in the closing days 1 Soft money (discussed more fully in this report) generally refers to funds that are raised and spent outside the purview of federal election law regulation but which are intended to affect federal elections, at least indirectly. CRS-2 of an election. BCRA’s constitutionality was challenged in court but, in a decision that surprised many observers, was essentially upheld by the Supreme Court in its December 10, 2003, ruling in McConnell v. FEC. Campaign Finance Practices and Related Issues From the mid-1970s through at least the late 1990s, the limits on contributions by individuals, political action committees (PACs), and parties, and an absence of congressional spending limits, governed the flow of money in congressional elections. Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, the two paramount issues raised by campaign finance practices were the phenomena of, first, rising campaign costs and the large amounts of money needed for elections and, second, the substantial reliance on PACs as a source of funding. After 1996, the debate shifted considerably to a focus on the perceived loopholes in existing law (a source of increasing debate since the mid-1980s). The PAC issue was largely supplanted by more fundamental issues of election regulation, with one-time critics finding new appreciation for the limited, disclosed nature of PAC funds. The issue of high campaign costs and the concomitant need for vast resources continues to underlie the debate, but even this was almost overshadowed by concerns over the system’s perceived loopholes. Although these practices were (largely) presumably legal, they may have violated the law’s spirit, raising a basic question of whether money in elections can, let alone should, be regulated. Enduring Issues: Campaign Costs and Funding Sources Increased Campaign Costs. Since first being systematically compiled in the 1970s, campaign expenditures have risen substantially, even exceeding the overall rise in the cost of living. An estimated $540 million was spent on all elections (at all levels) in the U.S. in 1976,2 rising to some $3.9 billion in 2000.3 Preliminary estimates from the 2004 elections show that spending on federal elections alone exceeded $3.9 billion.4 Aggregate costs of House and Senate campaigns increased tenfold between 1976 and 2004, from $115.5 million to $1.16 billion, while the cost of living rose a little more than threefold. Campaign costs for average winning candidates, a useful measure of the real cost of seeking office, showed an increase in the House from $87,000 in 1976 to $1.0 million in 2004; a winning Senate race went from $609,000 in 1976 to $7.0 million in 2004 (not adjusted for inflation). 2 Herbert E. Alexander, Financing the 1976 Election (Washington: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1979), p. 166. 3 Candice J. Nelson, “Spending in the 2000 Elections,” in David B. Magleby (ed.), Financing the 2000 Election (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2002), p. 24. 4 Center for Responsive Politics, ‘04 Elections Expected to Cost Nearly $4 Billion, press release, Oct. 21, 2004, [], site visited July 21, 2006. CRS-3 The above data are cited by many as evidence that our democratic system of government has suffered as election costs have grown to levels often considered exorbitant. Specifically, it is argued that officeholders must spend too much time raising money, at the expense of their public duties and communicating with constituents. The high cost of elections and the perception that they are “bought and sold” are seen as contributing to public cynicism about the political process. Some express concern that spiraling campaign costs have resulted in more wealthy individuals seeking office or determining election winners, denying opportunities for service to those lacking adequate resources or contacts. Others see a correlation between excessive, available money and the perceived increased reliance of sophisticated, often negative, media advertising. Not all observers view the high cost of elections with alarm. Many insist we do not spend too much on elections and maybe do not spend enough. They contrast the amount spent on elections with that spent by government at all levels, noting that only a fraction of a percent is spent to choose those who make vital decisions on the allocation of tax dollars. Similarly, they contrast costs of elections with those on commercial advertising: the nation’s two leading commercial advertisers in 1996, Proctor & Gamble and General Motors, spent more to promote their products that year ($5 billion) than was spent on all U.S. elections.5 In such a context, these observers contend, the costs of political dialogue may not be excessive. High election costs are seen largely as a reflection of the paramount role of media in modern elections. Increasingly high television costs and costs of fundraising in an era of contribution limits require candidates to seek a broad base of small contributors — a democratic, but time-consuming, expensive process — or to seek ever-larger contributions from small groups of wealthy contributors. It has been argued that neither negative campaigning nor wealthy candidates are new or increasing phenomena but merely that better disclosure and television’s prevalence make us more aware of them. Finally, better-funded candidates do not always win, as some recent elections show. PACs and Other Sources of Campaign Funds. Issues stemming from rising election expenses were, for much of the 1970s through 1990s, linked to substantial candidate reliance on PAC contributions. The perception that fundraising pressures might lead candidates to tailor their appeals to the most affluent and narrowly “interested” sectors raised perennial questions about the resulting quality of representation of the whole society. The role of PACs, in itself and relative to other sources, became a major issue. In retrospect, however, it appears that the issue was really about the role of interest groups and money in elections, PACs being the most visible vehicle thereof. As discussed below, the PAC issue per se has seemed greatly diminished by recent events, while concerns over interest group money through other channels have grown. Through the 1980s, statistics showed a significant increase in PAC importance. From 1974 to 1988, PACs grew in numbers from 608 to a high of 4,268, in contributions to House and Senate candidates from $12.5 million to $147.8 million 5 “100 Leaders by U.S. Advertising Spending,” Advertising Age, Sept. 29, 1997, p. 14. CRS-4 (a 400% rise in constant dollars), and in relation to other sources from 16% of congressional campaign receipts to 34%. While PACs remain a considerable force, data show a relative decline in their role since 1988: the percentage of PAC money in total receipts dropped to 28% in 2004; PAC numbers dropped to 4,040 in 2004; and, after individual giving had been declining vis-à-vis PACs, there has been some increase of late, with individuals giving 72% of Senate and 56% of House receipts in 2004, for example. Still, not all indicators show decline in the PAC role; PAC contributions to candidates rose to $289.1 million in 2004, for example. Despite some aggregate data on the relative decline of PACs, they still provide a considerable share of election financing for various subgroups. For example, in 2004, House candidates got 35% of their funds from PACs; House incumbents received 41%. To critics, PACs raise troubling issues in the campaign financing debate: Are policymakers beholden to special interests for election help, impairing their ability to make policy choices in the national interest? Do PACs overshadow average citizens, particularly in Members’ states and districts? Does the appearance of quid pro quo relationships between special interest givers and politician recipients, whether or not they actually exist, seriously undermine public confidence in the political system? PAC defenders view them as reflecting the nation’s historic pluralism, representing not a monolithic force but a wide variety of interests. These observers see them, rather than overshadowing individual citizens, merely as groups of such citizens, giving voice to many who were previously uninvolved. PACs are seen as promoting, not hindering, electoral competition, by funding challengers in closely contested races. In terms of influencing legislative votes, donations are seen more as rewards for past votes than as inducements to alter future ones. Defenders also challenge the presumed dichotomy between special and national interest, viewing the latter as simply the sum total of the former. PACs, they argue, afford clearer knowledge of how interest groups promote their agendas, particularly noteworthy in light of the flood of unregulated and undisclosed money since 1996. Today’s Paramount Issues: Perceived Loopholes in Current Law Interest has intensified, especially since 1996, in campaign finance practices that have been seen by some as undermining the law’s contribution and expenditure limits and its disclosure requirements. Although these practices may be legal, they have been characterized as “loopholes” through which electoral influence is sought by spending money in ways that detract from public confidence in the system and that are beyond the scope intended by Congress. Some of the prominent practices have been soft money, election-related issue advocacy, and, most recently, election-related activities by groups operating under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Soft Money. This term has generally been used to refer to money that may influence federal elections (at least indirectly) but is raised and spent outside the purview of federal laws and would be illegal if spent directly on a federal election by a candidate, party, or PAC. The significance of soft money, prior to enactment of BCRA, stemmed from several factors: (1) many states permitted (then and now) CRS-5 direct union and corporate contributions and individual donations in excess of $25,000 in state campaigns, all of which were (and are) prohibited in federal races; (2) under the 1979 FECA Amendments and FEC rulings, such money could be spent by state and local parties in large or unlimited amounts on grassroots organizing and voter drives that could benefit all party candidates; and (3) publicly funded presidential candidates could not spend privately raised money in the general election. In presidential elections through 2000, national parties made extensive efforts to raise money for their state affiliates, partly to boost the national tickets beyond what could be spent directly. The data for 2000 showed some $495 million in soft money was raised by the major parties, nearly double the $262 million raised in 1996. Issue Advocacy. Although federal law regulates expenditures in connection with federal elections, it has generally used a fairly narrow definition for what constitutes such spending. Prevailing judicial interpretation of Supreme Court precedent, both before and arguably since BCRA, has created a conundrum by permitting regulation of only those communications containing express advocacy, that is, communications containing explicit terms urging the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates. By avoiding such terms, groups arguably can promote their views and issue positions in reference to particular elected officials, without triggering the disclosure and source restrictions of the FECA. Such activity, known as issue advocacy, is widely perceived as having the intent of bolstering or detracting from the public image of officials who are also candidates for office. In 1996, an estimated $135 million was spent on issue advocacy, rising to between $275 and $340 million in 1998, and to $509 million in 2000 (although these data do not distinguish between campaign-related and non-campaign-related communications). Also, groups ranging from labor unions to the Christian Coalition promote their policy views through voter guides, which present candidates’ views on issues in a way that some see as helpful to some candidates and harmful to others, without meeting the standards for FECA coverage. 527 Political Organizations. In the years leading up to enactment of BCRA and in the wake of its major provisions being upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2003, attention has been increasingly focused on activity by interest groups operating outside the regulatory framework of federal election law. Of particular interest have been groups operating under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, which provides tax-exempt status to organizations it defines as political. In 2000, some groups engaged in election-related issue advocacy aroused controversy when it was revealed that they were operating under Section 527 of the IRC while not being regulated under the FECA. At that time, BCRA was still under consideration, and Congress was enmeshed in the thorny issue of regulating activity that was not express advocacy. Rather than short-circuit that debate and begin yet another on the also complicated issue of differing definitions of political organization under the IRC and political committee under the FECA, Congress addressed the issue by simply requiring disclosure to the IRS by groups with taxexempt 527 status. In 2002, Title II of BCRA addressed the express advocacy issue, but only with regard to broadcast advertisements in the period just prior to federal elections. BCRA was silent regarding interest groups’ involvement in such other election- CRS-6 related activities as public communications through non-broadcast methods, broadcasts prior to the last 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election, voter identification, and get-out-the-vote and registration drives. These activities loom particularly large in the wake of BCRA’s prohibition on national political party use of non-federally permissible funds (i.e., soft money) to pay for voter mobilization activities. With some $435 million reported as having been spent in the 2004 elections by groups with Section 527 status, public attention has shifted to these new patterns of electioneering, raising questions as to whether requiring disclosure to the IRS is sufficient. The following table presents data on spending and receipts of 527s since IRS disclosure was required in 2000. The source, PolicalMoneyLine, examined reports and identified “key groups,” those that were clearly federal election-related. Table 1. Receipts and Disbursements by Federal-Related 527s: 2000-2006 (dollars in millions) Receipts Election Cycle Total Spending Total Democraticoriented 527s Republicanoriented 527s 2000 $88.6 $61.3 $39.7 $21.6 2002 $193.6 $183.6 $104.3 $78.2 2004 $434.9 $431.5 $264.0 $165.7 2006 $234.7 $215.2 $109.4 $103.0 Source: PoliticalMoneyLine, “key groups” (those that were clearly federal-election related) identified from IRS filings [], site visited Jan. 12, 2007. Policy Options to Address Campaign Finance Issues The policy debate over campaign finance laws proceeds from the philosophical differences over the underlying issues discussed above, as well as the more practical, logistical questions over the proposed solutions. Two primary considerations frame this debate. What changes can be made that will not raise First Amendment objections, given court rulings in Buckley and other cases? What changes will not result in new, unforeseen, and more troublesome practices? These considerations are underscored by the experience with prior amendments to FECA, such as PAC growth after the 1974 limits on contributions. Just as the overriding issues centered until recently around election costs and funding sources, the most prominent legislation long focused on controlling campaign spending, usually through voluntary systems of public funding or cost-reduction benefits, and on altering the relative importance of various funding sources. Some saw both concepts primarily in the context of promoting electoral competition, to remedy or at least not exacerbate perceived inequities between CRS-7 incumbents and challengers. Increasingly since the mid-1980s, and particularly since the 1996 elections, concerns over perceived loopholes that undermine federal regulation have led to proposals to curb such practices. Conversely, some proposals have urged less regulation, on the ground that it inherently invites circumvention, while still other proposals have focused exclusively on improving or expanding disclosure. Addressing the Enduring Issues Campaign Spending Limits and Government Incentives or Benefits. Until the late 1990s, the campaign reform debate often focused on the desirability of campaign spending limits. To a great extent, this debate was linked with public financing of elections. The coupling of these two controversial issues stemmed from Buckley’s ban on mandatory spending limits, while allowing voluntary limits, with adherence a prerequisite for subsidies. Hence the notion arose in the 1970s that spending limits must be tied to public benefits, absent a constitutional amendment. Public funding not only might serve as an inducement to voluntary limits, but by limiting the role of private money, it is also billed as the strongest measure toward promoting the integrity of and confidence in the electoral process. Furthermore, it could promote competition in districts with strong incumbents or one-party domination. Public financing of congressional elections has been proposed in nearly every Congress since 1956 and has passed in several Congresses. The nation has had publicly funded presidential elections since 1976, and tax incentives for political donations were in place from 1972 to 1986. Objections to public financing are numerous, many rooted in philosophical opposition to funding elections with taxpayer money, supporting candidates whose views are antithetical to those of many taxpayers, and adding another government program in the face of some cynicism toward government spending. The practical objections are also serious: How can a system be devised that accounts for different natures of districts and states, with different styles of campaigning and disparate media costs, and is fair to all candidates — incumbent, challenger, or open-seat, major or minor party, serious or “longshot”? A major challenge to spending limit supporters has been how to reduce, if not eliminate, the role of public funding in their proposals. Although spending limits may have wide public support, most evidence suggests far less support for public financing. In the 105th through 107th Congresses, the principal reform bills debated on the floor contained neither campaign spending limits nor public funding, reflecting not only the overriding concerns over soft money and issue advocacy but also the changed political climate since the 1970s. Stemming from the spending limits debate have been proposals to lower campaign costs, without spending limits. Proposals for free or reduced rate broadcast time and postage have received some notable bipartisan support. Such ideas seek to reduce campaign costs and the need for money, without the possibly negative effects of arbitrary limits. CRS-8 Changing the Balance Among Funding Sources. Until the late 1990s, most proposed bills sought, at least in part, to curb PACs’ perceived influence, either directly, through a ban or reduced contribution limits, or indirectly, through enhancing the role of individuals and parties. Prior to enactment of BCRA, individuals could give $1,000 per candidate, per election, while most PACs (if they were “multicandidate committees”) could give $5,000 per candidate, thus increasing their ability to assist candidates. Furthermore, unlike individuals, there was (and is) no aggregate limit on all contributions in federal elections by a PAC in a given time period, thus further increasing a PAC’s opportunity to be involved. Three chief methods of direct PAC curbs were prominent in proposals advanced through the mid-1990s: banning PAC money in federal elections; lowering the $5,000 limit; and limiting candidates’ aggregate PAC receipts. These concepts were included, for example, in all of the bills that the House and Senate voted on in the 101st through 104th Congresses. Although support for such proposals was fueled by a desire to reduce the perceived role of interest groups, each proposal had drawbacks, such as constitutional questions about limiting speech and association rights and the more practical concern over devaluation of the $5,000 limit by inflation since it was set in 1974. Yet another concern raised during that period was the potential encouragement for interest groups to shift resources to “independent” activities, which are less accountable to voters and more troublesome for candidates in framing the debate. Furthermore, independent advertisements were often marked by negativity and invective. If such prospects gave pause to lawmakers during the 1980s, the surge of financial activity outside the framework of federal election law since 1996 has largely dampened attempts to further limit PACs. The major reform bills in the 105th through 107th Congresses contained no further PAC restrictions. Partly because of this problem, both before and after 1996, many have looked to more indirect ways to curb PACs and interest groups, such as raising limits on individual or party donations to candidates. These increases have also been proposed on a contingency basis to offset such other sources as wealthy candidates spending large personal sums on their campaigns. As enacted in 2002, BCRA provided both for higher individual contribution limits in general and provisional increases in both individual and party limits to assist candidates opposed by free-spending, wealthy opponents. While higher limits might counterbalance PACs and others and offset inflation, opponents observed that few Americans could afford to give even $1,000, raising age-old concerns about “fat cat” contributors. House Republicans have pushed to boost the role of individuals in candidates’ states or districts, to increase ties between Members and constituents. By requiring a majority of funds to come from the state or district (or prohibiting out-of-state funds), supporters sought to indirectly curb PACs, typically perceived as out-of-state, or Washington, influences. Support also exists for increasing or removing party contribution and coordinated expenditure limits, based on the notions that the party role can be maximized without leading to influence peddling and on strengthening party ties to CRS-9 facilitate effective policymaking. Opponents note that many of the prominent allegations in 1996 involved party-raised funds. Closing Perceived Loopholes Proposals have increasingly addressed perceived loopholes in FECA, and indeed this area was the primary focus of recent reform efforts, culminating in enactment of BCRA in the 107th Congress. This debate underscored a basic philosophical difference between those who favored and opposed government regulation of campaign finances. Opponents said that regulation invited attempts at subterfuge, that interested money would always find its way into elections, and that the most one could do was see that it was disclosed. Proponents argued that while it was hard to restrict money, it was a worthwhile goal, hence one ought to periodically fine-tune the law to correct “unforeseen consequences.” Proposed “remedies” stemmed from the latter view (i.e., curtail the practices as they arise). Soft Money. This issue was one of the key issues addressed by BCRA. Title I provided that national parties and federal candidates or officials, and entities they directly or indirectly establish, finance, maintain, or control, may not solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds not raised under the limits, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of federal law (i.e., soft money). State and local political parties, and entities they directly or indirectly establish, finance, maintain, or control, may not spend soft money on “federal election activities.” The act’s so-called Levin amendment, however, allowed for some use of soft money under certain conditions for specified grassroots activities by state and local parties. Issue Advocacy. The other key issue addressed by BCRA pertained to issue advocacy. The challenge to Congress in addressing this practice, a form of soft money, involved broadening the definition of what constituted federal election-related spending. A 1995 FEC regulation had offered such a definition, using a “reasonable person” standard, but this was struck down by a First Circuit federal court in 1996; this decision was later upheld by an appeals court but was at variance with an earlier Ninth Circuit ruling. The FEC was reluctant to enforce the regulation pending further judicial or legislative action. Earlier versions of what became BCRA (the Shays-Meehan bill, as passed in the 105th and 106th Congresses) sought to codify a definition of “express advocacy” that allowed a communication to be considered as a whole, in context of such external events as timing, to determine if it was election related. In the final analysis, BCRA adopted a narrower approach, in large measure to enhance its chances of withstanding judicial scrutiny, by incorporating into Title II language initially proposed by Senators Snowe and Jeffords. This title regulates election-related issue advocacy by creating a new term in federal election law, electioneering communications (i.e., political advertisements that refer to clearly identified federal candidates, broadcast within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election). Generally, they may not be funded from union or corporate treasuries, and disbursements of over $10,000 and donors of $1,000 or more must be disclosed. CRS-10 527 Activity. Efforts to address the activity of 527 political organizations that operate outside the regulatory framework of federal election law were seen in the 109th Congress. Supporters of BCRA offered measures (S. 1053 and H.R. 513) to apply federal election law regulation to 527 groups involved in federal electionrelated activities. The 527 Reform Act of 2005 would add political organizations under Section 527 of the IRC to the definition of political committee under FECA, unless they are involved exclusively in state and local elections. The Senate bill was reported by the Rules and Administration Committee and placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar. In response to this proposal, H.R. 1316 (Pence-Wynn) was introduced to address the issue more indirectly, largely by loosening restrictions on individuals, parties, and PACs under the FECA, and in the soft money realm as well. This bill, intended to provide some balance to the role of the 527s, was reported by the House Administration Committee, which later reported H.R. 513 without recommendation. This set the stage for a potential House floor debate between two bills to address the 527 issue based on diametrically opposed philosophies, although such a debate never occurred. On April 5, 2006, the House passed H.R. 513 (Shays-Meehan), as amended, by a 218-209 vote. The bill, the 527 Reform Act of 2006, would subject 527 political organizations involved in federal elections to regulation under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). (It included one floor amendment, to remove political party coordinated expenditure limits.) The text of H.R. 513, as passed, was also added to H.R. 4975, the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which passed the House on May 3, 2006; it also included an amendment added by the House Rules Committee to prohibit leadership PAC funds from being converted to personal use but to allow them to be transferred without limit to national party committees (as is the case with funds in principal campaign committees). After passing H.R. 4975, the House substituted it for the text of S. 2349, the Senate-passed version of the bill, to enable a conference with the Senate. The Senate-passed bill did not contain the 527 provisions, and the Senate resisted considering 527s in the context of ethics reform. This conflict between the House and Senate kept the issue from being resolved in the 109th Congress. Legislative Action in Congress Congress’s consideration of campaign finance reform has steadily increased since 1986, when the Senate passed the PAC-limiting Boren-Goldwater amendment, marking the first campaign finance vote in either house since 1979 (no vote was taken on the underlying bill). With Senate control shifting to Democrats in 1986, each of the next four Congresses saw intensified activity, based on Democraticleadership bills with voluntary spending limits combined with inducements to participation, such as public subsidies or cost-reduction benefits. In the 100th Congress, Senate Democrats were blocked by a Republican filibuster. In the 101st through 103rd Congresses, the House and Senate each passed comprehensive bills based on spending limits and public benefits. Those bills were not reconciled in the 101st or 103rd, while a conference version in the 102nd was vetoed by President George H. W. Bush. CRS-11 Republicans assumed control in the 104th Congress, and changes in campaign finance laws were not a priority for the new leadership, as many of them had philosophical differences with the most prominent “reform” proposals. A bipartisan bill based on previous Democratic-leadership bills was blocked by filibuster in the Senate, while both Republican- and Democratic-leadership bills — with starkly different approaches — failed to pass in the House. In the 105th Congress, reform supporters succeeded in passing the Shays-Meehan bill in the House (H.R. 2183, as amended). Senate sponsors of its companion McCain-Feingold measure (S. 25, as revised) failed on three occasions to break a filibuster in opposition, and no vote occurred on the bill. In the 106th Congress, the House again passed the Shays-Meehan bill (H.R. 417). Supporters of the companion McCain-Feingold bill initially introduced S. 26, much the same bill as its final version in the 105th Congress. They later introduced a much narrower version (S. 1593), focusing largely on party soft money but dropping the issue advocacy and other provisions. This version was debated in October 1999 but failed to break a filibuster in opposition. Reform supporters succeeded, however, in enacting a law to require disclosure by tax-exempt political organizations under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. In the 107th Congress, the long stalemate over campaign finance reform was broken when Congress enacted BCRA. The Senate passed S. 27 (McCain-Feingold) on April 2, 2001, by a vote of 59-41, after a two-week debate which added 22 amendments on the floor and rejected 16 others. The Senate also defeated S.J.Res. 4 (Hollings-Specter), a constitutional amendment to allow mandatory campaign spending limits, by a 40-56 vote on March 26, 2001. Although Senate passage marked a major breakthrough, the measure appeared to be stalled in the House in 2001, when the House rejected (by 203-228) the proposed rule for consideration on July 12. Supporters of Shays-Meehan filed a discharge petition to force reconsideration and, on January 24, 2002, secured the last four needed signatures. On February 13, 2002, the House passed H.R. 2356 (Shays-Meehan) by a 240-189 vote, after including four perfecting amendments and rejecting two substitute and eight perfecting amendments. On March 20, the Senate passed H.R. 2356 by a 60-40 vote, and President Bush signed the measure into law on March 27, as P.L. 107-155. Also in the 107th Congress, P.L. 107-276 was enacted to relieve 527 tax-exempt political organizations that operate at the state and local levels from reporting requirements enacted in 2000 and to improve IRS dissemination of federally filed reports under that law. The 108th Congress was a transitional one in terms of campaign finance issues, as the political community adjusted to the newly enacted BCRA and watched the courts for rulings on its constitutionality. This matter was settled on December 10, 2003, when the Supreme Court, in McConnell v. FEC (549 U.S. 93), upheld the constitutionality of key provisions of BCRA, dealing with soft money and electioneering communications. The issue of 527 political organizations, which emerged as strong forces in the wake of BCRA, occupied some congressional attention, with hearings held on the subject in the House Administration and Senate Rules and Administration Committees and bills introduced by supporters of BCRA to apply federal election law regulation to such groups involved in federal electionrelated activities. CRS-12 109th Congress In the wake of the 2004 elections, when some $435 million was spent by 527 organizations outside federal election law regulation, the 109th Congress examined the role of 527 groups in federal elections. On March 8, 2005, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing on S. 271 (McCain-Feingold-Lott), a bill to require that 527s involved in federal elections comply fully with federal election law, and on April 27, it voted to report the bill, as amended in committee. On May 17, that bill was reported as an original bill — S. 1053 — and placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar. The House Administration Committee held a hearing April 20, 2005, on regulation of 527 organizations, which focused on H.R. 513 (Shays-Meehan), the companion to S. 271 (which became S. 1053), and H.R. 1316 (Pence-Wynn). In sharp contrast with the bill reported in the Senate, H.R. 1316 sought to address the 527 issue indirectly, by loosening restrictions on funding sources within FECA. By so doing, proponents maintained that there would be less of an incentive for political money to flow to 527 groups operating outside the framework of FECA. On June 9, 2005, House Administration voted to report H.R. 1316, as amended; it was reported on June 22.6 On June 29, the committee held a markup of H.R. 513 (Shays-Meehan), and ordered it reported (as amended to reflect the sponsors’ changes), without recommendation,7 thus setting the stage for a floor debate on the two contrasting measures. Such a debate never occurred, however. On April 5, 2006, the House passed H.R. 513 (Shays-Meehan), as amended, by a 218-209 vote. The rule under which it was considered — H.Res. 7558 — allowed one floor amendment, by Representative Dreier, to remove political partycoordinated expenditure limits. This was added by voice vote before final passage. The text of H.R. 513 was also incorporated into the House Republican leadership’s lobby and ethics reform bill — H.R. 4975 (Dreier). As introduced, Title VI of the bill incorporated the language of H.R. 513 as reported by the House Administration Committee. In addition, it included one provision unrelated to 527s, to remove the political party-coordinated expenditure limits in 2 U.S.C. §441a(d). Prior to House passage of H.R. 4975, an amendment was included by the House Rules Committee to prohibit leadership PACs from converting funds to personal use but to allow them to transfer unlimited funds to national party committees (as is the case with funds in principal campaign committees). On May 3, 2006, the House 6 U.S. Congress, House Committee on House Administration, 527 Fairness Act of 2005, report to accompany H.R. 1316, 109th Cong., 1st sess., H.Rept. 109-146 (Washington: GPO, 2005). 7 U.S. Congress, House Committee on House Administration, 527 Reform Act of 2005, report to accompany H.R. 513, 109th Cong., 1st sess., H.Rept. 109-181 (Washington: GPO, 2005). 8 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Rules, Providing for Consideration of H.R. 513, 527 Reform Act of 2005, report to accompany H.Res. 755, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 109-404 (Washington: GPO, 2006). CRS-13 passed H.R. 4975, the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which included the text of H.R. 513 (Shays-Meehan), as well as the amendments on leadership PACs and party coordinated expenditures. After passing H.R. 4975, the House substituted it for the text of S. 2349, the Senate-passed version of the bill, to enable a conference with the Senate. The Senate-passed bill did not contain the 527 provisions, and the Senate resisted considering 527s in the context of ethics reform. This conflict between the House and Senate kept the issue from being resolved in the 109th Congress. On other 109th Congress issues, a provision allowing leadership PACs to transfer unlimited funds to national parties was added in committee to the Transportation-Treasury-HUD-Judiciary-DC appropriations bill for FY2006 (H.R. 3058). Following a move by BCRA sponsors, the Senate deleted the provision by unanimous consent on October 17, 2005. Also, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing February 8, 2006, to examine rules governing campaign contributions by Indian tribes, in response to large sums of money given in recent elections and concerns over the application of federal campaign finance law thereto. In its final report on its investigation of lobbying and political activities by Indian tribes, the committee recommended requiring Indian tribes making federal election contributions to register with the FEC and improving rules for disclosure of those contributions.9 The issue of regulation of Internet communications was addressed at a House Administration Committee hearing September 22, 2005. On November 2, the House failed to approve a measure to exempt Internet communications from regulation under federal campaign finance laws. H.R. 1606 (Hensarling) was brought up under suspension of the rules but failed on a 225-182 vote. On March 9, 2006, the House Administration Committee ordered the bill favorably reported,10 and it was expected to be considered by the House on March 16, but that vote was postponed. On March 27, the FEC approved new regulations to regulate only paid advertisements placed on another’s website, thus addressing much of the concern expressed about Internet regulation. On March 29, House Majority Leader Boehner announced that consideration of H.R. 1606 would be postponed indefinitely. In all, 51 bills (43 House and 8 Senate) were introduced in the 109th Congress to change federal campaign finance law. 110th Congress Although campaign finance has yet to emerge as a major issue in the 110th Congress, the Senate’s consideration of S. 1, the Ethics Reform bill, touched upon 9 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, “Gimme Five”: Investigation of Tribal Lobbying Matters, final report, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., June 22, 2006; at [], visited July 21, 2006. 10 U.S. Congress, House Committee of House Administration, Online Freedom of Speech Act, report to accompany H.R. 1606, 109th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 109-389 (Washington: GPO, 2006). CRS-14 several aspects of campaign finance practices as they pertained to lobbyists. Several campaign finance-related amendments were incorporated into S. 1, which passed the Senate January 18, 2007 by a 96-2 vote.11 As passed, S. 1 contains provisions to ! amend FECA to exempt air travel by federal candidates on private airplanes from definition of “contribution” under FECA (and thus not subject to source prohibitions and limits) only if reimbursement is provided at the fair market value, based on the private charter rate; ! amend Senate Rules to prohibit Senators from being honored during national party conventions at events sponsored by registered lobbyists; ! require registered lobbyists to disclose on required reports relevant information (including names and dollar amounts) on federal candidates, party committees, and leadership PACs for whom they sponsored fundraisers, made contributions to, and collected contributions or otherwise arranged for contributions to be made (i.e., bundling); ! require that information disclosed on lobbyists’ reports be made available on a public database, with links to relevant information filed with the Federal Election Commission; and ! require the newly established Commission to Strengthen Confidence to report to Congress on campaign contributions made by specified entities during a specified period. Two other proposed campaign finance-related amendments to S. 1, both offered by Senator Vitter, were tabled by the Senate: amendment 5, to require Indian tribes to set up political action committees to make campaign contributions, rather than using tribal treasury funds; and amendment 6, to prohibit immediate family of federal candidates on the payroll of their principal campaign committees or leadership PACs.12 On March 28, 2007, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee unanimously voted to report S. 223 (Feingold), to require electronic filing of Senate candidates’ campaign disclosure reports. The measure was placed on the Senate legislative calendar. On April 18, 2007, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a hearing on S. 1091 (Corker), a bill to eliminate limits on political party coordinated expenditures (i.e., expenditures made by a party in coordination with a candidate’s campaign, subject to limits since the 1974 FECA Amendments). The limits are 11 “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007,” Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153 (Jan. 18, 2007), p. S746. 12 “Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007,” Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 153 (Jan. 10, 2007), pp. S343-344.. CRS-15 relatively high compared with limits on contributions, with typical House candidates eligible for $79,200 in 2006 and a Senate candidate as much as $4.2 million (in California) that year. Ever since the Supreme Court ruling in Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. FEC (518 U.S. 604 (1996)), which permitted parties to make independent expenditures on behalf of their candidates, the importance of coordinated expenditures has been diminished. The prospect of unlimited independent expenditures has been increasingly appealing to the parties, and it has become common for parties to make both independent expenditures and coordinated expenditures for the same candidates, albeit from at least nominally different departments of a party committee. In 2006, Democratic party committees (federal, state, and local) made $20.7 million in coordinated expenditures and $108.1 million in independent expenditures to promote their federal candidates; Republican party committees made $14.2 million in coordinated expenditures and $115.6 million in independent expenditures. BCRA had contained a provision to require a party to choose making either independent expenditures or coordinated expenditures, but not both, for one of its nominees; this, however, was one of two BCRA provisions struck down by the Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC (549 U.S. 93(2003)). Hence, while abolishing the limit on coordinated expenditures would appear to allow the parties to spend unlimited amounts on behalf of their candidates, they already have that right, albeit through expenditures that are technically made without any coordination with the favored candidate. Supporters of removing the limits assert that doing so would largely indicate acceptance of the current reality and allow parties to reinforce their direct ties with candidates. Opponents assert that this would send the wrong message to an electorate cynical about the role of money in politics and also that the national parties are now playing a significant role, especially in light of increased hard money limits under BCRA. In the 2004 election cycle, the first conducted after the soft money prohibition went into effect, nearly $1.5 billion was raised by party committees (all hard money), more than ever had been raised in combined hard and soft money by the national parties. Thus far in the 110th Congress (as of April 19, 2007), 41 bills (12 in the Senate and 29 in the House) have been introduced to make changes in campaign finance law or related campaign practices. Two of them, H.R. 420 and S. 463, the 527 Reform Act of 2007, are essentially the proposal passed twice by the House in the 109th Congress (see summary below) and which reform supporters consider unfinished business for the 110th Congress to address. Major Legislation in 110th Congress H.R. 420 (Meehan-Shays) — 527 Reform Act of 2007. ! Includes in definition of political committee any IRC §527 organization, unless it: (1) has annual gross receipts of less than $25,000; (2) is a political committee of a state or local party or candidate; (3) exists solely to pay certain administrative expenses or expenses of a qualified newsletter; (4) is composed solely of state or CRS-16 local officeholders or candidates whose voter drive activities refer only to state/ local candidates and parties; or (5) is exclusively devoted to elections where no federal candidate is on ballot, to nonfederal elections, ballot issues, or to selection of non-elected officials; ! Makes last exemption (above) inapplicable if the IRC §527 organization spends more than $1,000 for: public communications that promote, support, attack, or oppose a clearly identified federal candidate within one year of the general election in which that candidate is seeking office; or for any voter drive effort conducted by a group in a calendar year, unless: (1) sponsor confines activity solely to one state; (2) non-federal candidates are referred to in all voter drive activities and no federal candidate or party is referred to in any substantive way; (3) no federal candidate or officeholder or natl. party official/agent is involved in organization’s direction, funding, or spending; AND (4) no contributions are made by the group to federal candidates; ! Codifies 2005 FEC regulations and makes them applicable to 527s not affected by current rules; ! Allows contributions to non-federal accounts making allocations (above) only by individuals and subject to limit of $25,000 per year; prohibits fundraising for such accounts by national parties and officials and federal candidates and officeholders; ! States that this act shall have no bearing on FEC regulations, on any definitions of political organizations in Internal Revenue Code, or on any determination of whether a 501(c) tax-exempt organization may be a political committee under FECA; ! Provides special expedited judicial review procedures, similar to BCRA’s, for a challenge on constitutional grounds, and allows any Member to bring or intervene in any such case. Introduced January 11, 2007; referred to Committee on House Administration. S. 223 (Feingold) — Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act Requires Senate candidates’ disclosure reports to be filed electronically. Introduced January 9, 2007; referred to Committee on Rules and Administration. March 28, 2007, unanimously reported by Rules and Administration Committee, as amended, and placed on Senate legislative calendar. S. 463 (McCain-Feingold) — 527 Reform Act of 2007. Identical to H.R. 420. Introduced January 31, 2007; referred to Committee on Rules and Administration. CRS-17 S. 1091 (Corker) — Campaign Accountability Act of 2007 Repeals limits on political party coordinated expenditures. Introduced April 11, 2007; referred to Committee on Rules and Administration. April 18, 2007, hearings held in Rules and Administration Committee. For Additional Reading CRS Report RS21176, Application of Campaign Finance Law to Indian Tribes, by L. Paige Whitaker and Joseph E. Cantor. CRS Report RL31402, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002: Summary and Comparison with Previous Law, by Joseph E. Cantor and L. Paige Whitaker. CRS Report RS21693, Campaign Finance Law: The Supreme Court Upholds Key Provisions of BCRA in McConnell v. FEC, by L. Paige Whitaker. CRS Report RL33836, Campaign Finance Legislation and Activity in the 109th Congress, by Joseph E. Cantor and R. Sam Garrett. CRS Report 97-1040, Campaign Financing: Highlights and Chronology of Current Federal Law, by Joseph E. Cantor. CRS Report RS22272, Campaign Finance Reform: Regulating Political Communications on the Internet, by L. Paige Whitaker and Joseph E. Cantor. CRS Report RL30669, Campaign Finance Regulation Under the First Amendment: Buckley v. Valeo and Its Supreme Court Progeny, by L. Paige Whitaker. CRS Report RS22644, Coordinated Party Expenditures in Federal Elections: An Overview, by R. Sam Garrett and L. Paige Whitaker. CRS Report RL32954, 527 Political Organizations: Legislation in the 109th Congress, by Joseph E. Cantor and Erika Lunder. CRS Report RS21716, Political Organizations Under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, by Erika Lunder. CRS Report RL33814, Public Financing of Congressional Elections: Background and Analysis, by Joseph E. Cantor and R. Sam Garrett. CRS Report RL33888, Section 527 Political Organizations: Background and Issues for Federal Election and Tax Laws, by Joseph E. Cantor, Erika Lunder, and L. Paige Whitaker. CRS Report RL33377, Tax-Exempt Organizations: Political Activity Restrictions and Disclosure Requirements, by Erika Lunder. CRS-18 CRS Report RL32786, The Presidential Election Campaign Fund and Tax Checkoff: Background and Current Issues, by Joseph E. Cantor.