FEC Thwarts Transparency

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Yesterday, the Federal Election Commission unanimously approved new disclosure rules regarding bundling, the practice of collecting campaign contributions from friends, co-workers, clients and other associates. (Currently an individual can give up to $2,300 per election to a candidate for president or Congress. But by collecting multiple checks from various sources, bundlers have no limit on what they can raise for a candidate, gaining much favor with the campaign. Lobbyists are masters at the practice.) The FEC was finally creating guidelines for the implementation of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which Congress passed partly to bring more transparency to bundling.

Unfortunately, the FEC ruling compromises the transparency purpose of the law to ‘provide for the broadest possible disclosure’ of bundling activities. The FEC ruled that campaigns, parties and candidate-affiliated political action committees would now have to disclose the names, addresses, employers and amounts raised by these called “bundlers,” according to CQ. Sounds good, right? But this requirement applies only to registered lobbyists. (Hint: not all influence peddlers are registered.) Plus, the rule applies only when there is a written record of the bundling, or when the candidate gives something to a lobbyist in return like a title or a gift of appreciation, such as an autographed photo. “Knowledge on the part of a candidate that a lobbyist has bundled contributions is not enough under the new FEC rule to trigger reporting requirements, according to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Instead, in the absence of a written record, knowledge plus a tangible benefit to the lobbyist is required to trigger the reporting requirements.”

Other huge loopholes exist. The new rules require only those individuals who bundle $15,000 or more be disclosed. As Paul Ryan, FEC program director for CLC, points out, the rule allows jointly hosted events, where several lobbyists can split up the credit for the money raised, allowing them to fall below the $15,000 disclosure threshold.

The FEC has, until very recently, been inactive, as a result of partisan gridlock between the Bush Administration and the Democratically-controlled Senate over appointments to the panel so it took them over a year to make this ruling. Too bad they got their act together.

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  • Arnie,

    I’ll try and give some answers here.

    1) To your first question: lobbying is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. (“Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”) Lobbying, as a right, has been upheld numerous times by the Supreme Court. Most challenges to lobbying disclosure laws have found disclosure to not impede First Amendment rights and to be totally within the right of Congress to pass. (Most recently National Association of Manufacturers v. Taylor, also United States v. Harriss.).

    2) There has been a decades long campaign for full publicly financed elections. I would suggest looking into the organization Public Campaign (http://www.publicampaign.org/), a strong supporter of publicly financed elections and the most active outfit working on behalf of public financing. Public Campaign has succeeded in passing public financing in Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Hey….

    Okay I admit to being pretty dumb, but will someone please tell me why we need lobbyists?

    Also, why can’t election campaign funding come directly from taxpayers revenues?

    Indirectly, the taxpayer, acting in the role of a consumer, ends up paying for the reelection funds anyhow.

    Let’s face it, businesses involved in lobbying already budget the estimated contributions into their annual budgets. This in turn sets the basis for the pricing of goods and services. Services for which prices are artificially inflated to allow for the added expense for the contributions.

    So let’s get real here, why give the businesses and the legislators the use of our money to work against us in the first place?

    I already admitted to being dumb but does that also include the rest of you too?

    It would seem a lot more efficient if up the election funds were from the taxpayer funds to begin with and eliminate the bias in between.

    Also, While we are at it, not only should the funds be provided directly from taxpayer revenues, but why not standardize the amount of the contribution for each type of office?

    In other words all campaigns for senators would receive the same amount of money. It would seem to me this concept would really level the playing field. All of the candidate’s would then have the opportunity to really strut their stuff based on the same funding level.

    Just my $.02.

    Arnie