A provision stealthily added to the just-agreed-to congressional spending measure — also known as the omnibus — will allow political parties to raise 10 times more money from wealthy individuals. Reporting on the development, the Washington Post quoted former FEC General Counsel Tony Herman, who stated:
[The move] will thus help recalibrate the balance away from secret contributions and from unaccountable super PACs and toward open contributions to the parties by opening the door to higher contributions to the parties from wealthy individuals. And for that reason, in the post-Citizens United world, champions of disclosure should applaud this legislation.
Um, not so much.
First, there is no guarantee that money will move back to the party coffers from secret nonprofits. The new route for money will simply be an additional avenue for the 1% of the 1% to buy access to political leaders. Politically active, non-disclosing nonprofits are alive and well, and individuals who wish to keep their donations secret from the public can continue to use them to funnel their money into elections. Those who want to optimize their purchasing power can add these additional party funds to the long list of ways the wealthy can amplify their voice in Washington through the power of their pocketbooks.
The new party funding apparatus also gives elected officials another way to extort contributions from donors. Pity the poor lobbyist who now has fewer chances to say “No, I’m maxed out” when an elected representatives asks for a contribution to the party in exchange for help on a pet issue.
Additionally, while infusing our elections with even more money, Congress failed to include any new transparency measures to keep up with the new funding streams. Money to the parties will eventually be disclosed, however, it won’t be disclosed in real time. Stains are harder to get out when they have time to sit. Allowing million-dollar donations to the political parties to remain undisclosed for a month is unnecessary given today’s technology. The bipartisan Real Time Transparency Act introduced by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, would ensure that the public is informed within 48 hours of contributions of $1000 or more. With this new provision, the Real Time Transparency Act becomes even more crucial.
This last-minute, secret deal shows that members of Congress can find a way to act — and act quickly — when it’s in their interest to do so. If only they would show the same willingness to act when it is in the public’s interest.