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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress

R. Sam Garrett
Specialist in American National Government

Minor and major changes have occurred in campaign finance policy since 2002, when Congress substantially amended campaign finance law via the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC and a related lower-court decision, v. FEC, arguably represent the most fundamental changes to campaign finance law in decades. During the 111th Congress, the House responded by passing the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175; S. 3295; S. 3628). The Senate declined to do so. Revised versions (H.R. 4010; S. 2219; S. 3369) have been introduced in the 112th Congress. S. 2219 received a Rules and Administration Committee hearing on March 29, 2012. A motion to proceed to S. 3369, apparently intended to supersede S. 2219, was the subject of Senate floor debate in July 2012.

In public financing matters, the House has passed legislation (H.R. 359; H.R. 3463) that would repeal the presidential public financing program. (See also H.R. 408; H.R. 2434; and S. 194.) In the Senate, an amendment (containing text from S. 3257; see also S. 3312 and H.R. 5912) to the 2012 Senate-passed farm bill, S. 3240, would eliminate the convention funding portion of the presidential public financing program. S. 750 (see also S. 749; H.R. 1404) is the latest version of the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), which would publicly finance Senate campaigns. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held a hearing on the bill in April 2011.

Other issues have also received attention. In September 2012, the House passed H.R. 406, which would permit candidates to name someone other than the treasurer to disburse campaign funds if the candidate died. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Committee on Small Business held a joint hearing in May 2011 on a draft executive order addressing disclosure of certain political spending by government contractors. Amendments to unrelated bills (H.R. 1540; H.R. 2017; H.R. 2354) that passed the House in 2011 contain provisions reportedly developed in response to the draft executive order, which has not been issued. The FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055) and the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540), which became law in December 2012, both contain provisions prohibiting disclosure of certain political spending by federal contractors. In addition, the Committee on House Administration, Subcommittee on Elections, held an April 2011 hearing on H.R. 672. That measure proposes to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and transfer some functions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In major court decisions, in 2011, the Supreme Court issued a decision in a case that invalidated Arizona’s use of matching funds for publicly financed candidates.

Public availability of campaign finance information has continued to be a prominent element of the policy debate. The Senate is again considering requiring Senate political committees to file reports electronically. S. 219 received a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing in April 2012. Also in April 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new rules to require some television broadcasters to make certain information about political-ad purchases available online.

Fundraising and spending in the 2012 election cycle suggest that previously prohibited sources and amounts of funds will continue to be a factor in federal elections. Activities by independentexpenditure- only political action committees (super PACs) and tax-exempt organizations that are typically not political committees (e.g., Internal Revenue Code 501(c) and 527 organizations) may be particularly prominent.

Date of Report: September 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 35
Order Number: R41542
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