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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress - R41542

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. Citizens United lifted a previous ban on corporate (and union) independent expenditures advocating election or defeat of candidates. SpeechNow permitted unlimited contributions to such expenditures and facilitated the advent of super PACs. Although campaign finance policy remains the subject of intense debate and public interest, there have been few legislative or regulatory changes to respond to the 2010 court rulings. This report considers these and other developments in campaign finance policy and comments on areas of potential conflict and consensus.

Legislative activity to respond to the rulings has focused on the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House during the 111
th Congress, and was reintroduced during the 112th and 113th Congresses (H.R. 148). Recent alternatives, which include some elements of DISCLOSE, include 113th Congress bills such as Senators Wyden and Murkowski’s S. 791, or proposals that would require additional disclosure from certain 501(c) groups.

As of this writing, one campaign finance bill has passed the House during the 113
th Congress. On November 18, 2013, the House passed H.R. 3487 under suspension of the rules. The bill would extend the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) authority to conduct the Administrative Fine Program. Six bills have been the subject of hearings, markups, or both in the House or Senate. H.R. 94 and H.R. 95 would repeal part or all of the presidential public financing program. H.R. 1994 would repeal the Election Assistance Commission and return some functions to the FEC. S. 375 would require Senate political committees to electronically file campaign finance reports with the FEC. Two Financial Services appropriations measures contain provisions related to campaign finance. H.R. 2786 would prohibit disclosure of certain political spending as a condition of the government-contracting process. S. 1371 would require electronic filing of Senate campaign finance reports. In addition, on September 23, 2013, the Senate confirmed two nominees to the Federal Election Commission.

Debate has also continued at federal agencies and in the courts. Debate in Congress and elsewhere has continued over the FEC’s enforcement practices. The commission also has yet to issue anticipated rules implementing Citizens United and some other litigation. Amid apparent stalemate at the FEC, some observers have called for an increased role for federal agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission, Internal Revenue Service, or Securities and Exchange Commission in policy areas related to campaign finance policy—a topic that remains controversial. The Supreme Court is also considering a challenge to aggregate individual contribution limits (McCutcheon v. FEC).

This version of the report includes updated material that emphasizes the issues most prominently before the 113
th Congress. It also discusses foundational information about major elements of campaign finance policy. Some issues discussed in previous versions of the report, which appear to be less timely than they were in the past, have been excluded from this version. This report will be updated occasionally to reflect major developments.

Date of Report: November 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41542
Price: $29.95

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