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McNerney Reports on Inaugural Meeting of the Congressional Campaign Finance Reform Caucus

May 5, 2016
Blog Posts

Last week, Congressman Walter Jones and I launched the bipartisan Congressional Campaign Finance Reform Caucus to address the undue influence of money on our political process. On Thursday, the Caucus held its inaugural meeting, the first of regular meetings the Caucus will hold to educate members of Congress and staff about campaign finance policies and advocate for relevant policy proposals.

At last Thursday’s inaugural meeting, Rep. Jones and I were joined by other Caucus members and were briefed by academic and legal scholars on the history of campaign finance policy and its effects on politics today. 

We learned that the major goal of campaign finance policy historically has been to prevent real or apparent corruption, especially quid pro quo.   

Two cases in particular have had a major impact on campaign finance reform policy: Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission (2010).  In its landmark Buckley v. Valeo ruling, the Supreme Court declared mandatory spending limits unconstitutional except for publicly-financed presidential candidates and invalidated the original appointment structure for the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The significance of Buckley v. Valeo arises from the fact that it was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled that political contributions could be protected by free speech and the First Amendment. The Citizens United decision was game-changing, as it lifted a previous ban on corporate and union independent expenditures advocating election or defeat of candidates.

Political committees include candidates, parties, and PACs (short for political action committee) that report to the FEC.  The 2016 political committee contribution limits for individuals:

  • ·        $2,700 per candidate, per election
  • ·        $5,000 per year to traditional PACs
  • ·        $33,400 per year to party committees, plus $100,200 for each special party account
  • ·        Unlimited amounts to super PACs 

The following major campaign players can accept unlimited contributions as long as some conditions are met:

  • ·        IRC Sec. 501(c) (4) social welfare groups
  • ·        IRC Sec. 501(c) (5) labor unions
  • ·        IRC Sec. 501(c) (6) trade associations

As far as recent legislative activity in Congress to address campaign finance reform policy – around 44 bills in the House and 15 bills in the Senate have been introduced in the 114th Congress that address campaign finance; however, no major changes to campaign finance laws have been made.