Spending Bill Provision Would Provide Big Boost To Party Fundraising

Dec 10, 2014
Originally published on December 11, 2014 9:38 am
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There are several new provisions tucked into the trillion-dollar spending bill that Congress is set to approve. This is the one that will prevent a government shutdown. And we're going to peel back one of the provisions in the bill. It creates new opportunities for big-dollar fundraising for the Democratic and Republican Parties.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Look at it one way and this change would ease the fundraising rules that have crippled the budgets of the party committees. Look at it another way and it means a donor of sufficient means could give the party establishment about $778,000 each year. That's eight times the current limit. Lisa Gilbert is director of Congress Watch, a division of the liberal advocacy group, Public Citizen.

LISA GILBERT: It, you know, once again empowers the richest and will drown out every-day Americans who want to participate.

OVERBY: The provision goes to the heart of a debate that began a dozen years ago with passage of the last campaign finance overhaul. Back then, liberals wanted to drive corrupting big money out of the political parties. Conservatives said the big money wasn't corrupting and the overhaul drove it to outside groups, which was a bad thing. Then came the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and other court decisions, setting off the rush of super PACs and secret money political groups, nearly all of them outside the party organizations.

Ray La Raja is a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

RAY LA RAJA: Groups were getting involved that we didn't know who they were representing, and where were they getting their money. This changes that.

OVERBY: He points out that parties have to disclose their donors, while many outside groups do not. Here's how the new provision works - each party has three committees in Washington - the national committee, Senatorial campaign committee and House campaign committee. Under the new language, each committee can create a building account and a fund for recounts. Each party is also allowed to accept $97,200 a year for its presidential nominating convention. That makes up for public financing for conventions, which Congress killed-off back in March.

La Raja says that now the parties will be able to cover basic infrastructure costs.

LA RAJA: They were playing triage before this.

OVERBY: What Lisa Gilbert and her allies object to is the way the new funds are financed. Each new fund comes with its own contribution limit triple the size of the regular contribution to a party committee. And even despite that, Gilbert says donors to outside groups aren't likely to change their giving patterns.

GILBERT: If we see the more money in the parties, I have no doubt that we will see more money in the independent expenditure states as well. It just increases the arms race, increases the overall amount of money in an already too-monied system.

OVERBY: Now Public Citizen and other pro-regulation groups are urging members of Congress to vote no on the whole bill, and so are some conservatives. They see the provision as an attempt to fortify the Republican establishment against intraparty challengers.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.