Rider-ing Their Way to Reelection


December 8, 2015

By the end of the week Congress needs to pass a funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. Even if a one-week funding bill is needed to buy more time for final negotiations, the proposed solution for the rest of the fiscal year is an omnibus package that will represent a compromise between the Republican leadership in Congress and Democrats and the Obama Administration. Threatening this package is a series of riders that members have attached to the package that range from special interests’ rewards to very large items that really should be bills unto themselves. One particular concern is a rider that would change the way political campaigns are funded, further increasing the influence of big-money donors.

Over the years, both the Supreme Court and Congress have allowed the power of campaign finance law to be eroded, most notably in the Citizens United decision. Limits on personal and corporate contributions have been raised or eliminated entirely, the divide between outside groups, such as Super PACs, and campaigns is weak, and political parties are able to do quite a bit in the name of their standard bearers. A rider to further weaken controls on campaign financing would make it easier to coordinate political party funds with congressional campaigns.

The campaign finance law has been a target for those who want to be able to spend more money in elections since its inception. Currently, political parties are limited to under $50,000 in direct support for a local congressional race. Senate races are similarly limited based on population. The rider, proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would remove this limit entirely, allowing political parties to spend as much as they please in coordination with the candidate’s campaign. This would represent another large loss in the effort to have transparency in politics and government. Watchdog groups are also opposed to three other riders that would prevent the White House from requiring disclosure of campaign finance activities by government contractors; prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring public corporations to disclose their campaign finance activities; and prevent the IRS from issuing new regulations to stop nonprofits from spending secret contributions in federal elections.

People need to know not just about the candidates they are being asked to vote for but also who is funding them. The ability for a small number of large donors to fund the majority of a congressional campaign at the very least makes the would-be member of Congress seem too dependent on well-heeled interests. We the people have a need to know which candidates are being influenced and by whom. We should safeguard what little limiting regulations on campaign finance still exist. The alternative is to allow special interests with unlimited funds to have overwhelming influence on everything from education to housing policy.

The omnibus package should be passed. But the riders, especially ones that threaten the safeguards we have on our democracy, should be left out. Voice your concern and let our elected officials know that we want a clean omnibus bill.

Budget and Appropriations
campaign finance