Protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2013 during oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. (Photo: Jay Mallin)
Two lawmakers introduced a bill this week that requires stricter reporting of political donors to the Federal Election Commission, a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision this week striking limits on aggregate campaign contributions.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, filed the Real Time Reporting and Transparency Act in the House on Thursday, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, filed a companion bill in the Senate. The legislation would require political committees to notify the FEC within two days when a contributor cumulatively gives more than $1,000 in a calendar year.
“The Supreme Court has accelerated the process by which public policy is for sale,” O’Rourke said in a statement introducing the bill. “We can mitigate the effects of this terrible decision with sunlight and transparency.”
O’Rourke said that, without this legislation, an individual donor could contribute millions of dollars cumulatively to members of Congress and their parties on the eve of a vote. “Under current law, the public would not know about this until up to 3 months later,” O’Rourke said.
In the decision, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the aggregate limit on money an individual can give political campaigns and political action committees—$123,000 per campaign cycle. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. announced the decision for a divided court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Current law requires that a contribution of $1,000 or more to a U.S. Senate campaign must be filed with the Secretary of Senate on a quarterly basis, and all other political action committee or campaign contributions of $1,000 or more must be filed with the FEC on a quarterly basis, a summary of the bill from King’s office states.
Only contributions made fewer than 20 days preceding the election must be disclosed within 48 hours, the summary states.
In addition to the reporting change for political committees, the bill would add requirements for all candidates for federal office, including those for the Senate, to report contributions to the FEC within the two days. It would apply the reporting requirements for transfers to candidates from joint fundraising committees.
“This bill will modernize antiquated disclosure requirements to reflect the realities of today’s political campaigns, helping to combat the impact of unchecked money in our political system and giving people the knowledge they need to make the more informed decisions at the ballot box,” King said.
O’Rourke said the McCutcheon decision allows multimillion-dollar “hard money” contributions and will increase the level of influence that wealthy donors have over our democracy. He cited a Public Campaign report that found 1,219 donors in the country that neared or reached the former cycle limit.
“The voice of this small group will now be amplified even more by the Supreme Court’s ruling,” O’Rourke said.
Campaign reform advocates are not optimistic about legislative efforts to enact campaign finance limits, and say that a constitutional amendment might be their only remaining option to limit the power of money in politics.