Policy Solution

Increasing the accountability of political spending

Closing loopholes exploited by super PACs and dark money groups.


The problem:

A variety of loopholes exist in America’s outdated and outmoded campaign laws that undermine bedrock constitutional values of accountability and transparency, eroding the public’s faith in our democratic republic.

Super PACs can raise and spend money without limit because, by law, their spending is supposed to be independent of candidates. In reality, they often work hand-in-hand with candidates, stopping just short of the current, narrow definition of coordination.

In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, dark money groups — groups that do not have to disclose their donors — burst onto the political stage. The laws governing transparency have their origins in the 1970s and are outdated. As a result, these groups have spent more than $1 billion in our elections with very little disclosure. This undermines the public’s right to know who is trying to influence their vote.

For decades, the law has prohibited politicians from spending campaign funds for their own personal use, such as paying for a mortgage or family vacation. However, the law does not extend to leadership PACs — committees that members of Congress set up purportedly to make campaign contributions to other members. Worse, these “slush funds” act as a vehicle for lobbyists and other special interests to influence members of Congress who are supposed to be overseeing their industries.

Solutions: 

The Political Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), introduced in several previous sessions of Congress, is an example of a bipartisan bill that would help ensure the public knows who is trying to influence their vote in elections and to prevent lawmakers from abusing leadership PAC funds. It would close loopholes exploited by super PACs and dark money groups.

The bill would:

  • Stop flagrant abuse of campaign finance restrictions by strengthening coordination rules so super PACs truly operate independently from candidates for office
  • Requiring political advertisements to disclose the top donors to the organization paying for the advertisements
  • Prohibiting politicians from abusing leadership PAC funds for their personal gain by clarifying that the “personal use” restriction on campaign funds applies to all political committees, including leadership PACs

Learn more about our dark money & super PACs and leadership PAC work.