A variety of loopholes exist in America’s outdated campaign laws that undermine the bedrock constitutional values of accountability and transparency, eroding the public’s faith in our political system.
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 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, dark money groups that do not have to disclose their donors burst onto the political stage. Since then, these secretive groups have spent more than $1 billion in our elections. The laws governing campaign finance transparency have their origins in the 1970s and are outdated. This undermines the public’s right to know who is trying to influence their vote and opens the doors to foreigners who want to try to use dark money groups to illegally influence U.S. elections.
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 ostensibly to make campaign contributions to other candidates but are, today, too often used as “slush funds” that allow lobbyists and other special interests to influence members of Congress who are supposed to be overseeing their industries and not constantly “dialing for dollars.”
The Political Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), introduced in several 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 also close loopholes being 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.
- Require political advertisements to disclose the top donors to the organization paying for the advertisements.
- Prohibit 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.