The House Administration Committee yesterday took a major step toward enacting the first changes to the last round of campaign-finance reforms by passing a bill doing away with some limits on donations to political parties and candidates.
Lawmakers struggled to come up with a solution that would provide the right amount of regulation for so-called "527s" -- tax-exempt, private political groups named for the Internal Revenue Service code provision that sanctions their existence -- and alter the 2002 law to give parties and political action committees a fair hand in competing with them.
"The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) threw our federal campaign system out of balance when it passed three years ago," said Chairman Bob Ney, Ohio Republican. "BCRA did not ban soft money, but merely diverted its flow. Power and influence were shifted to unaccountable, ideologically driven outside groups, and our political parties were weakened as a result."
Reps. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, and Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, proposed removing the $101,400 aggregate limit on the amount that aperson can contribute to candidates, to state and national parties and to political action committees in an election cycle.
The proposal also would remove caps on the money that party committees can spend in coordination with candidates. Coordinated expenditures are now limited to $10,000 for House races and $20,000 for Senate races.
All those contributions are considered hard money, while money from corporations and unions is called soft money.
The bill also lets tax-exempt groups engage in "electioneering communications" on equal terms with 527 groups. It further permits state and local party committees to use nonfederal funds for voter-registration activities and sample ballots for federal candidates.
Mr. Ney included those provisions in a broader bill that also exempts Web sites, blogs and online advertisements from regulation under the federal campaign-finance law, forces 527 groups to disclose their donors and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission and bans contributions from foreign nationals.
The bill also raises limits on people's donations to political action committees (PACs) from $5,000 per year to $7,500 per year and increases the amount that PACs can contribute to national party committees from $15,000 per year to $25,000 per year.
Committee Democrats opposed the legislation, saying it would give wealthy donors undue influence on federal elections and counteract not only BCRA, commonly called the McCain-Feingold bill, but also the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act.
"The American people are sick and tired of the money put into political campaigns to try to influence elections," said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat.
She said the bill essentially would deregulate donations and could allow a person to give up to $2 million in hard dollars.
Mr. Pence and Mr. Wynn said the assertion that the bill would deregulate hard money contributions is erroneous and unfair.
Both said the bill retains all hard-dollar limits to candidates, but removes artificial caps on the total that a person can give and allows the parties to distribute it to grass-roots organizations.