Dark money: Bill to ID backers of political ads sent to Congress

(CN) – A bipartisan, bicoastal group of congressmen introduced a bill Wednesday to the U.S. House of Representatives to increase accountability for campaign spending.

The Political Accountability and Transparency Act, or H.R. 7267, seeks to mitigate the codependence of super PACs and political candidates by forcing television, radio and online campaign ads, as well as other canvassing materials, to disclose their top donors.

“For too long, we’ve allowed outside money to play an outsized and arcane role in our politics, blurring the lines between special interest groups and the candidates they support,” Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said in a statement. Rice co-sponsored the bill with Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., who serve with her as co-chairs of the Congressional Reformers Caucus.

“The Political Accountability and Transparency Act will close some of the most gaping loopholes in our campaign finance laws by increasing restrictions and reporting requirements for outside groups,” Rice added. “This bipartisan bill will help finally restore integrity and trust in our nation’s political process.”

Proposed as an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the bill calls for the top three donors of an ad to be named within the ad itself, whether those donors are nonprofits, political action committees or companies. The bill also provides examples of prescribed language for these disclosures.

“If the transmission includes an audio component, the information required under paragraph (1) shall include, in a clearly spoken manner, the following audio statement: ‘Top funders include [blank],’ with the blank filled in with the names of the persons on the Top Three Funders list,” the bill says.

In their statements, Gallagher and Kilmer both framed the bill as shining a light on what is, as Kilmer put it, “the murky world of dark money.”

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Kilmer said, quoting the famous line from the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

Gallagher added: “The American people deserve to know who is spending hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle to influence their vote and muddy our politics.”

The Political Accountability and Transparency Act would also tighten restrictions on misuse of PAC funds amid reports that some in Congress, thanks to a loophole in PAC spending rules, have used that money for fancy dinners, luxury vacations and country club memberships.

“Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling campaign ads. And it would seem obvious that lawmakers shouldn’t be using donors’ PAC money to fund golf memberships, trips to five-star resorts, and Disney World vacations,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission, in a statement.

In addition, the bill tightens restrictions on the loophole practice in Washington of coordinating campaign expenditures without designating them as such, as coordinated expenditures are capped but independent expenditures are not.

For example, under H.R. 7267, if someone left a job in the office of a representative or a senator for a new position at a PAC and then used the knowledge from the congressional office to help direct the PAC’s funding, those funds would face more restrictions than they do currently.

Potter said that both sides of the aisle are supportive of funding transparency and slashing slush funds.

The bill was referred Wednesday to the House Committee on House Administration. A Democratic majority takes control of Congress on Jan. 3.