Advocates Sue for New Campaign Disclosure Rules
WASHINGTON — A pair of advocates for more transparency in campaign finance sued the Federal Election Commission on Monday for failing to create new disclosure rules for so-called “special-purpose” accounts maintained by national party committees.
Special-purpose accounts are vehicles that can be used to manage party headquarters, organize presidential nominating conventions and fund legal proceedings.
In 2014, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act by attaching a provision to an omnibus spending bill both to enable these accounts and allow them to accept funds up to three times higher than the general contribution limit for national party committees, currently $41,300 a year.
Five years later, the Campaign Legal Center and OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks data on campaign finance and lobbying, petitioned the FEC to create new disclosure rules for these entities, but now claim their request was summarily ignored by the agency.
“Voters have a right to know where parties and campaigns are getting their donations from so that they can make clear-eyed assessments of ads and other communications from those entities on their way to the voting booth,” said Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center, in a written statement.
Potter, who is also a former Republican chairman of the FEC, went on to say that the absence of such disclosure rules has given national political party committees “free rein to hide information about funds added to and taken from supercharged, special-purpose accounts.”
“The FEC must do its job and stop delaying voters’ access to the detailed and accurate campaign finance information they need to make informed decisions,” he said.
The groups’ lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asked the court to declare the FEC’s “ongoing failure to act” is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, and to compel the agency to make a final decision on the requested rules within 30 days.
According to a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit, the Democratic and Republican parties currently operate up to seven special-purpose accounts each.
As it stands right now, an individual can contribute up to $247,800 per account, or over $1.7 million total, to a single party for the current two-year 2023-2024 election cycle.
The Campaign Legal Center and OpenSecrets say they were compelled to file a rulemaking petition with the FEC in 2019 after noting “inconsistent reporting practices” by the two national party committees.
The petition pressed the agency to require detailed reporting of all monetary transactions involving these accounts. The goal, both the Campaign Legal Center and OpenSecrets said, was simply to increase transparency.
“Repeated failures by the FEC to maintain oversight over our campaign finance laws have resulted in an explosion in secret spending, rigging our politics in favor of special interests,” the organizations said.
“The 2024 elections are around the corner, but the FEC continues to drag its feet on creating long-overdue disclosure rules,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets, in a written statement. “We are committed to shining a light on money in politics, and this lawsuit underscores the necessity of a transparent campaign finance system to do so.
“Without the FEC’s action, the American people are left in the dark about the true sources of funding behind political party committees,” Krumholz said.