This is the third in a five-part series educating the public about the benefits of passing the For the People Act.
Nothing seems to tame the power of money in politics.”Bill Moyers
The damage done by the disastrous Citizens United decision, which the Brennan Center for Justice called “a controversial decision that reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections,” will not be quickly undone, but the For the People Act (FTPA) lays the groundwork for our political recovery. The FTPA’s Disclosure Act requires dark money super PACs to disclose their donors, limiting the influence of anonymous money in our federal politics.
Before we get too far into this discussion, let’s define some terms. According to Open Secrets, “dark money” refers to spending meant to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed. This allows domestic and foreign bad actors to influence our elections without their involvement being made public.
When we look at the influence of big money in politics, we need to explain PACs and super PACs and discuss the difference between the two. Here’s a short video which does that:
If you prefer reading to watching a video, here are the basics:
A PAC is a political action committee that can give $5,000 to a candidate’s campaign per election (primary, general, or special). Each calendar year, PACs can also give up to $15,000 to any national party committee and $5,000 to any other PAC, and they may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party organization. So while PACs have some limits on the donations they give, because they can donate to super PACs and other PACs, these rules are easy to get around.
Super PACs, however, may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other PACs for the purpose of financing expenditures and other independent political activity. The super PAC may not use those funds to make contributions to federal candidates or committees. So there are no contribution or spending limits on super PACs, but they are not supposed to make contributions directly to, nor coordinate with, candidates or their campaigns.
As you can see, there are many ways that large corporations, foreign countries and wealthy individuals can exert an excessive impact on elections. In the past, super PACs have spent millions on deceptive commercials that often include blatant lies. Something must be done to stop their outsized influence on our democracy, and the For the People Act includes specific provisions that will make a real difference in the role of big money in politics.
The FTPA takes action to close the major loopholes responsible for dark money and make other related changes to protect the integrity of the U.S. political system, including reducing the influence of foreign entities. The bill requires that any organization making a federal campaign contribution or expenditure first certify that no foreign nationals were involved in the relevant decision-making process. It also clarifies that the ban on foreign national campaign spending applies to measures on the ballot, such as propositions. Loopholes that have permitted dark money groups to keep the donors who fund their campaign spending secret will be closed by the FTPA.
There will be much greater transparency in the way money is collected to support political candidates if the FTPA is passed. The bill requires disclosure of all donors who gave at least $10,000 during an election cycle. Before Election Day, political committees must disclose to the Federal Elections Commission any contributions of $5,000 or more that they receive in the 20 days prior to Election Day.
Another provision of the FTPA will require nonprofits to disclose the donors who fund their political activities. If they don’t provide this information, they could lose their tax-exempt status.
The For the People Act will make hugely significant changes to the way big money can spend their funds on political advertisements. This bill will require outside groups, such as super PACs that purchase political advertisements, to disclose their top donors and chief officials in a disclaimer as part of the ad. The FTPA will ensure that “paid for” disclaimers on online ads disclose “in a clear and conspicuous manner” who paid for and authorized the advertisements.
The bill will also obligate online platforms with at least 50 million unique monthly U.S. visitors to create a database of all requests they receive to purchase political advertisements, including a copy of the ad, the ad’s targeted audience and number of views, the rate charged for the ad and the ad’s purchaser. This requirement should make powerful platforms like Facebook much more careful about the political ads they allow. An important part of this bill will extend disclosure requirements to ads seeking to influence federal judicial nominations, which is especially urgent because federal judges are appointed for their lifetime.
The For the People Act will protect our right to cast free and fair ballots by taking giant steps to get big money out of politics. It’s what we need to save our democracy from the people, corporations and foreign countries that have been doing their best to buy our elections.
The overflow of big money in politics drowns out the voices of everyday people. That is part of the conundrum in America: The more money you have the more speech you have. That leaves everyday people out of the equation.”Nina Turner
All this week DemCast is focusing on educating the public about the benefits of the For the People Act and the urgent need to pass the bill in order to protect our democracy. To catch up on all articles, just click the links:
- Monday: Protecting the Freedom to Vote
- Tuesday: End Partisan and Racial Gerrymandering
- Thursday: Election Security
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