Big Money Riders Threaten Spending Bill’s Passage

Illinois is no stranger to the influence of moneyed special interests in our elections. The 2018 gubernatorial race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in history. And this spring’s Democratic primary saw small-donor funded and campaign finance reform champion, Daniel Biss, lose to Hyatt hotel heir J.B. Pritzker, who poured $100 million of his own money into the race. Pritzker’s Republican opponent, Governor Bruce Rauner, is not far behind with a $30 million price tag for his campaign so far.

Our country is under the thumb of wealthy special interests, especially the big banks. Despite the fact that most regular Americans are still recovering from the 2008 Wall Street crash, Congress approved a major rollback of financial industry safeguards in May. Even though our elections keep getting more expensive and we know that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, Congress still refuses to fix our broken campaign finance system. Now, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are poised to make things even worse.

Republican lawmakers have attached 50 separate banking deregulation bills to the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations package that is slated for a vote on the House floor this week. These poison pill policy riders have nothing at all to do with funding our government and would do enormous harm to investors, borrowers and taxpayers.

One provision adds an entirely new banking agency where wayward bankers could appeal investigative findings by any of the existing financial regulatory agencies, forcing those investigations to begin again from scratch. Other poisonous riders would weaken enforcement of the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from gambling with taxpayer backed deposits, and restrict the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ability to safeguard Illinois consumers and consumers everywhere from financial predators.

The FSGG spending bill also contains measures blocking campaign finance laws. One would block the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from finalizing a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders and the public – a rule supported by more than 1.2 million investors and citizens. Another ideological rider would stop the IRS from enforcing current law that prohibits churches from getting too closely involved in electoral politics. Worse, another provision stops the IRS from creating a clear definition of “political activity” for nonprofits.

As the ranking member on the FSGG appropriations subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) already has spoken out against harmful policy riders like these. It is important that he continue to do so, particularly as the appropriations process moves into its final stages in the weeks ahead.

The U.S. Senate’s version of the FSGG bill is free from some of the worst harmful riders, reflecting Senate Republicans’ desire to return to regular order and the recognition that poison pills riders are a major obstacle to any final deal. The House and Senate bills soon will be reconciled in a rarely-seen conference committee. The voices of House lawmakers, especially top appropriators like Quigley, will give added leverage to the conference committee members who are fighting to remove poison pill riders from the final bill.

Now is the time for Quigley to speak out and for voters who care about getting our politics out from under the thumb of big money to make their voices heard.

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Curley is the democracy associate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. She grew up in Chicago.