Three Corrupt, Dark Money Riders Must Be Removed from the Annual Spending Bills

By David Rosen

Congress has an opportunity in the next few weeks to finally do away with several harmful policies hidden in the federal budget that fuel political corruption. Three dark money policy riders were quietly attached to the annual spending legislation several years ago, and they have remained in effect ever since.

Like most poison pill riders, these measures are unpopular and highly controversial, which is why they could not become law through regular order. Instead, they were quietly added into obscure provisions of lengthy, difficult-to-read spending bills to conceal their presence with no public debate.

Measures like these have nothing to do with funding our government, and never belonged in budget or appropriations bills in the first place. But appropriators in both chambers of Congress must proactively take them out to finally get rid of them.

Public Citizen, the Bright Lines Project, the Corporate Reform Coalition, the Clean Budget Coalition, and a broad array of allies are calling on lawmakers to do just that. All three of these harmful dark money riders were tucked inside the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations package:

Corporate Political Spending Rider. This rider stops the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from finishing a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders. The absence of such a requirement deprives investors and the public of critical information needed to assess risk. Secret political spending is a huge problem that the public wants to see fixed, and shareholders deserve to understand how the companies they invest in are spending in politics. At a time when taxpayer dollars are being handed out or loaned to companies with few strings attached, this is exactly the sort of disclosure we need to combat political corruption and corporate influence in our political system.

Government Contractor Political Spending Rider. This rider stops the executive branch from requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. The public has the right to know whether companies are being awarded federal government contracts because of campaign donations or on their own merits.

Nonprofit Political Activity Rider. This rider stops the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS from setting standards for 501(c)(4) political activity that clearly define what nonprofits can and cannot do in elections. Without clear guidance, nonprofits willing to flout the rules – especially dark money groups – get a free pass. Meanwhile, the vast majority of nonprofits that want to follow our nation’s laws on nonpartisan civic engagement remain in the dark as to what is and isn’t permissible, leaving them at the mercy of potentially subjective and arbitrary enforcement. Once this rider is removed for good, the IRS can restart the rulemaking that got shut down in 2015 and finally put in place clear, understandable rules that promote civic participation and confront abuses.

The good news is that appropriators in the U.S. House have already removed these corrupt measures from the FSGG package this summer. Now appropriators in the U.S. Senate need to follow their lead.

Don’t hesitate to call or email them: Tell them to pass a clean budget that removes all the three dark money riders from this year’s appropriations package.

And don’t hesitate to post about this on social media either.

The annual spending bills are no place for policies that shield #DarkMoney spending and fuel political corruption. Congress must pass a #CleanBudget that keeps poison pill riders like these out of the federal budget process.