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Public Citizen Calls Upon FEC to Abide by Campaign Finance Law

August 23, 2006

Public Citizen Calls Upon FEC to Abide by Campaign Finance Law

Agency Contemplates Declaring an “Emergency” to Bring Back Some Types of Sham Issue Ads in 2006 Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today submitted comments to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denouncing as a fraud an “emergency rule” proposed by FEC Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky. The proposed rule, subject to approval by the FEC on August 29 without public comment or debate, would roll back the disclosure requirements and contribution limits that now apply to many campaign ads that will air in the 2006 congressional elections.

“This is a horrendous assault on the soft money ban and sham issue advocacy restrictions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “The Chamber of Commerce and other groups have long been fighting against reasonable limits on money in politics. They have lost before Congress and in the U.S. Supreme Court. They are now trying to convince the FEC to do their bidding for them behind closed doors.”

Earlier this year, the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and other organizations petitioned the FEC to exempt a whole class of television and radio ads from the “electioneering communications” provision of campaign finance law, known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). This includes all television and radio ads that air within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary election that discuss candidates for federal office and target those candidates’ voting constituencies. The campaign finance law requires sponsors of these ads to pay for them with money subject to the contribution limits of the law and disclose who is paying. The petition asks the FEC to exempt certain ads that address legislative issues and name incumbent candidates as “grassroots lobbying” ads rather than campaign ads.

Many of these exempted ads would constitute “sham issue ads,” which were common prior to passage of the BCRA. Corporations and special interest groups wanting to use money otherwise illegal in federal elections without disclosing the sources of that money would run television and radio ads praising or attacking candidates on politically sensitive issues immediately before an election. They labeled them “issue ads” that fall outside campaign finance regulations for campaign ads, even though they were designed to bolster specific candidates.

In 2002, Congress passed BCRA to rein in all such ads under federal disclosure requirements and contribution limits. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld BCRA as a reasonable means to ensure the integrity of campaign contribution limits and the public’s right to know who is paying for electioneering ads.

“After taking no action on the Chamber of Commerce’s petition for six months, a sweeping new rule to poke a major loophole in the law is suddenly offered under the guise of emergency regulation to take effect immediately with no public comment or debate,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen. “This fabricated emergency procedure violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which mandates public notice and comment for new regulations, except under extraordinary circumstances.”

To read Public Citizen’s comments, visit: http://www.CleanUpWashington.org/documents/Comment.pdf.