Congressional Leaders: FEC Should Allow Political Organizations to Fully Participate in Elections
Washington, D.C.-In a letter sent this week, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Whip Steny Hoyer, Representatives John Larson, Jan Schakowsky, and 50 other Democratic Members of Congress, most of whom voted for the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA), wrote to the Federal Election Commission to emphasize that when they voted for the law, they did not intend to impose the same restrictions on independent political organizations that the law requires of federal elected officials and candidates.
The lawmakers said that they voted to prohibit federal elected officials and political parties from raising and spending soft money because those large donations could have a corrosive influence on federal policymakers. But BCRA did not impose similar restrictions on independent political organizations because their fundraising does not have a direct influence on policymakers, so does not warrant restricting the exercise of their First Amendment rights to engage in political activities such as voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote drives. In fact, the Members said, they hoped the BCRA would reinvigorate grassroots participation.
"While we do not express an opinion about the actions the Commission may or may not take, we expect the Commission, as an independent agency, to exercise its authority consistent with the law and the Constitutional rights of the citizenry to fully participate in the political process by way of political organizations," the Members wrote. "And while the Commission may choose to impose new restrictions on the programs and activities of these groups, such restrictions should be applied fairly and consistently, and the agency should not proceed on the basis of some misperceived mandates from Congress, which some have read into the McCain-Feingold legislation."
The following is the full text of the letter:
February 10, 2004
Federal Election Commission
999 "E" Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20463
We are aware that the Commission may soon address questions regarding get-out-the-vote, voter registration, and other activities conducted by political organizations (other than political parties) and public-advocacy groups. We note from the public discussion that various claims have been made that the McCain-Feingold legislation (BCRA) is the basis for these initiatives. One Commissioner, in a recent letter to Roll Call, stated:
"At the very least, serious questions exist whether outside groups are circumventing the McCain-Feingold law, and these questions must be addressed. In the weeks ahead, it will be critical that the sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law indicate whether or not they believe outside tax-exempt groups can legally spend unlimited soft money on election-related activities in the place of the national political parties under the new law." (Roll Call, January 27, 2004 at page 4).
We are writing to say for the record that, when we voted for BCRA, we voted to get federal elected officials and political parties out of the business of raising and spending soft money-monies that presented the clearest danger of creating the fact or appearance of corruption in our government. The law did not aim similar restrictions at other political organizations or public-advocacy groups, so long as they are neither controlled by, nor coordinate their activities with political parties, candidates, office holders, or their agents. In fact, it was our hope that BCRA would reinvigorate grassroots organizations to participate in the political process.
Whatever direction the Commission takes, BCRA reflects, in very clear and specific terms, the choices enacted by Congress to reform our federal campaign finance laws. While we do not express an opinion about actions the Commission may or may not take, we expect the Commission, as an independent agency, to exercise its authority consistent with the law and the Constitutional rights of the citizenry to fully participate in the political process by way of political organizations. And while the Commission may choose to impose new restrictions on the programs and activities of these groups, such restrictions should be applied fairly and consistently, and the agency should not proceed on the basis of some misperceived mandates from Congress, which some have read into the McCain-Feingold legislation.
John B. Larson
Janice D. Schakowsky
John W. Olver
Robert A. Brady
Carolyn C. Kilpatrick
Eddie Bernice Johnson
Stephanie Tubbs Jones
Carolyn B. Maloney
John F. Tierney