With a 92-6 Senate vote, Congress has passed the first campaign finance reform legislation in 21 years. The Full and Fair Campaign Finance Disclosure Act of 2000, introduced in the Senate by longtime campaign-reform advocate John McCain, R-Ariz., was approved by the Senate June 29 after clearing the House shortly after midnight on June 28.
The legislation, written by Representative Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., addresses stealth political organizations that run thinly veiled issue-oriented campaigns about federal candidates and have not had to disclose their identity, the contributions they received or the expenditures they have made. The bill was rushed through the Senate for a vote after debate about whether greater disclosure would be possible for all groups running political advertisements, according to the Secretary of the Senates office.
Believing that including a greater number of groups would cost the measure support, the Senate Republican leadership opted to push through the more narrowly tailored Houghton bill.
Voting against the final measure were Republican Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Connie Mack of Florida, Don Nickles and James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Paul Coverdell of Georgia.
President Clinton has said he would sign the measure. At a Democratic fund-raiser on June 28, he said: “Getting the disclosure of these secret committees is a big deal for America. This could really influence the outcome of some of the elections this year and more importantly it could ratify a principle that we all, in both parties, say we believe in, which is full disclosure.’
The law will require political groups created under the Internal Revenue Code Section 527 to file a statement of organization with the IRS within 24 hours of being created and force them to report their activity monthly during the election cycle. The law will also force all Section 527 groups to disclose contributions over $200 and expenditures over $500 if they spend more than $25,000 on election-related activity.
The Center for Public Integrity has been one of the few organizations to track 527 groups and document their campaign activity. The Center has documented more than 20 such groups that are politically active in the 2000 campaign, and reported on the various proposals considered by Congress.
Disclosure will be required effective with the presidents signature. All groups formed after that point must comply. Any donations received by 527s that already exist will begin to be reported to the Treasury Department on September 15.