WASHINGTON, D.C., October 23, 2023 – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and OpenSecrets filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for failing to respond to a 2019 petition filed jointly by both organizations requesting that the agency create new disclosure rules for “special-purpose” accounts maintained by national political party committees.
Special-purpose accounts can be used to manage party headquarters, organize presidential nominating conventions and fund legal proceedings. Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) in 2014 so as to enable these accounts and allowed them to accept funds up to three times higher than the general contribution limit for national party committees (currently at $41,300 per year). These provisions, also known as the “Cromnibus” amendments, were created by an omnibus government funding package without any details on the permissible uses or reporting requirements for these accounts.
“Voters have a right to know where parties and campaigns are getting their donations from so that they can make clear-eyed assessments of ads and other communications from those entities on their way to the voting booth,” says Trevor Potter, Campaign Legal Center President and Republican former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Unfortunately, national political party committees currently have free reign to hide information about funds added to and taken from supercharged, special-purpose accounts because of the FEC’s failure to require transparency. The FEC must do its job and stop delaying voters’ access to the detailed and accurate campaign finance information they need to make informed decisions.”
“The 2024 elections are around the corner, but the FEC continues to drag its feet on creating long-overdue disclosure rules,” said Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of OpenSecrets. “OpenSecrets is proud to join Campaign Legal Center in calling on the FEC to finally ensure that voters have the information they need to understand who’s paying for our elections and to consider why. We are committed to shining a light on money in politics, and this lawsuit underscores the necessity of a transparent campaign finance system to do so. Without the FEC’s action, the American people are left in the dark about the true sources of funding behind political party committees.”
Each national party currently operates up to seven special-purpose accounts. An individual can contribute up to $247,800 per account, or over $1.7 million total, to a single party for the current two-year 2023-2024 election cycle. But inconsistent reporting practices by national party committees prompted CLC and OpenSecrets to file the 2019 rulemaking petition (linked here) with the FEC, and two subsequent comments thereafter, to require detailed reporting of all monetary transactions involving these accounts with the goal of increasing transparency.
The FEC’s non-response to CLC and OpenSecrets for over four years prompted both organizations to jointly file a lawsuit challenging the agency’s unreasonable delay in addressing this matter.
As the sole agency tasked with enforcing federal campaign finance laws, the FEC needs to provide rules that ensure national political party committees can follow the transparency requirements previously amended by FECA. The current system makes it easy for these entities to pick and choose how they report, to the detriment of a transparent and more functional electoral system.
Repeated failures by the FEC to maintain oversight over our campaign finance laws has resulted in an explosion in secret spending, rigging our politics in favor of special interests. Seeking to ensure that all Americans get the transparency they deserve, CLC and OpenSecrets are stepping up to prod the FEC into action to promote more accountability.
Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, OpenSecrets is the nation’s premier research group tracking and reporting on money in U.S. politics and its impact on elections and public policy. Created in 2021 by the merger of the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in Politics, OpenSecrets’ mission is to track the flow of money in American politics and provide the data and analysis to strengthen democracy. Our vision is for Americans to use this knowledge to create a more vibrant, representative and accountable democracy.