In-Depth: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced this bill to increase campaign finance transparency by requiring real-time disclosure of donations over $1,000 to candidates and committees within 48 hours:
“Sunlight is often the best disinfectant, and the American people have a right to know who is donating to political candidates and when it happens. Electronic filing makes real-time disclosure of political donations easy and illuminating, but our current system of quarterly disclosures is behind the times. I urge my colleagues to join me updating these requirements to the 21st Century and bringing needed transparency to money in our elections.”
Common Cause, a non-partisan government watchdog group, supports this bill. Its director of legislative affairs, Aaron Scherb, says:
“With hundreds of millions of dollars in secret money spent in recent elections, Americans deserve to know who is trying to influence their voices and their votes. We commend Congressman Schneider for introducing the Real-Time Transparency Act, a common sense bill that would immediately shine a light on political spending.”
When Sen. Angus King (I-ME) introduced a bill similar to this one in 2014, a coalition of 17 organizations, including Demos, the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, and Demos, expressed their support for the bill in a joint letter to the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration:
“We [signing organizations] have many different priorities, but we all agree that the unprecedented 2014 Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, makes it imperative that a system of full, real-time transparency of money in politics be firmly established… [W]e are particularly alarmed that there is no adequate disclosure system in place so that the public can know who is doling out huge contributions in near real time and whether these large donations are buying undue influence over our elected officials. In this day and age of the Internet, there is no excuse for not having real time disclosure of large contributions to candidates and committees. On-line filing by political committees is easy and inexpensive, and the on-line filing programs are already in place. Even now some political committees are required to file large campaign expenditures within 48 hours in the last few weeks of an election, which has proved to be of little burden to the filers… We have the means, we have the technology, to make real time disclosure a reality. But to get there, Congress must make it so.”
In 2014, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) argued that restrictions on campaign contributions infringe on First Amendment rights, saying, “All people, individually and as groups, have every right to make their views known.” This, according to Sen. Roberts, includes being able to spend money in political races as a person or organization sees fit. Sen. Roberts added, “We have nothing to fear from a free marketplace of ideas. We do, however, need to fear a government empowered to investigate its own citizens for exercising their rights."
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Bills similar to this one have been introduced by various members of Congress since 2014. In the 113th Congress, then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) introduced the Real Time Transparency Act of 2014 to require 48-hour notice to the FEC of cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more from any contributor during a calendar year. Then-Rep-O’Rourke’s bill didn’t receive a committee vote. In the 114th Congress, Rep. O’Rourke reintroduced his bill, and it again failed to receive a committee vote. In the same Congress, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) introduced a Senate companion version of this bill with the support of two Democratic cosponsors, and that bill also didn’t receive a committee vote. Most recently, Rep. O’Rourke and Sen. King both reintroduced this bill in the 115th Congress, and neither bill received a committee vote.
Of Note: Under current law, most donations to candidates and committees are only disclosed via quarterly filings with the FEC. Contributions of $1,000 or more to Senate campaigns must be filed with the Secretary of State on a quarterly basis, and all other political action committee or campaign contributions of $1,000 or more must be filed with the FEC on a quarterly basis. Only contributions made within the last 20 days before an election need to be disclosed within 48 hours.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / NoDerog)