Possible Millions in Dark Money Unleashed for Individual Political Campaigns
Republicans have long sought to change campaign finance laws that restrict the ways in which money can be spent during political campaigns. A new lawsuit may do just that.
The suit, filed in November 2022 by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), would remove requirements for those committees and their Democratic equivalents relating to independent expenditure operations and televised ads.
“What they’re trying to do is just pry open another barn door to get very large unlimited contributions toward candidates,” argues Democrat Tom Moore. “This is money that they don’t have to raise in small-dollar increments from actual voters.”
Moore is a former employee of the Federal Election Commission (the defendant in the case) who currently works for the Center for American Progress.
Under current campaign finance laws, the NRCC and its Democratic equivalent can spend between $59,000 and $119,000 in direct coordination with candidates. The NRSC and its Democratic equivalent can spent between $119,000 and $3.6 million. Anything additional falls under the category of “independent expenditure operations.”
In political elections, an “independent expenditure” refers to a payment for a communication that directly supports or opposes a candidate but is not made at the behest of that candidate or their team. There are ways around these rules, but the process is inconvenient and time consuming.
Eliminating these restrictions would dramatically increase the committees’ spending power, allow them to purchase TV air time at the much lower rate offered to individual candidates, and grant more direct influence to large donors. There would be little impact on the average voter, who may notice an increase in TV adds designed by a candidate’s own campaign rather than by an allied group.
“This is something that we have complained about for a long time,” says Nathan Klein, a former leader within the NRSC. “We’re going to spend the money anyhow, but all we’re doing is making the message less resonant. Voters deserve to hear from the candidate.”
Though these changes would benefit committees of all political affiliations, Republicans (who have historically failed to match Democrats in small-dollar fundraising) are particularly excited by the opportunity to access committee cash directly.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” adds NRSC General Counsel Ryan Dollar. “For decades, these limits on party-candidate coordination have hamstrung both parties’ ability to do exactly what they are meant to do: robustly support their candidates.”
The fate of the lawsuit rests in the hands of Ohio District Judge Douglas Cole, a Trump-appointee who announced an unusually fast discovery period for the case earlier this month and dismissed the FEC’s plea to move the suit to a federal court in Washington, DC. Cole is expected to decide by November whether to send the lawsuit to the conservative-majority 6th Circuit Court for review or dismiss it entirely.
Author’s Note: The media is framing this as a massive win for Republicans ahead of the 2024 election, but the question is whether these changes will make the election system more corrupt or less so.