As Ezra noted in his profile of Oregon’s senior Senator, Ron Wyden’s staff have a funny-cos-it’s-true joke about their boss. “You got a problem?” they say to one another. “Ron Wyden has a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to fix it.” Well, independent campaign spending by super-PACs is, arguably, a problem. And Wyden now has a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to fix it. It’s called the Follow the Money Act of 2013, and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) signed on as a co-sponsor, it’s the first bipartisan piece of Senate legislation to address the growth of super-PACs in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The Sunlight Foundation estimates that super-PACs raised about $840 million in the 2012 election cycle, and spent $630 million of that. So far the legislative response has focused on Rep. Chris van Hollen’s (D-MD) DISCLOSE Act, which requires super-PACs and other independent spenders to notify the FEC within 24 hours of an ad buy, to disclose major corporate donors in advertisements, and for corporations to share with shareholders any corporate spending, among other requirements. However, that failed due to the filibuster back in 2010, with no Republicans voting in favor.
What sets the Wyden-Murkowski bill apart? A number of features look familiar to DISCLOSE. The funder and top three donors behind independent expenditure ads will have to disclose their names in the ads they put out. Businesses will not be able to deduct campaign spending for tax purposes. But there are some key differences. Currently, all individual donations above $200 have to be disclosed. The bill would raise that number to $1,000. Most consequentially, the bill requires the FEC to set up a real-time reporting system for independent groups and candidates. Instead of finding out how much Ron Wyden raised for his reelection campaign, and from whom, at the end of every quarter, voters would know the second the donation is made.