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Political Law Developments to Watch For in 2013

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The Election of 2012 demonstrated in the starkest possible terms how formerly unheralded nuances of federal election and tax law have the capacity to affect the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy in the most direct way possible.  Never before have the nation’s editorial pages and cable news airways been more active with analysis of the myriad ways in which the laws regulating SuperPACs, lobbying and campaign finance affected electoral results and are in need of reform.

Change is coming, and the savvy will recognize that the manifestation of this change – in whatever form it takes – will affect politicians, businesses, and activists alike.  It is with this reality in mind that the Politics, Law and Policy Blog has devoted this corner of its home page to regular analysis of these pending developments in the field of Political Law and Campaign Finance.

To initiate this project we examine the competing roadmaps to reform that have been revealed since the election.  The highest profile of which was launched November 13 by an organization known as “United Republic”.  This group boasts a diverse Board of Advisors representing Wall Street, the Occupy Movement, Jack Abramoff, former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman Trevor Potter, academics, nonprofits and political operatives.  Their proposal, the American Anti-Corruption Act, provides a strong starting point to the roadmap of reform that will be debated over the coming two years.  Specifically, United Republic calls for the following series of reforms:

  • Mandate total transparency on all organizations and their donors spending $10,000 or more on political advocacy.
  • Impose severe restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to contribute to, or raise money for, Members of Congress, with a $500 cap on contributions, a ban on lobbyist bundling, and a requirement that lawmakers recuse themselves from committee hearings if they have received a contribution from a lobbyist or a lobbyist client that has a particular interest in that hearing.  Think of this as a pay-to-play law for lobbyists.
  • Expand the definition of the term “federal lobbyist” to capture greater “consulting” activities by insiders (referred to derisively by United Republic as “historical advisors”).
  • Promote small dollar, grassroots contributions by giving every citizen a $100 tax rebate for contribution to a federal candidate, party or political committee.
  • Mandate full disclosure of all campaign funds and lobbying activities.
  • Extend “cooling off” prohibitions on retiring lawmakers and senior congressional staffers to five years before those “insiders” can become a lobbyist.
  • Create a task force to examine reforms to the Federal Election Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the congressional ethics process; and
  • Impose caps on contributions to SuperPACs and impose stricter “coordination” rules between SuperPACs and political campaigns.

Additionally, numerous groups are expected to call for reintroduction of the DISCLOSE Act (mandating increased disclosure of corporate political activity) and public finance of campaigns as an alternative to the status quo.

This will be the battlefield in the coming year.  As developments in the field of Political Law warrant, we will be discussing them in this space so be sure to check in often for updates.