On Thursday, September 18, 2014, Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced H.R. 5641, legislation to shut down individual-candidate Super PACs and strengthen the laws that prohibit outside groups from coordinating their activities with candidates and parties.
The legislation is a standalone bill that contains the provisions dealing with Super PACs and coordination that are also found in the more comprehensive Empowering Citizens Act (H.R 270), introduced last year by Representatives Price and Van Hollen. (A summary of the Super PAC and coordination previsions in HR. 5641 is included in the summary of H.R. 270.)
H.R 270 is the most comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation pending in Congress. In addition to its individual-candidate Super PAC and coordination restrictions, H.R 270 would repair the presidential public financing system and establish a new small donor, public matching funds system for congressional races.
Individual-candidate Super PACs have exploded in the 2014 congressional races, with 73 such Super PACs currently in existence, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Given this development, Representatives Price and Van Hollen introduced a separate bill on this issue last week to help educate the public and to focus national attention on the fact that there is a solution to this dangerous problem – that individual-candidate Super PACs can be shut down.
The basic purpose of an individual-candidate Super PAC is to allow candidates and their donors to circumvent and eviscerate the candidate contribution limits, enacted by Congress to prevent corruption. Since individual-candidate Super PACs are so closely tied to the candidate they support, the unlimited contributions given to the Super PAC are, as a practical matter, the same as contributions given directly to the candidate.
The Super PAC and coordination provisions contained in H.R 5641 and in H.R. 270 were first proposed by Representatives Price and Van Hollen in the original Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 6448) they introduced in 2012.
Democracy 21 worked closely with Representatives Price and Van Hollen to develop the Super PAC and coordination provisions and the organization is currently developing a model bill based on these provisions for use in state and local reform efforts.
Senator Jon Tester is considering introducing a companion Senate version of the Price-Van Hollen Super PAC and coordination restrictions when Congress returns after the election.
In a recent editorial, The Washington Post (September 3, 2014) stated about individual-candidate Super PACs, “Two years ago, we suggested these super PACs could be put out of their misery by legislation sponsored by Reps. David E. Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and it is still a good idea. There are more of these super beasts than ever.”
A The New York Times editorial this year (February 16, 2014) stated that the Price-Van Hollen bill’s individual-candidate Super PAC provisions represent “the best chance for ridding politics of special-interest cash and preventing another era of scandal.”
Individual-candidate Super PACs make unlimited expenditures of unlimited contributions. They differ from other Super PACs in two important ways: they support only one candidate and they are generally run by close political or personal associates or family members of the candidate.
Individual-candidate Super PACs claim to be independent from the candidate, but that is a fiction. In reality, these Super PACs are closely tied to the candidate they support and they function as an operating arm of the candidate’s campaign. Wealthy donors, corporations and other contributors use these Super PACs as vehicles to make unlimited contributions to directly support the candidate backed by the Super PAC.