Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm as congressional lawmakers finalize an eleventh-hour omnibus bill, which observers say contains gifts to both big monied banks and donors.

Thanks to a provision slipped into the more than $1 trillion congressional funding bill, which lawmakers agreed to late Tuesday evening, wealthy donors will now be legally permitted to contribute even more funds to political parties.

“The last thing the American people want is for Congress to give big donors even more influence in politics, but that’s exactly what this provision will do.” —Nick Nyhart, Public CampaignThe behemoth spending bill funds a wide variety of government programs, from school lunches to environmental protections.

The spending package (pdf), which is expected to be voted on by before the weekend, includes a provision (see page 1599) to create three separate accounts within the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, each for reportedly different purposes such as operating costs, legal proceedings, and each party’s nominating convention.

Each donor would now be permitted to to contribute $97,200 to each fund annually, meaning that a single donor could contribute up to $324,000 per year to finance a party’s operations. For comparison, the current maximum limit a donor can give to a national party committee each year, which was set by 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, is $32,400, plus an additional $32,400 in the event of an election recount.

“This makes the Great Train Robbery look like a petty misdemeanor,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21, told the Washington Post. “These provisions have never been considered by the House or Senate, and were never even publicly mentioned before today.”

“Congress should act to reform campaign finance law, through a public debate with an eye toward increasing the electoral participation of ordinary citizens. Instead, they agreed on changes at the midnight hour increasing the power of a few wealthy people to exert outsize control over our elections and political parties.” —Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice

“The last thing the American people want is for Congress to give big donors even more influence in politics, but that’s exactly what this provision will do,” agreed Nick Nyhart, president of the election reform nonprofit Public Campaign. “The biggest donors will be able to buy more access and influence and everyone else back home will continue wondering who their elected officials are working for.”

Lawrence Norden, who heads the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said it is deplorable that such radical changes to campaign finance reform rules are being attempted without public input or broad discussion. 

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