Under $1-trillion spending bill, political donors could give more

Under $1-trillion spending bill, political donors could give more
Congress will vote this week on a $1-trillion spending plan that would avert a U.S. government shutdown. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Advocates for campaign finance reform on Wednesday were mounting a counter-charge against a provision in a massive federal spending bill that would largely shred the limits on how much wealthy donors could give to party committees.

The provision, buried on Page 1,599 of the 1,603-page bill, could mean that donors could give a total of $777,600 each year to various party committees, according to lawyers who've studied the proposal. Currently, donors can give $32,400 to each party committee.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday defended the provision, saying it will help parties raise money for political conventions to replace the public funding eliminated by Congress. And he said it wasn't wrong for Congress to tack on such important changes – another one would weaken bank regulations - in a giant end-of-year spending package.

"Understand, all these provisions in this bill have been worked out in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion, or they wouldn't be in the bill," Boehner said at a news conference.

Reform advocates, along with some prominent Democrats, immediately attacked the measure as a backroom deal that will increase the flood of big checks funding campaigns.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday assailed the addition as "destructive" and directed blame toward Republicans.

"The package includes a provision that would work to drown out the voices of the American people and massively expand the role of big money in our elections. These provisions are destructive to middle class families and to the practice of our democracy. We must get them out of the omnibus package," Pelosi said in a statement.

Jan Baran, a Washington election lawyer who represents Republicans, called the bill "a good start toward restoring some party funding. But he said it still carries too many restrictions, because most of the extra money can be used for only limited purposes – funding conventions, paying for new buildings and for funds to pay lawyers during recounts.

"It's not a terribly appealing proposition for a donor  - 'Won't you give us money to help fund our recount?''' Baran said.

Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonprofit Democracy 21, castigated the addition to the spending bill, saying it could lead to corruption.

"It is only millionaires and billionaires who can give these huge, corrupting contributions," he said. "In fact, some millionaires could not even afford to give these massive contributions."