Levin Floor Statement on GOP Bill Supporting Secret Campaign Money in Federal Elections

Jun 14, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today delivered the following remarks on the House Floor in opposition to H.R. 5053, a Koch brothers-backed bill that would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from collecting the identity of donors who contribute to tax-exempt organizations:

(Remarks as delivered)

“The Republican Majority believes the more hidden money in politics, the better. Freedom of speech, they say, requires more and more dark money, or that Democracy requires the ability of a few key people to write a $100 million check without anyone knowing who signed it.

“As a Koch brothers executive claimed: Americans have the right to ‘anonymous free speech.’

“And this bill now would help extend that anonymity to foreign individuals who contribute in violation of our laws.

“We have a crisis in our campaign system – tens of millions of dollars are being spent without full disclosure – so our constituents cannot make their own judgments about who is influencing our elections. To make matters worse, many of the organizations now doing the spending are organized under our tax code as groups allegedly engaged in social welfare activities.

“According to the Center for Responsive Politics, political spending by tax-exempt groups in the current election cycle is five times the amount spent at this point during the 2012 cycle.

“Spending during the 2012 presidential election cycle by 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s soared to more than $300 million, up from $100 million in 2008 and just $6 million in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“And the three largest 501(c)(4) spenders from the 2012 cycle – representing fully 51% of the total – have special meaning the Majority. They include Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which spent $71 million; Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers, spent $36 million; and the American Future Fund, also the Koch brothers, spent $25 million.

“It is little wonder that the Koch brothers sent a letter to the Ways and Means Committee Republican Members the morning our committee marked up this bill in April, urging support of this legislation. It seeks to codify the secrecy around donations to social welfare organizations for political purposes.

“So Republicans are here today to continue their attack on the IRS and their drive to further undermine our campaign finance system.

“This legislation removes the last safeguard against foreign governments and foreign individuals from influencing our elections. Currently, foreign money cannot be legally given or spent in our elections. And the only real protection we have against the use of foreign money by politically active social welfare organizations is that they must disclose their donors to the IRS. This requirement means that tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) groups know they can be held accountable if they illegally spend foreign money in federal elections. 

“Thirteen key campaign finance reform and government transparency groups, including Democracy 21 and Common Cause, have written to Congress strongly opposing this bill. In their letter, they state the ‘bill would open the door wide for secret money from foreign donors to be illegally laundered into federal elections through 501(c)(4) and other 501(c) groups. … House Members should vote against eliminating the existing check against foreign countries, foreign companies and foreign individuals spending money illegally to influence our elections.’

“This legislation would eliminate that protection. 

“The Administration opposes this bill. In its Statement of Administration Policy, it states: ‘By permanently preventing the IRS from requiring reporting of donor information by 501(c) organizations, H.R. 5053 would constrain the IRS in enforcing tax laws and reduce the transparency of private foundations.’

“Therefore, I strongly urge a no vote.”