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Political Spending Sets New Records During Tumultuous Year

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In March, a federal judge agreed with Van Hollen that FEC disclosure requirements for outside groups running issue ads are too lax.

April 2: California Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee pleads guilty to embezzling more than $7 million from dozens, and possibly hundreds, of clients’ accounts.

April 22: The leading super PAC backing Obama, Priorities USA Action, seeks help from former President Bill Clinton to help it offset the substantial fundraising advantage enjoyed by pro-GOP super PACs


May 16: Van Hollen wins another court victory when a U.S. appeals court panel rejects a conservative challenge to the federal appeals court’s March ruling that the FEC must rewrite its disclosure rules.

May 30: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announces that, in light of the pro-disclosure federal court rulings, it will steer clear of the types of ads subject to the tighter reporting rules.


June 12: The FEC permits campaign donations via text message.

June 20: Angered by reports that the IRS is scrutinizing politically active nonprofits, 11 GOP senators write to the agency to warn it to back off and stay out of political territory.

June 21: In a final blow to the post-Watergate presidential public financing system, the Senate votes to ban the use of federal public funding to help underwrite the national party conventions.

June 24: The Supreme Court rejects an attempt by the state of Montana to limit corporate political spending. The state had defended its corporate spending ban in court challenges to the high court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling. But in a 5-4 ruling reaffirming the Supreme Court’s commitment to Citizens United, the high court reversed a lower court ruling that had upheld Montana’s corporate spending ban.


July 16: The Democrat-authored DISCLOSE Act is blocked in the Senate amid unanimous GOP opposition.

July 23: In response to their numerous complaints, the IRS tells Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center that it “is aware of the current public interest” in undisclosed political activity by tax-exempt groups and “will consider proposed changes in this area” as it works on regulations.


Aug. 2: In a victory for transparency advocates, the FEC begins posting information about political ad buys in the nation’s biggest TV markets directly to the Internet. The electronic postings, previously limited to hard copy, had been challenged unsuccessfully in court by broadcasters.

Aug. 29: In a forum on Reddit, Obama declares that Americans “need to seriously consider” a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling.


Sept. 5: In another sign pro-Democrat super PACs remain outgunned by their GOP counterparts, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares to leave his post as the Obama campaign’s honorary chairman to raise money for Priorities USA Action.

Sept. 12: Van Hollen’s winning streak ends when a federal appeals court reverses previous lower court rulings that had upheld his challenge to the FEC’s disclosure regulations. The ruling again gives outside groups more freedom to run campaign-style issue ads without revealing their donors.


Oct. 26: Chevron Corp. donates $2.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backing House Republicans. The donation draws notice because super PACs in 2012 have been mostly backed by individual wealthy donors, not corporations.


Nov. 5: Outside political spending tops $1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than three times what outside groups spent in the 2008 presidential election. CRP also predicts that total 2012 spending will reach $6 billion.

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