rules-of-the-game

Presidential Hopefuls Skirt FEC Rules | Rules of the Game

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s political organization is opening  a campaign office for him in Iowa. Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is meeting with major donors and hosting dozens of fundraisers around the country. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former senator, secretary of State and first lady, is quietly hand-picking a team of high-level advisers to run her anticipated White House bid.  

Yet none of these presidential hopefuls has officially declared their candidacy or even announced plans to test the waters of a White House run. That’s given them free rein to raise money through a crazy quilt of campaign-style committees, from tax-exempt issue groups to personal leadership political action committees, unrestricted super PACs, foundations and political organizations. Oversight is scant and disclosure spotty.  

IRS Wars Heat Up | Rules of the Game

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Both Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration have brought fresh artillery to their war over the IRS and its policing of politically active tax-exempt groups.  

GOP leaders are taking advantage of their new Senate majority and expanded House ranks to step up ongoing probes into IRS targeting of 501(c)4 social welfare groups, including tea party organizations. Republicans in both chambers have also introduced legislation that would block the IRS from issuing any new regulations to constrain political activity by tax-exempt groups until early 2017. The Stop Targeting Political Beliefs by the IRS Act would “halt further action on the IRS’ proposed targeting regulations until the Justice Department and congressional investigating into the IRS’ previous targeting are complete,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said when introducing the bill last month with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. An identical House bill was introduced by Reps. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. and Peter Roskam, R-Ill.  

Anti-Disclosure Backlash Carries Risks for GOP

At a private gathering of conservative political donors last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded the state of American elections today, which he described as more deregulated than at any point in recent memory.  

“We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times,” McConnell, then the Senate Republican leader, told donors gathered at the annual retreat organized by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.  

Parties Poised to Exploit Broad New Rules | Rules of the Game

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When Congress moved quietly late last year to permit much larger contributions to the political parties, some experts cast the rules change as, at best, an improvement on the old system, and, at worst, inconsequential.  

“This isn’t going to be a game changer for big money in politics,” Jonathan Bernstein, political scientist and columnist, said of the higher limits . The limits now allow an individual to give as much as $1.7 million to the parties in one election cycle — an exponential increase over the previous per-cycle cap of $64,800.  

Fresh Round of Controversies for IRS

Tester is the latest Democrat to propose legislation aimed at shedding more light on politically active tax-exempt groups. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The IRS faces growing pressure from critics on both sides of the aisle to come to grips with the role that tax-exempt "dark money" groups play in elections.  

The challenge for the beleaguered IRS, which is bracing for a fresh round of controversies early in 2015, is that Republicans and Democrats regard both the problem and the solution in starkly opposing terms.  

Money Dominates Committee and Leadership Races | Rules of the Game

Boehner and Pelosi are fundraising titans in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House members finalize their senior leadership and committee posts, money is playing a decisive role in who occupies — and retains — the chamber’s seats of power.  

Once determined by seniority alone, chairmanships and leadership spots are now just as much a function of which member can raise the most money for colleagues and party committees. Chairmen and leaders also scoop up the most contributions, often from lobbyists with business before them, cementing their seniority. The upshot is a system that’s remarkably resistant to change.  

Republicans Join Attacks on Big Money | Rules of the Game

Sullivan is calling for an end to outside spending. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate candidate warned that voters’ voices are being “drowned out” by “third-party special interest groups with unlimited spending capability,” and called on his opponent to help him bar big outside spenders from the race.  

Another Democrat parroting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attacks on secret campaign spending? Actually, the Senate hopeful railing against political money was Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who sought — without success — to convince incumbent Democrat Mark Begich to sign a pledge to stop the outside money flooding in.  

FEC Rulemakings Roil Agency, Critics | Rules of the Game

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Is the Federal Election Commission a dysfunctional agency deaf to voters fed up with loophole-riddled campaign finance rules? Or is it a newly revived organization making unprecedented moves to invite a wide-ranging public debate over its regulations?  

The answer may be both. In a fit of productivity on Oct. 9, the FEC managed to outrage its critics, thrill political party leaders, send election lawyers scrambling and break out once again into public bickering. It was an abrupt departure from the months and even years of partisan deadlock that have rendered the FEC incapable of settling even the most routine enforcement disputes. Advocates of political money restrictions have long decried the FEC’s paralysis, but they are even more irate now that the agency has finally sprung into action. Most controversial was the FEC’s move to essentially double the maximum that donors may contribute to the Republican and Democratic National Committees. The Campaign Legal Center’s Larry Noble called it a “disgraceful and activist decision” at odds with federal law.  

Who Really Speaks for Veterans? | Rules of the Game

VoteVets.org, led by Chairman Jon Soltz, has set out to spend some $7 million to help Democrats in midterm elections (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Veterans organizations with overtly partisan messages and agendas have spent millions promoting candidates in tight Senate races in this election cycle, prompting criticism from veterans and established vet groups on both sides of the aisle.  

Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative advocacy group with ties to the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, has spent more than $2 million blasting Democratic Senate candidates, Center for Responsive Politics data show, largely for failing to fix problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The veterans group has both stoked and capitalized on outrage over the VA scandal involving long wait times for medical care and the agency’s cover-up of those delays.  

McDonnell Appeal Begs Question: What Is Corruption?

McDonnell is appealing his conviction of 11 counts of bribery, conspiracy and extortion. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As Bob McDonnell’s lawyers gear up to appeal the former Virginia Governor’s conviction on 11 counts of bribery, conspiracy and extortion, federal prosecutors, legal experts and elected officials around the country are all watching closely.  

The McDonnell case hinges on a question that goes to the heart of the national campaign finance debate, namely: What is corruption? Must it involve out-and-out bribery — the deliberate exchange of money or favors for official acts? Or can corruption take the form of ingratiation, influence and distortions of public policy?