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Conservative Riders Would Unleash More Big Money In Politics

Given the fact that most Americans know that too much money in the political system is disrupting our democracy, it’s no wonder conservative lawmakers are trying to sneak these provisions through. 

"Government funding bills are no place for anti-democratic measures like these that are designed to keep corporate and billionaire money secret and allow more of it into the political process." (Photo: Getty )

"Government funding bills are no place for anti-democratic measures like these that are designed to keep corporate and billionaire money secret and allow more of it into the political process." (Photo: Getty )

Now that Congress and the White House have reached a deal on the topline budget numbers, lawmakers are beginning to finalize appropriations bills to fund agencies throughout the government. But before Congress votes on these must-pass funding bills, hundreds of controversial poison pill riders conservative lawmakers have added to them must come out.

Virtually all of these poisonous riders are special favors for conservative lawmakers’ corporate and billionaire donors – giveaways that have nothing to do with funding our government. These measures could not become law on their own merits, so unscrupulous lawmakers have attached them as riders to must-pass spending bills.

Of particular concern this year are riders that would further rig our campaign finance system for billionaires and big corporations. Given the fact that most Americans know that too much money in the political system is disrupting our democracy, it’s no wonder conservative lawmakers are trying to sneak these provisions through.  

One rider would prevent the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from finalizing popular new rules to require public corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders and the public. Political spending information is relevant to both shareholders and the American public, which is why more than 1.2 million people wrote to the SEC asking for these rules. In December, 40 U.S. senators signed a letter sounding the alarm about this odious, anti-transparency rider.

Another rider would repeal the Johnson Amendment, a 64-year-old law that bans charities and religious organizations from engaging in partisan politics while retaining their tax-exempt status. Repealing it would unleash a flood of secret money into the political process and turn otherwise apolitical charities and religious congregations into partisan money laundering operations. This measure has been called “Citizens United 2.0” because it would force taxpayers to subsidize hundreds of millions, if not billions, in secret corporate political spending.

There’s also a rider that stops the IRS from developing a new definition of nonprofit political activity to clarify what tax-exempt entities can and cannot do in the political process. Until we get clarification on what nonprofits can and cannot do, organizations like Crossroads GPS will be able to take advantage of outdated rules, injecting tens of millions of secret corporate money into the political process.

And finally, there’s a rider that would relax the limits on how much the national parties may spend in coordination with presidential campaigns. This would make it easier for mega donors to get around the current law, which says an individual donor may give a maximum of only $2,700 directly to a presidential candidate per election.

Government funding bills are no place for anti-democratic measures like these that are designed to keep corporate and billionaire money secret and allow more of it into the political process. It’s important to remember that literally hundreds of poison pills are attached to draft appropriations bills. They would go beyond just further rigging our democracy; they would threaten workers, consumers, our communities, the environment and the economy.

It is a sign of conservative lawmakers’ misplaced priorities that they have found the time to insert hundreds of extraneous provisions into federal spending bills, even as they have struggled to reach consensus on funding levels – the purpose of appropriations legislation. Conservatives need to stop playing political games with the budget and fund the programs and protections that allow our families and communities to thrive.

Americans deserve clean spending bills that are not packed with partisan poison pills, especially ones that further rig our campaign finance system for big money donors.

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Rachel Curley

Rachel Curley is the democracy associate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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