Heitkamp, U.S. Senate Colleagues Unveil Legislation to Give Power Back to American Voters by Reforming Campaign Finance & Lobbying Rules

Press Release

Date: June 16, 2016
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp joined eight U.S. Senate colleagues in announcing a comprehensive new legislative package to reform lobbying rules and elections, and guarantee all Americans have a voice at the voting booth and in the halls of Congress -- not just special interests, corporations, and those at the top.

In the 2012 election there was more than $300 million in undisclosed, dark money spending, and so far in the 2016 election cycle undisclosed spending has increased five-fold, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The reform package includes legislation to make campaign finance laws more transparent and crack down on secret campaign spending, amend the Constitution to end unlimited campaign contributions from billionaires who seek to anonymously influence elections, and reform lobbying to limit the influence of special interests in the political process.

"Billionaires who couldn't pick out North Dakota on a map shouldn't have more sway in our elections than hard-working North Dakotans who raise families in our state and vote in our state, but can only afford to chip in a few dollars to support the candidates and causes they choose," said Heitkamp. "For too long, court decisions and legal loopholes have taken the political process out of the hands of voters and yielded undue influence for special interests, corporations, and secret money with fewer rules. We can change that. This package of reforms would help return integrity to our political system, giving voters the voices they deserve."

Heitkamp participated in a press conference to announce the package outside the U.S. Capitol, and was joined by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Since her time as North Dakota's Attorney General, Heitkamp has pushed for more campaign finance transparency. Heitkamp has long supported a constitutional amendment to allow Congress and States to set reasonable restrictions on political campaign donations to reduce the drastically growing influence of big money in financing campaigns and even the playing field for all campaigns both large and small. Following recent Supreme Court decisions, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars spent in federal elections by special interest groups that do not need to disclose their donors.

In 2014, Heitkamp co-sponsored the DISCLOSE Act to require any covered organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours, detailing the amount and nature of each expenditure over $1,000 and the names of all of its donors who gave $10,000 or more.

Specifically, the package of reforms Heitkamp unveiled includes provisions that would:

Make political campaigns more transparent by:

Reining in the super PACs: The Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 led to a huge growth in the amount of secret money super PACs. This reform package includes a provision that shuts down individual-candidate Super PACs and strengthens the rules that prohibit coordination between other outside spenders and candidates and parties.

Mandating disclosure of special interest donations: This provision would require organizations spending money in elections -- including super PACS and tax-exempt 501(c)(4)s -- to disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more in an election cycle.

Requiring all candidates for federal office to report major contributions within 48 hours: Today, not all candidates for federal office report campaign contributions in real-time. This provision requires all candidates for federal office, including those for the U.S. Senate, to report contributions of over $1,000 to the FEC within 48 hours.

Reforming the Federal Election Commission: To improve transparency, this reform package would replace the FEC with a new agency to serve as a vigilant campaign finance watchdog. The agency would consist of five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and would have greater enforcement and investigation powers than those of the gridlocked FEC.

Amending the Constitution to fix Citizens United by putting limits on campaign financing: This would fix Citizens United, McCutcheon, Buckley, and other bad legal precedents, while providing the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, including those made by corporations and Super PACs.
Strengthen lobbying laws by:

Banning former Members of Congress from lobbying: This provision would ban House and Senate members from lobbying Congress after they retire. Current law prohibits senators from lobbying for a two-year period after leaving Congress. House members have a one-year ban on lobbying.

Closing loopholes that allow consultants not to register as lobbyists: Closing a major loophole, this provision would require a lobbyist to register if he or she makes two or more lobbying contacts for a client over a two-year period, regardless of whether the lobbyist spends more than 20 percent of his or her time serving the particular client.

Close the financial services industry's revolving door by:

Prohibiting financial services companies from paying huge bonuses when employees take jobs in the federal government: It's hard for Americans to trust federal government officials when they see Wall Street banks paying executives millions to take high-level jobs in government regulating their former industry.