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Tea Party And Democrats Aligned Against Campaign Finance Measure

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing a measure to lift the limits on how much money major parties can spend in coordination with Senate and House candidates, drawing criticism from Democrats and Tea Party-aligned Republicans. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing a measure to lift the limits on how much money major parties can spend in coordination with Senate and House candidates, drawing criticism from Democrats and Tea Party-aligned Republicans.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

An alliance of anti-establishment Republicans and Democrats in Congress is seeking to hold down at least one kind of political spending.

Hard-line conservatives say GOP leaders want to undermine Tea Party-style newcomers who challenge the Washington establishment. Progressives see their own leaders ready to write off a long-standing provision of campaign finance law, and permit big donors' money to flow more freely.

A must-pass spending bill now being drafted would repeal a limit on how much the national party committees can spend in coordination with their own candidates. The limits vary — about $50,000 per House race, or up to roughly $3 million per Senate race –- all paltry sums by today's standards.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the leading advocate of axing the limit, last year helped to engineer a dramatic increase in contribution limits for the national party committees.

McConnell's move triggered a "memo for the movement" from 49 conservative leaders, who wrote, "the McConnell rider provides preferential treatment to the Washington establishment, and subordinates the voices of those who contribute to other multi-candidate organizations" – that is, superPACs and 501c4 "social welfare" organizations that have no contribution limits.

The signers include leaders of such outside groups as the Senate Conservatives Fund, ForAmerica and Revive America PAC.

In the House, a majority of Democrats signed a letter warning that lifting the limit "would send a jarring message to Americans of all political stripes that Washington insiders are rigging the system in favor of powerful moneyed interests."

And seven groups advocating stronger campaign finance laws sent a letter attacking the party-spending provision and three other campaign finance riders.

Another provision backed by McConnell isn't drawing any public criticism. He wants to make Senate candidates file their campaign finance reports electronically, to the Federal Election Commission – just like candidates for the House and the presidency. It would allow the public and the press to search campaign finance records for Senators more quickly.

Senators have resisted this change for years, while the Secretary of the Senate and the FEC spend an estimated $400,000 a year to photocopy, transport and key-punch data from hundreds of thousands of pages of filings.

Both provisions – on party spending and e-filing – are in a bill that the Senate is turning into a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package. Congress needs to pass the measure to avoid a government shutdown at the end of this week.

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