On December 16, 2015, the Commission unanimously approved seven recommendations for changes to current campaign finance law. Some of the recommendations relate to the law’s registration and reporting requirements, including expansion of electronic filing requirements, while others seek Congressional authority needed in order to better fulfill the agency''s mission.
Electronic filing of Senate reports
The Commission recommends that Congress require electronic filing by senatorial committees that have, or expect to have, financial activity in excess of an established threshold (currently $50,000 per calendar year). Senate filers are the only political committees not required to file disclosure reports electronically once they reach this threshold. The Commission recommendation notes that reports filed electronically are normally available to the public within minutes, while Senate paper filings (which often comprise thousands of pages) can take up to 30 days to be integrated into the Commission’s searchable databases. The Commission estimates at least $681,000 per year in costs directly attributable to current Senate filing procedures would be saved by requiring electronic filing.
Electronic filing of electioneering communication reports
The Commission recommends Congress require reports of electioneering communications be filed electronically with the Commission, rather than on paper. Many independent expenditure reports are already subject to mandatory electronic filing. However, because political committees do not file electioneering communication reports, and because funds spent on electioneering communications are considered “disbursements,” and not “expenditures,” the mandatory electronic filing provisions generally do not apply to electioneering communication reports. The Commission suggests only entities that report more than $50,000 of electioneering communications should be subject to mandatory electronic filing.
Authority to create Senior Executive Service positions
The Commission recommends Congress allow the FEC to create Senior Executive Service (SES) positions within the agency. Currently, the agency has several senior management positions that the Commission believes would satisfy the criteria for SES positions codified at 5 U.S.C. §3132, but the agency is prohibited by law from creating SES positions. The recommendation states these changes are needed to bring the Commission’s personnel structure in line with that of other comparable federal agencies and to ensure the Commission is better able to compete in recruiting and retaining key management employees. The recommendation estimates the Commission''s expenses would not increase significantly if allowed to participate in the SES program.
Fraudulent misrepresentation of campaign authority
The Commission recommends Congress revise the existing prohibitions on fraudulent misrepresentation of campaign authority to include all persons claiming to act on behalf of candidates and real or fictitious political committees. Currently, the statute does not prohibit fraudulent misrepresentation or solicitation on behalf of, for example, a separate segregated fund or a non-connected political committee. The Commission recommendation states that the fraudulent misrepresentation prohibition should extend to any person who would disrupt a campaign by unlawful means, rather than being limited to candidates and their agents and employees. The Commission also recommends Congress remove the current requirement that the fraudulent misrepresentation must pertain to a matter that is “damaging” to another candidate or political party, as proving damages is often difficult and impedes the Commission''s ability to pursue persons who employ fraud and deceit.
Make permanent the Administrative Fine program for reporting violations
The Commission recommends Congress make permanent the agency’s authority to assess administrative fines for violations of the law requiring timely filing of disclosure reports. The Administrative Fine Program was first implemented in 2000. In December of 2013, President Obama signed legislation extending the program until the end of 2018. From its inception through the end of fiscal year 2015, the Commission has processed and made public 2,857 cases and assessed more than $5.3 million in fines. The Commission feels the Administrative Fine Program has been very successful and cost-effective, resulting in a decrease in the number of late and non-filed reports.
Increase and index for inflation registration and reporting thresholds
The Commission recommends Congress increase and index for inflation certain registration and reporting thresholds contained in the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). Most of the contribution limits and registration and reporting thresholds were set in the 1970s, and decades of inflation has effective reduced FECA''s contribution limits in real dollars. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 increased most of the Act’s contribution limits to adjust for some of the effects of inflation, but that Act did not cover certain registration and reporting thresholds, which have remained static. The Commission asks Congress to index for inflation the $1,000 per calendar year registration threshold for political committees at 52 U.S.C. § 30101(4)(A) and the $250 per year threshold for reporting independent expenditures. The Commission suggests these increased thresholds will ease the compliance burdens on smaller organizations (especially local party committees) and exempt some smaller organizations that engage in only minimal spending from the Act’s registration and reporting requirements. The Commission requests both thresholds be increased to an amount determined by Congress and indexed for inflation.
Authority to accept gifts
The Commission recommends Congress give the agency authority to accept gifts of goods and services that will assist the agency''s goal of enhancing transparency. The Commission seeks authorization to accept gifts from private sources in order to further its goal of facilitating transparency through a state-of-the-art, web-based public disclosure system. The Commission only seeks the authority to accept gifts for the purpose of carrying out this mission. The Commission recognizes that vigilant review would be required to limit conflicts of interest and would promulgate a rule governing disclosure of any gifts prior to their acceptance.
The complete legislative recommendations document is available on the FEC’s website.