On December 11, 2014, the Commission unanimously approved seven recommendations for changes to current campaign finance law. Two of the recommendations advocate expanding electronic filing requirements, and others relate to other registration and reporting requirements.
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). Currently, Senate filers are the only political committees that are 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 can take up to 30 days to be integrated into the Commission’s searchable databases. The Commission estimates $430,000 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 top management positions that the Commission believes would satisfy the criteria for SES positions detailed in 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.
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 and organizations. 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. The Commission believes 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.
Make permanent the administrative fine program for reporting violations
The Commission recommends Congress make permanent the agency’s authority to levy administrative fines for violations of the law requiring timely filing of disclosure reports. In December of 2013, President Obama signed legislation extending the Administrative Fine program until December 31, 2018. The Administrative Fine program was first implemented in 2000. From its inception through the end of fiscal year 2014, the Commission has processed and made public 2,683 cases and assessed more than $5 million in fines. The Administrative Fine program has been very successful and cost-effective, resulting in a decrease in the number of reports filed late.
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. 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. 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 and individuals and exempt some individuals and small 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 in carrying out its duties. 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 its 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 package of legislative recommendations is available on the FEC’s website.