Enforcing the Goals of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act: Silencing Nonprofit Groups and Stealth PACs in Federal Elections

This note examines the ever-increasing role that nonprofit groups are playing in federal elections as independent fundraisers of “soft mon-ey” for political candidates. After examining the history and rationales surrounding enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the au-thor concludes that the emergence of 527 and 501(c) groups as major players in federal elections threatens the integrity of the electoral system. As conduits for soft money, the groups greatly increase the potential for, and the appearance of, corruption in federal elections by continuing to allow large donations from corporations, unions, special interest groups, and wealthy individuals. In addition, the groups limit the field of poten-tial candidates in federal elections because otherwise qualified individu-als, with little or no ties to large soft-money contributors, are highly dis-couraged from running for office. Lastly, the groups effectively restrict the dissemination of information among potential voters because they en-courage political parties to limit their fundraising activities to potentially large donors of soft money, rather than including individual voters. Therefore, the author concludes that Congress should pass legislation to take 527 and 501(c) groups out of the soft-money game in federal elec-tions. Such legislation would almost certainly be constitutionally permis-sible and would finally accomplish the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s goal of increasing the public’s confidence in this country’s electoral system and in its elected officials.

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