When House negotiators reached a budget deal late Tuesday, they slipped in two provisions directing federal agencies not to do their jobs. Nestled on pages 472 and 1,982 of the legislation are two riders that appear designed to prevent regulators from improving the accountability of our campaign finance system. In both cases, agency experts have been working on stronger transparency rules, but the budget bill will ban them from even considering whether the rules should be toughened. One prohibits the Securities and Exchange Commission from working on a rule that would require corporations to disclose to their shareholders how much they spend to influence elections. The other rider prohibits the IRS from continuing its effort to clarify the rules for political spending by nonprofit groups that don’t disclose their donors. The groups that would be affected by these rules are key conduits for hundreds of millions of dollars in “dark money” intended to influence elections without revealing who’s behind the spending.
The bans on agencies doing this important work to keep the public informed appear to be temporary. Even so, the budget process shouldn’t be used to sneak through policy decisions that potentially override the judgement of the regulators charged with protecting the public. These riders make other efforts to combat secrecy in election spending all the more pressing. President Obama will likely sign this must-pass budget legislation, but he should use the same pen to sign an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.