Spotlight Act would increase transparency by requiring political non-profits to disclose donors
U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) along with U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) are reintroducing their Spotlight Act to shine a light on dark money political donors and hold the government accountable to enforce our nation’s campaign finance laws. This legislation is also supported by Senators Bennet, Carper, Whitehouse, Blumenthal, Murray, Van Hollen, Merkley, Klobuchar, Hirono, King, Brown, Cortez Masto, Booker, Menendez, Casey, Warren and Baldwin.
The Spotlight Act would require certain political non-profit organizations to disclose their donors to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), reversing a Trump-era rule that eliminated the requirement and allowed such organizations to keep their donors secret.
“Special interests and big money donors wield far too much power in our political system, and are able to do it without Americans ever knowing who is footing the bill,” Tester said. “The Spotlight Act will hold shadowy political groups seeking to influence our politics more accountable, and will restore some much-needed transparency to our elections.”
“Our democracy has been under significant strain and is in urgent need of reform,” Wyden said. “A key piece of reform is reversing a Trump administration policy that allowed dark money interests to operate in total secrecy. It’s critical that there’s transparency. The wealthy donors spending millions to influence our elections, and undermine our democracy should not be allowed to hide their identities from the authorities.”
“For too long, our elections have been plagued by escalating foreign meddling and ballooning contributions from anonymous wealthy donors shielded by our tax code and weak campaign finance rules filled with loopholes,” said Congressman Price. “This unchecked influence on political campaigns distorts our democratic system and weakens the power of voters. I am proud to introduce this legislation with Senators Tester and Wyden and my House colleagues to reverse the Trump dark money rule and to shine a light on dark money in our elections.”
The group first introduced the Spotlight Act in 2018 after the Trump Administration attempted to rollback a rule that required non-profit organizations engaged in political activity to disclose basic information about their donors.
Tester and Wyden also led a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn the first version of the rule in late 2018, which passed with bipartisan support before then-House Speaker Paul Ryan declined to take it up, and the measure expired at the end of that Congress. This first rule was eventually struck down by a federal court in Montana after the Administration failed to get public input.
In 2019, the Trump Administration successfully implemented a second rule to roll back disclosure requirements for those non-profit organizations (including 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) organizations). This rule allows dark money groups to hide the identities of their major donors.
The Spotlight Act would reinstate this rule, requiring non-profit organizations that engage in political activity—like donating to candidates and purchasing political ads—to provide the IRS with the names and basic information of donors who contribute more than $5,000. It would also prevent future Administrations from rolling the rule back again. In addition to ensuring these organizations are following the law, these disclosure requirements are an important tool to keep foreign actors from influencing American elections.
The Spotlight Act is endorsed by non-partisan campaign finance reform organizations End Citizens United, Democracy 21, and Common Cause.
“The IRS’s decision to give mega-donors and Big Money special interests more secrecy with their political spending goes against what the majority of Americans want. Voters deserve to know who’s behind the seemingly unlimited money that’s trying to influence their vote and their government,” said End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund President Tiffany Muller. “We thank Senators Tester and Wyden for their leadership, and Congress should pass this legislation immediately. It would shine a much-needed light on political nonprofits that spend hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle in the shadows.”
“Democracy 21 strongly supports the Spotlight Act, which overrides the irresponsible action taken by the Trump administration that eliminated the requirement for certain nonprofits to disclose their significant donors to the Internal Revenue Service,” said Fred Wertheimer, Founder and President of Democracy 21. “The removal of the contribution disclosure requirement opened the door for foreign interests to illegally launder money through nonprofit groups to influence our elections without the government having any ability to know about or track these actions. The Spotlight Act closes a dangerous dark money loophole for illegal foreign money to be secretly laundered into our elections.”
“At a time when corporate special interests funded by secretive billionaires always seem to get their way, it was outrageous that the Trump-led Treasury Department stopped requiring donor disclosure information for politically-active non-profits,” said Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs at the government watchdog Common Cause. “We commend Senators Tester and Wyden and Congressman Price for introducing the Spotlight Act to help shine a light on secret money in politics so that all Americans can see who is trying to influence their voice and their vote. We and our allies will also work to get President Biden’s Treasury Department to reverse this rule.”