Our democracy is facing a threat from 501(c) organizations that receive foreign donations and redirect them to political campaigns. Fortunately, Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) just introduced the Election Protection & Integrity Certification Act, or the EPIC Act. The bipartisan bill establishes common-sense disclosure requirements to safeguard against the influence of foreign money in our elections.
While our laws prevent foreign nationals from directly or indirectly contributing to campaigns in the United States, money from outside the U.S. can potentially flow into our elections through tax-exempt 501(c) organizations. It’s not just a story-line from “House of Cards.” For example, in 2014, Mexican businessman José Susumo Azano Matsura doled out money to candidates in southern California to buy support for his plan to develop San Diego’s waterfront.
“This incident is not an aberration; the influence of foreign money in U.S. political campaigns will likely increase,” said Richard Painter in his book Taxation Only With Representation: The Conservative Conscience and Campaign Finance Reform.
The EPIC Act makes two changes to the forms that 501(c) organizations must fill out. The IRS form 990 would include a check box for the organizations to certify they did not use foreign donations for campaign activities. They also must certify the same information on Federal Election Commission filing forms. Lastly, the Government Accountability Office would be directed to conduct a study to examine if foreign donations are used in campaign activities by corporations.
The EPIC Act could not come at a better time. Between the 2016 election this fall, which is set to break election spending records and cost potentially $10 billion, the exponential rise in dark money from unaccountable sources and a bill passed this week in the House which prevents the IRS from requiring donor disclosure from tax-exempt organizations, our democracy needs an effective election watchdog that is able to prevent such abuses.
In a release announcing the new legislation today, Rep. Hanna said, “With the increasing amounts of money and outside groups involving themselves in American politics, it is an easy step to require non-profit organizations to certify that they are complying with the law. Our bill creates this additional safeguard so that Americans will know that foreign money does not play any part in the outcome of our elections.” His co-sponsor, Rep. Kilmer, affirmed the importance of transparency in our political system, stating: “I’m proud to have worked with Representative Hanna on a bipartisan bill that will bring some sunlight to this process and make sure that groups engaged in campaigns have not opened a backdoor to foreign contributions.”
We, along with Campaign Legal Center and Take Back Our Republic, urge more members of Congress to support this bipartisan legislation.