WASHINGTON -- Over the past three years, House Republicans have repeatedly tried, and failed, to bar federal agencies from adopting regulations to govern the campaign finance landscape created by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision. Now, with their party seizing control of the Senate, that effort to stop new rules may win, too.
The Senate will likely be led next year by the primary antagonist to campaign finance reformers, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Over three decades, McConnell has made it a top priority to disrupt and degrade campaign finance regulations. With a firm belief that limits on campaign funds are a direct impediment to the First Amendment right of free speech, he has opposed past reform efforts, including challenging in court the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, the passage of which he once called the worst day in his political career.
After a host of congressional hearings, firings and suspensions, the IRS announced a rulemaking procedure to write new regulations covering both the way it undertakes the approval and review of tax-exempt status and the means by which it judges whether a tax-exempt group has spent an inappropriate amount of time electioneering.
If Congress moves to block new IRS rules on nonprofits' political spending through a rider or other means, Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said he will fight it. "This is open and shut that the [current] regulations do not comply with the law," he said. "If Congress blocks this, we will bring our lawsuit again."
But Fred Wertheimer is not focused only on the fate of potential IRS regulations. Since 2011, Republicans have also introduced legislation and attempted to attach spending-bill riders to gut the ability of other agencies -- including the Federal Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission -- to write rules on campaign funding and spending. Even when the Republican measures didn't pass, the threat was felt.