WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday celebrated the passage of campaign finance reform legislation by the House of Representatives. The legislation included an amendment, sponsored by Lieberman and Ranking Member Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., that would aid prosecutors in enforcing campaign finance laws.
“We have passed another important milestone in the long overdue effort to enact campaign finance reform,” Lieberman said. “Because of the collapse of the Enron Corporation, the credibility of the democratic process is once again being challenged. The House action reinforces that a majority of Congress is working hard to restore the public’s faith in its elected government.”
Lieberman noted that the criminal enforcement amendment, which was introduced and passed by the Senate last Spring as part of the McCain-Feingold reform bill, responds to problems prosecutors faced in investigating and punishing violators of the campaign finance laws during the 1996 federal election cycle.
“These provisions will ensure that actions that are already criminal, and that we all agree are wrong, will be punished,” Lieberman said. “They simply provide prosecutors with the tools they need to deter and effectively punish those who would violate the laws.”
In 1997, Lieberman spent nearly a year on the Governmental Affairs Committee investigating campaign finance abuses that occurred during the 1996 presidential campaign. Two years ago, Congress approved a bill sponsored by Lieberman that required so-called 527 tax-exempt organizations to disclose their existence, their contributions, and their expenditures, in order to maintain their tax-exempt status. It was the first reform legislation to pass in two decades. Provisions of the Lieberman/Thompson criminal enforcement amendment would: Authorize felony prosecutions for campaign finance violations.
The Federal Election Campaign Act allows only misdemeanor prosecutions, although prosecutors have used other felony statutes to prosecute violators. Felony prosecutions would be in order if the offender acted “knowingly and willfully” and if the offense involved at least $25,000.
Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to issue a guideline on campaign finance violations. Because there is no guideline now specifically addressing violations of the campaign finance laws, judges have to use other guidelines – usually the one for fraud. But the fraud guideline frequently results in little or no jail time. Under the amendment, judges would have to consider longer sentences for those convicted of foreign money violations, and large illegal contributions.
Extend the statute of limitations from three to five years. Campaign finance violations are the only federal crimes, aside from violations of the Internal Revenue code, that have a statute of limitations under five years. Former Justice Department special prosecutor Charles LaBella has said three years is not enough time to fully investigate complex campaign finance cases.