WASHINGTON- Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Ranking Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) announced today that their legislation to strengthen enforcement of election law by modifying penalties was approved as an amendment to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill Thursday night.
“The blatant and widespread abuses in the 1996 campaign fundraising scandal clearly necessitate better enforcement if we are to avoid a repeat of these violations in future campaigns,” Thompson said. “This legislation will make it less likely that people will willingly flout the laws we have.”
“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.”
The Thompson/Lieberman bill 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, large illegal contributions, or the receipt or disbursement of government funds.
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.
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