WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday appealed to Congress for help in prosecuting and punishing egregious violations of campaign finance laws.
In testimony before the Senate Rules Committee, Thompson and Lieberman outlined the provisions of legislation they introduced at the end of last session (S.1991) that would provide law enforcement officials with additional tools such as the authority to bring felony prosecutions, the promise of a sentencing guideline specifically for campaign finance violations, and an extension of the statute of limitations for prosecuting campaign finance violators.
Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., Judiciary Committee Ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., and Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., are co-sponsors of the bill.
“In the absence of real campaign finance reform, let?s at least add some enforcement muscle to our current law,” Lieberman said. “According to the Los Angeles Times, former Justice Department investigator Charles LaBella called campaign finance enforcement ?nothing more than a bad joke.? Unfortunately, it?s a bad joke that has serious consequences for the integrity of our system of governing.”
Chairman Thompson, referring to the 1996 campaign finance scandal, said: “After almost four years of investigating the many, wide-ranging abuses, only one person connected with the presidential election, Yogesh Ghandi, will spend any time in jail. Unfortunately, the primary reason is that the Justice Department simply has not done its job. However, we have also learned that the federal election law itself makes prosecution of violators more difficult than it should be.”
Because there is no provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) that authorizes felony prosecutions, no matter how egregious an offender?s actions, prosecutors are left without a credible threat against would-be violators, or they are forced to turn to other laws. S. 1991 would authorize felony prosecutions of FECA violations, if the offender acted “knowingly and willfully” and the offense involved at least $25,000.
The bill also would extend the FECA statute of limitations from three to five years, bringing it into line with almost all other federal crimes. In addition, the Sentencing Commission would be directed to devise guidelines specifically for campaign finance violators. Currently, judges have to use guidelines for other violations, for example, fraud, which are often inadequate. The bill would direct the Sentencing Commission to consider longer sentences for those whose convictions involve foreign money or large illegal contributions. The bill further clarifies that soft money contributions from a foreign national and soft money contributions in the name of another are illegal.
Thompson, Lieberman and Collins spent the better part of 1997 investigating campaign finance irregularities in the 1996 elections. This bill is based on their experience in that investigation.