Thompson/Lieberman Introduce Bill to Reform Election Law and Prohibits Foreign Donations

Washington, DC ? Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) recently introduced legislation, S. 1991, to reform election law by modifying penalties and prohibiting donations from foreign nationals.

Specifically, the Thompson/Lieberman bill would:

  • Increase the penalty for knowing and willful violations of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act above a certain threshold from a misdemeanor to a felony;

  • Increase the statute of limitations for violations from three to five years;

  • Require the Sentencing Commission to promulgate a guideline for Federal Election Commission (FEC) violations;

  • Prohibit foreign soft money contributions; and

  • Prohibit soft money contributions in the name of another.

The 1996 elections produced some of the greatest campaign finance scandals in our nation?s history. Unprecedented amounts of foreign money were funneled into campaigns and reported to the Federal Election Commission under the name of someone different from the person actually providing the funds. These actions are illegal and have been for many years.

“Clearly, the blatant and widespread violation of those prohibitions in 1996 necessitates better enforcement if we are to avoid a repeat of these violations in the 2000 campaign,” said Thompson. “It is my hope that this bill will make it less likely that people will willingly flout the laws we have.”

“If we can?t achieve real reform of our campaign system, at least we can add some enforcement muscle to our current law,” Lieberman said. “As it now stands, the law has no teeth. Why else would two of the most prominent figures from the 1996 scandal – John Huang and Charlie Trie – be allowed to plea to charges that resulted in no jail time? The answer is that prosecutors had no greater hope for success by forcing a trial.”

Senator Susan Collins added, “The scandals that will forever scar the 1996 federal elections show that our campaign finance laws are toothless and hobbled. They are easily evaded and, even when they do apply, they offer insubstantial penalties, ill-suited to serious nature of many campaign finance crimes. The predictable result is that the Justice Department has failed to prosecute many wrongdoers, or has tried to fit campaign finance violations under the rubric of unrelated criminal statutes. This bill goes a long way towards fixing this problem by closing so-called ?soft money? loopholes and by giving federal prosecutors the weapons they need to deter and punish illegal campaign contributions.”

Introduced on November 19, 1999, S. 1991 is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).