Rep. Golden doubles down on campaign finance reform with new legislation

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing Maine's Second Congressional District, in his office.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing Maine's Second Congressional District, in his office.
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U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing Maine's Second Congressional District, in his office. (Robin Bravender/ States Newsroom)

U.S. Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine introduced six bills this week aimed to increase transparency in and limits on political spending.

Some of the legislation specifically limits elected officials from using their positions for personal profit, including by permanently banning former members of Congress from working as federal lobbyists and prohibiting some federal office holders and their close family from earning a salary or holding investments in foreign businesses while in office.

Other legislation looks to reduce the influence of mega-donors and foreign actors in American politics, such as by placing stricter limits on dark money spending through nonprofits.

These latest proposals build on Golden’s “Government Integrity and Anti-Corruption Plan,” an existing package of nine bills with similar objectives that the representative has introduced or co-sponsored during the 118th Congress, though they have yet to receive votes.

Golden’s plan has the support of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a state nonprofit that works to keep big money out of politics. 

“Golden is leading crucial efforts to strengthen our democracy and restore Americans’ faith in our government,” said the group’s executive director Anna Kellar. 

Kellar highlighted two pieces of legislation in particular that they said reflect the will of Maine voters, who overwhelmingly backed in November a ballot initiative to ban foreign spending in elections. 

Last year, Golden co-sponsored legislation to prohibit contributions and donations by foreign nationals in American elections, and amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision, which is also co-sponsored by his fellow Democratic colleague from Maine, Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Overlapping efforts to regulate campaign spending

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Campaign Act, the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that campaign spending can only be regulated when there is a risk of “quid pro quo” corruption. Essentially, if there is a risk someone could be making a donation to a candidate in exchange for a favor, only then can Congress regulate that contribution.

While Golden is backing legislation at the federal level to eliminate these restrictions on Congress’ ability to limit campaign spending, Mainers are expected to vote on the issue in the upcoming November election. 

On its face, the Maine ballot question asks whether voters want to set a $5,000 limit for giving to groups that spend money independently to support or defeat candidates for office. The ultimate goal, however, is to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that political action committees should be regulated — not by reversing Citizens United but because of an alleged flaw in the lower court decision that came a few months after. 

In v. FEC, the D.C. Circuit Court upheld that contributions to groups making independent expenditures can’t corrupt or create the appearance of corruption — essentially creating the “super PAC,” which can receive unlimited contributions but can’t contribute directly to candidates.

By seeking to limit contributions, the Maine ballot question is expected to be challenged in court, if passed. The scholar behind the initiative, Lawrence Lessig, and others argue the courts will find that large contributions to PACs inevitably create a risk of quid pro quo corruption, given that donors and candidates have the opportunity to collaborate even if a PAC is independent. 

For example, this is the pattern alleged against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.

“Congressman Golden has been leading efforts to end Citizens United and get big money out of politics since he was first elected to office, and this will remain a priority for him,” a spokesperson for Golden told Maine Morning Star. “While he is unfamiliar with the specific efforts underway at the state level in Maine, he recognizes that overturning this decision is an all-hands-on-deck priority for Mainers.”

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, a political action committee working to reverse the high court decision, said Golden’s package of bills would put Mainers’ voices front and center in government.

“He’s seen, first-hand, how corporate special interests and shadowy mega-donors have silenced the power of working families by spending unfathomable amounts of money to buy access and influence in Washington,” Muller said. “His comprehensive package of anti-corruption reforms builds on his promise to restore power back to the people.”

Proposed limits on elected officials

In addition to supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision, Golden is supportive of another amendment to establish term limits for Congress. This proposal, introduced last year, would establish a three-term limit for members of the House and a two-term limit for senators.

This week, three of the bills Golden introduced focus on regulating the actions of current and former elected officials. 

Currently, there is a one- or two-year waiting period for former members of Congress to work as federal lobbyists. The Lifetime Lobbying Ban Act would repeal and replace this waiting period with a permanent ban. Golden attempted similar proposals in previous congressional sessions, as well. 

Separate legislation, the Congressional and Executive Foreign Lobbying Ban, focuses on retired members of Congress, senior executive branch officials and high-ranking military officials. The ban would prohibit these retired officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign interests. 

Another practice Golden intends to prevent is elected officials and their close family members collecting salaries or holding investments in foreign businesses. The Stop Foreign Payoffs Act would specifically ban members of Congress, presidents, vice presidents and Cabinet secretaries, as well as their close family members, from these practices for as long as the official is in office. 

While members of Congress are in office, they are also privy to information that raises the potential for conflicts in stock trading — a conflict both Golden and Pingree want to address. 

Introduced at the start of this Congress in 2023, a bill they co-sponsored would only allow members, their spouses and dependent children to own stocks while the member is in office if they place their investments in a qualified blind trust, meaning in someone else’s control, until 180 days after the end of their tenure.

Earlier this session, Golden also co-sponsored legislation that would eliminate pension payments for members of Congress convicted of felonies or offenses related to their work in office.

Proposed limits on mega-donors and foreign actors

The other three pieces of legislation Golden introduced this week aim to increase transparency by adding requirements for the disclosure of donors. 

Mega-donors are the focus of the Crack Down on Dark Money Act, which would reduce the cap on political activity by nonprofits from 50% of all spending to 10%, as well as require the organizations to disclose all donors of $5,000 or more if they spend any money on politics. 

Related, Golden is also supportive of another effort introduced during this Congress to fight dark money by requiring organizations that spend money on elections to disclose major donors each election cycle.

Foreign influence in elections in another issue Golden intends to fight with the Fighting Foreign Influence Act introduced this week. This act would require tax-exempt organizations to disclose high-dollar gifts from foreign governments or political parties and require political campaigns to verify online donors have a valid U.S. address. It also takes aim at foreign lobbying by imposing a lifetime ban on the practice by former presidents, vice presidents and senior military officials.

Golden also wants to make donations behind political advertising online more clear with the Consistent Labeling for Political Ads Act. While paid content on social media is labeled “sponsored” or “promoted,” those labels often disappear when users share a post. The legislation would require social media platforms to ensure these labels remain attached to posts regardless of sharing. 

This measure complements another that Golden introduced in January, which would prevent foreign nationals, governments and organizations from funding political ads on social media and other online platforms.

The post Rep. Golden doubles down on campaign finance reform with new legislation appeared first on Maine Morning Star.