April 18, 2018

Cortez Masto Introduces Inaugural Committee Transparency Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the Inaugural Committee Transparency Act of 2018 to increase oversight and public disclosure of how presidential inaugural committees spend the millions of dollars they raise.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars from special interests have been donated to inaugural committees, but because of loopholes in the law, the public has no idea how that money is being spent,” said Cortez Masto. “The American people deserve transparency for all inaugural expenditures as well as timely information on where and how leftover  funds are used after the inauguration.”

“President-elect Trump raised a record $106.7 million for his inaugural committee, yet more than a year later, we are still finding out how those funds were spent since there is no reliable reporting requirement for all itemized expenditures,” Cortez Masto continued. “According to tax filings, $25.8 million was paid for event production services to a company created only weeks prior by a close friend of First Lady Melania Trump, and the committee had still not disbursed more than $2.8 million in surplus funds. And while the huge sums of money raised from mega-donors for the Trump Inaugural Committee have shed light on this problem, this isn’t about one party or one president—it’s about transparency for the American people and understanding the influence of big corporations on our political system. Inaugural committees must not become vehicles for dark money payouts or corruption, which is why new legislation is vital in order to ensure accountability.”

“The lack of transparency and accountability of inaugural committees has become a major issue today, since the Trump Inaugural Committee raised $107 million to pay for the 2016 Inauguration which likely cost much less than half that amount” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “To this day we really don’t know where all that money went. The Inaugural Committee Transparency Act will ensure that future inaugural committees will provide the public with a full accounting of how these funds are spent.”

"Presidential Inaugural Committees raise larger amounts of money with each inauguration, and raise those funds through unlimited contributions from individual and corporate donations, creating an acute opportunity for corruption, influence-peddling, or self-dealing,” said John Wonderlich, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation. “This bill will make inaugural expenses more transparent, applying basic standards for public scrutiny to the private money funneled through our political system at the start of each Presidency. Inaugural Committees increasingly present a vulnerability to our political integrity, and transparency for inaugural expenses is a common sense first step to mitigating their excesses."

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are original cosponsors of this legislation.

BACKGROUND:

Under current law, there are few rules that govern inaugural committees. Donations to the committee of $200 or more must be disclosed 90 days after the inaugural period, but there are no disclosure requirements for committee expenditures. Additionally, there are no reporting requirements on how leftover funds are used after the inaugural period.

Timely and detailed disclosure to the Federal Election Commission of how inaugural committee funds are used would improve transparency of a process dominated by deep-pocketed donors, and would bring rules regarding inaugural committees more in line with campaign finance laws.

The Inaugural Committee Transparency Act would amend 36 U.S. Code § 510 to require an inaugural committee to disclose to the FEC the name and address of every person to whom any disbursement of $200 or more is made along with the purpose of the disbursement. This requirement would also apply to funds left over after the inaugural period. In addition, the bill would require that any remaining funds after the inaugural period be disbursed within 90 days of the inaugural ceremony, with the option for an extension.

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