When Eric Cantor delivered his farewell address on the House floor this summer following his stunning primary defeat, the former majority leader cited the enactment of the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act as "one of my proudest moments."
This was not a landmark piece of legislation, but it redirected federal dollars from the public funding of political conventions to pediatric research. It was a feel-good, impossible-to-oppose measure that won nearly 300 votes in the House and was passed by unanimous consent by the Senate. After all, who could argue that the quadrennial party conventions—glitzy coronations that long ago morphed into political infomercials—needed public funding in an electoral system awash with outside money? Didn't the two major parties get enough from private donors?
It turns out the answer to the second question was no. With a last-minute provision tacked onto page 1,599 of the 1,603-page, $1.013 trillion spending bill, Congress is moving to fill the void left by the stripping of public funds for the party conventions by dramatically increasing the amount that individual donors can contribute to the various Republican and Democratic committees.
Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday explained the change by pointing to the Kids First Research Act. "This provision was worked out in a bipartisan way to allow those who are organizing political conventions to raise the money from private sources as opposed to using taxpayer funds," he told reporters. Yet according to advocates for campaign-finance reform, the change will affect a lot more than the financing of political conventions. A single (presumably ultra-wealthy) donor who can currently give a maximum of $97,200 to national party committees would be able to contribute nearly eight times as much—a total of $776,000 a year—to those organizations.