CLC Update April 1, 2011

  1. Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Arizona Public Financing Case
  2. Supreme Court Denies Cert in Party Financing Case
  3. Reform Groups Urge President Obama to Fill 5 Expired FEC Slots with Commissioners Willing to Enforce the Law
  4. Reform Coalition Asks House Ethics Committee to Resume Investigation of Rep. Waters
  5. Legal Center Hosts Briefing on McComish Supreme Court Argument
  6. Staff on Panel of Experts after Capitol Hill Screening of “Gerrymandering”


Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Arizona Public Financing Case

On March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in McComish v. Bennett, a constitutional challenge to the “trigger” provisions of Arizona’s public financing program for state electoral campaigns.  McComish marks the first time that the Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of a public financing measure since its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Court upheld the Presidential public financing system.  Last month, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amici brief with the Supreme Court in defense of the Arizona law.

Under Arizona’s public financing law, candidates can voluntarily choose to accept spending limits and restrictions on private contributions in exchange for public funding to run their campaign.  The law is intended to prevent the actual or apparent corruption present in privately-financed campaigns.  The “trigger” provisions challenged in McComish provide additional public funding to candidates when privately-financed opponents or independent groups cross certain spending thresholds.  While the State of Arizona, the Campaign Legal Center and other amici argue that the law in no way limits the speech of privately-financed candidates or independent groups, the plaintiffs/ petitioners argue that the distribution of public funds to participating candidates chills and burdens their First Amendment right to free speech.  The Arizona law had been upheld by the Ninth Circuit in May of 2010.

The state law was defended at oral argument by Mr. Bradley S. Phillips, partner at Munger, Tolles & Olsen and counsel to the Arizona Clean Elections Institute, as well as U.S. Assistant Solicitor General William M. Jay, on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae.  The challengers were represented at oral argument by Mr. William R. Maurer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice.

Click here to see the amici briefs coordinated by the Legal Center.

Click here to view the Legal Center’s amici brief.


Supreme Court Denies Cert in Party Financing Case

On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari in Cao v. FEC, a key case concerning the federal party coordinated spending limits.  The high Court’s order leaves standing the decision of the en banc Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that strongly affirmed the constitutionality of these important restrictions.  In reaction to this court action, Tara Malloy of the Legal Center stated that, “the Supreme Court deferred to precedent and declined to hear this attack on the longstanding limits on party coordinated spending.”  Malloy added that, “today, the challenged law survived, but there remains a lengthy list of challenges making their way through the courts hoping for a sympathetic audience from the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.”

This decision marks the second time the Supreme Court has declined to hear cases by those who seek to loosen the federal party financing restrictions in the past year, having declined to hear RNC v. FEC last June.  Both cases were filed just days after the 2008 Election.

The Legal Center filed an amici brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on April 19, 2010 to defend the constitutionality of the party coordinated spending limits in this case.  To read the brief, click here.


Reform Groups Urge President Obama to Fill 5 Expired FEC Slots with Commissioners Willing to Enforce the Law

On March 15, the Legal Center joined with a coalition of reform groups to urge President Obama to move quickly to fill the five expired commissioner slots at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and end the extensive problems being caused by an enforcement agency that has failed to effectively enforce campaign finance laws.

The coalition, which included: Americans for Campaign Reform, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, CREW, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG, asked the President to break from the longstanding but problematic practice of the White House simply nominating those individuals recommended by Senate leaders from each party.

There are “numerous examples of a destructive pattern and practice on the part of the obstructionist Commissioners who have repeatedly blocked efforts by the FEC professional staff to enforce the campaign finance laws,” the letter states, and a new set of commissioners would ensure campaign finance laws will be vigorously enforced during the 2012 election cycle when unprecedented amounts of money will likely be raised and spent to influence elections.

To read the full letter sent to the President, click here.


Reform Coalition Asks House Ethics Committee to Resume Investigation of Rep. Waters

On March 23, the Legal Center joined a coalition of reform groups and urged the House ethics committee to resume its work on the pending investigation into allegations that, in 2008. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and her staff engaged in improper behavior that resulted in substantial financial gain for the Congresswoman. The investigation has been ongoing for more than two years and a scheduled hearing in November 2010 was abruptly cancelled without explanation.  The letter states, “These delays, followed by uncertainty whether any action is forthcoming, are unfair to all parties involved in the case and reflect poorly on the ability of the House Committee on Ethics to fulfill its mission.”  The coalition also asked the committee to provide the public with an accounting of the status of the case.

In addition to the Legal Center, the coalition also included Common Cause, CREW, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters and Public Citizen.

To read the full letter, click here.


Legal Center Hosts Briefing on McComish Supreme Court Argument

On March 24, 2011, the Legal Center hosted a policy breakfast on McComish v. Bennett, a case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges the “triggered matching funds provisions” of Arizona’s successful state public financing program.   Legal Center attorneys Tara Malloy and Paul S. Ryan discussed specific legal issues raised in the case as well as the potential for broad repercussions depending on the scope of the Court’s ruling in the case.  Ms. Malloy and Mr. Ryan noted that the presidential public financing system was strongly endorsed by the Supreme Court in its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, and further explained why Arizona’s program is likewise constitutional.


Staff on Panel of Experts after Capitol Hill Screening of “Gerrymandering”

On March 30, the Legal Center and Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) co-hosted a complimentary screening of the film “Gerrymandering” at the Capitol Visitors Center theater.  This critically-acclaimed documentary investigates the often controversial and partisan tactics used by state leaders on both sides of the aisle to strategically draw congressional and legislative districts for partisan advantage.

After the film, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee moderated a panel of redistricting experts which included: Jeff Reichert, director and producer of “Gerrymandering”; J. Gerald Hebert, Legal Center Executive Director; Robert Kengle, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law; and Michael McDonald, George Mason University Professor and Brookings Institution Fellow.

To learn more about “Gerrymandering” and to watch the film , click here.