CLC Update April 23, 2012

  1. FEC Disclosure Regulations Struck Down by District Court in Van Hollen v. FEC
  2. Legal Center Files in Defense of California Disclosure Law
  3. Senior Counsel Testifies in U.S. House of Representatives Forum
  4. Colbert Report Twice Features Legal Center President and Collects Peabody Award for Super PAC Coverage
  5. Legal Center Urges IRS to Curb Abuse of 501(c)(4) Tax Status
  6. Still No Response from White House on FEC Replacement Petition
  7. Dozens of Civic Organizations and Investor Groups Call on House Members to Support DISCLOSE Act
  8. Reform Groups Urge Senators to Pass Electronic Filing Bill
  9. Executive Director Addresses Rutgers University Law Review Symposium
  10. Legal Center President Speaks at Loyola Law School
  11. Legal Center President Speaks at Georgetown University Law Center


FEC Disclosure Regulations Struck Down by District Court in Van Hollen v. FEC

On March 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Election Commission overstepped its authority in promulgating regulations allowing groups that give money for election advertising to withhold the names of their donors from the public.  In Van Hollen v. FEC, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the FEC to rewrite disclosure regulations issued after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.

Judge Jackson ruled that the regulations clashed with requirements of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as McCain-Feingold, that groups report spending on advertisements to the commission.

“Judge Jackon's decision marks another victory in the ongoing battle for transparency of money in politics, but it’s not the end of the battle,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel. “An appeal is likely.  The FEC will undoubtedly drag its feet in repealing its invalidated regulation—with no fix likely before this year’s elections. Hundreds of millions of special interest dollars will likely be spent to influence this year’s elections and voters won’t know where those dollars came from.”

The case was brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) who challenged a 2007 FEC regulation that narrowed the scope of federal disclosure requirements connected to electioneering communications. The challenge was brought under the Administrative Procedures Act, alleging that the regulation is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the federal campaign finance statute it purports to implement.

The Legal Center is part of Rep. Van Hollen’s legal team in the case.

To read Judge Jackson’s decision, click here.

To read the brief filed by Representative Van Hollen, click here.


Legal Center Files in Defense of California Disclosure Law

On April 17, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amicus brief in v. Bowen in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in support of disclosure provisions in California’s Political Reform Act.  The brief urges the court to affirm a district court decision upholding the state ballot measure committee contribution disclosure requirements.

This case is part of a broad legal assault on campaign finance disclosure laws.  The plaintiffs in, who are seeking to overturn California’s disclosure laws, raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in support of Proposition 8, a successful statewide ballot initiative that amended the California Constitution to define marriage as valid only between a man and a woman.

“The groups bringing these challenges across the country have repeatedly tried to draw flimsy parallels between any criticisms they may have received from their political opponents to the very rare exemptions to disclosure laws granted by the courts in the past,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “It is shameless to attempt to compare themselves to groups like the Socialist Workers Party or the Alabama NAACP circa 1950, groups granted exemption from disclosure laws because their members suffered serious threats to their lives and livelihoods.  The courts have repeatedly seen through these grossly disproportionate comparisons and remained loathe to liberally grant exemptions and undermine a democratic cornerstone like disclosure.”

To read the Legal Center brief, click here.


Senior Counsel Testifies at U.S. House of Representatives Forum

On Wednesday, April 18, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan testified at a congressional forum on campaign finance along with Legal Center board member Norman Ornstein. The forum, entitled “The Most Expensive Seat in the House: The State of Our Campaign Finance System,” discussed the campaign advertisements and their funding in the post-Citizens United era. The forum was attended by Democratic members of the House Administration Committee, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), David Price (D-NC), Michael Capuano (D-MA).

In his opening statement Ryan discussed the two faulty assumptions made by the Supreme Court in its decision in Citizens United that led to the flood of corporate money into U.S. elections:

“First, the Court wrongly assumed that such funds would be spent ‘independently’ of candidates and, therefore, could not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.  Second, the Court assumed that the source of such funds would be disclosed, permitting ‘citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way’ and enabling the ‘electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.’”

To read Paul Ryan’s full testimony, click here.


Colbert Report Twice Features Legal Center President and Collects Peabody Award for Super PAC Coverage

On April 3 and 4, Legal Center President Trevor Potter was featured again on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” as host Stephen Colbert’s “personal lawyer.” Potter appeared to help Colbert introduce the "Super PAC Super Fun Pack" for sale on his website featuring a "Trevor, May I" button for which Potter recorded “not-legal” advice for those seeking to start their own Super PACs.  The next night it was announced that  “The Colbert Report” had won a Peabody Award for its Super PAC coverage.  The George Foster Peabody Awards “recognize distinguished and meritorious public service by radio and television stations, networks, producing organizations and individuals.”

To see the Trevor Potter’s appearances on Colbert, click here.


Legal Center Urges IRS to Curb Abuse of 501(c)(4) Tax Status

In a letter sent to the IRS on April 17, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center called on the IRS to investigate and take appropriate enforcement action against Crossroads GPS for its apparent misuse of a privileged tax status.   The letter specifically called attention to a secret $10 million dollar contribution to the 501(c)(4) group to run attack ads that The Washington Post recently brought to light.

“The continued refusal by the IRS to reign in scofflaws abusing a privileged tax status has only encouraged even more blatant disregard for the law by these groups and their anonymous funders,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “A secret ten million dollar contribution to run attack ads shows pure contempt for the law, the agency’s willingness to enforce it, and the public’s right to know who is funding our elections.  The IRS must do its job and enforce the law even in the face of political pressure to let the scofflaws continue.”

In addition to calls to investigate Crossroads GPS, the letter called on the IRS to enforce the same laws with regard to Priorities USA, American Action Network and Americans Elect, other organizations in apparent violation of their 501(c)(4) tax status.

To read the press release, click here.

To read the letter, click here.


Still No Response from White House on FEC Replacement Petition

On April 11, a dozen government integrity groups asked President Obama to appoint new commissioners to the completely dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC) and requested a response guaranteed by the White House regarding the successful petition drive.

“The FEC is an agency with a long, disturbing history of not doing its job, but today has reached a low ebb by any measurement,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director.  “In particular, the Republican Commissioners are blatantly refusing to enforce any laws they don’t personally agree with or which they feel might be detrimental to fundraising.  Then-Senator Obama promised to address the broken agency while running for President, but his lack of action to date and his lone nomination indicate the White House is comfortable with business as usual at the FEC.”

In the letter, the organizations reminded President Obama that it has been two months since the 25,000-signature threshold was reached on the White House website.  The website guaranteed a response for those petitions reaching the threshold.

To read the letter, click here.


Dozens of Civic Organizations and Investor Groups Call on House Members to Support DISCLOSE Act

On April 23, the Legal Center, along with more than three dozen civic organizations and investor groups, called on House Members to co-sponsor and help pass the DISCLOSE 2012 Act (H.R. 4010), sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md).

H.R. 4010 would provide basic information to the public about campaign expenditures made to influence federal elections by outside groups and the donors financing them. The legislation also requires outside groups which make campaign expenditures to take responsibility for their campaign ads and would require corporations to inform their shareholders about their campaign expenditures.  Further, the legislation would fix the problem of untimely disclosure of donors to Super PACs that surfaced during the 2012 presidential primaries.

The letter emphasized the overwhelming public support for disclosure by outside spenders, and several recent Supreme Court decisions supporting disclosure laws by vote of 8-1.


Reform Groups Urge Senators to Pass Electronic Filing Legislation

On April 20, reform groups urged Senators to promptly pass S.219, the “Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act.” The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and has 22 cosponsors in the Senate.

The legislation would require electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure reports by Senate candidates under federal campaign finance laws. Currently, all federal candidates, party committees and federal PACs, except Senators, are required to file their campaign finance disclosure reports electronically. Senate candidates still file paper reports which are then entered electronically at a substantial cost to taxpayers and causing a significant delay in their public availability.

“The only purpose served by the exception from electronic filing for Senate candidates is to deprive the American people of timely and meaningful public information to which they are entitled about the campaign finance activities of Senate candidates during critical periods of their elections,” the letter stated.

To read the full letter, click here.


Executive Director Addresses Rutgers University Law Review Symposium

On April 13, Legal Center Executive Director Gerry Hebert participated as a panelist in a voting rights symposium sponsored by the Rutgers University Law Review.  The symposium was entitled “The Voting Rights Act of 1965: Where Do We Go From Here?” and was held in Trenton at the State House Annex at the State Capitol. Hebert spoke about the Voting Rights Act’s successes, and why the Act remains constitutional.


Legal Center President Speaks at Loyola Law

On Monday, April 9, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke at Loyola Law School in an event hosted by school’s American Constitution Society. Potter discussed the state of campaign finance today, how Super PACS have affected our elections, and his experience as Stephen Colbert's lawyer.


Legal Center President Speaks at Georgetown University Law Center

On Friday, April 20, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke at Georgetown University Law Center on a panel entitled, “Impact of Citizens United v. FEC on Campaign Finance.” The panel, with Frances R. Hill, was part of the Georgetown Law Center conference on “Representing and Managing Tax-Exempt Organizations.”