- Legal Center Strongly Condemns Judicial Activism of Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC
- Atlanta, Georgia Hosts Latest Voting Rights Institute to Train New Generation of Voting Rights Lawyers
- Watchdogs File FEC Complaints Against National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Senate Majority PAC
- Watchdog Groups Warn Kentucky Opportunity Coalition Its Ads Are Illegal In-Kind Contributions to McConnell Campaign
- Watchdog Groups Challenge House Ways and Means Committee Letter Claiming IRS Pursuit of Crossroads GPS was Improper
- PIPAC Coalition Praises Important FCC Step for Transparency in Political Advertising
- Meredith McGehee Joins Legacy International Delegation to North Africa
- Trevor Potter Addresses Wilson School at Princeton
- Paul S. Ryan Speaks at Valparaiso Law Review Symposium on Money in Politics
- Legal Center Senior Counsel Speaks at GW Political Law Studies Initiative Event on IRS Regulation of 501(c)(4) Political Activities
- Policy Director Joins CRP Sunshine Week Panel
Legal Center Strongly Condemns Judicial Activism of Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC
On April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC, ignored precedent and struck down longstanding aggregate contribution limits which were enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Absent these limits of just over $120,000 per two-year election cycle, Members of Congress will now be able to solicit multi-million dollar contributions for joint fundraising committees. The Campaign Legal Center coordinated the amici filings in the case before the High Court. Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert strongly condemned the Roberts Court’s decision as overt judicial activism which provides a roadmap for wholesale evasion of base contribution limits.
“The Court today abandoned any pretense of respecting Supreme Court precedent or Congressional expertise on matters of campaign finance when it struck down longstanding federal limits on aggregate contributions to candidates, parties and PACs. To reach this decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court refused to follow its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld the predecessor version of the aggregate contribution limits. Once again, the Roberts Court exhibits its complete ignorance of political realities, or worse, chose to ignore those realities, in striking down laws written by Congress, which is intimately aware of the political corruption that will likely ensue in the wake of this decision.”
Hebert added: “The fig leaf the Court used to justify Citizens United was the proposition that spending by outside groups could not possibly corrupt or even lead to the appearance of corruption. It wasn’t true when they wrote it and now we have two election cycles worth of evidence to the contrary. But today’s decision inMcCutcheon did not even bother with a fig leaf. An activist Court simply discarded decades of its own precedents and the common sense principle enunciated in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley decision that that unchecked and direct political contributions give rise to indebted - and often corrupted - officeholders and candidates. Once again the Roberts Courts has decided that its opinion is far more important than previous courts, the American public, and Congress when it comes to campaign finance and elections.”
To read Hebert’s full statement, click here.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and a number of citizen, civil rights and watchdog organizations (from AARP to the League of Women Voters), click here.
To read the District Court's decision upholding the aggregate contribution limits, click here.
Atlanta, Georgia Hosts Latest Voting Rights Institute to Train New Generation of Voting Rights Lawyers
On March 28, the Campaign Legal Center’s latest Voting Rights Institute training took place in Atlanta, Georgia. At the session, co-hosted by American Constitution Society, practitioners were instructed in the ins and outs of the enforcement of voting rights law. Cases brought to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, were a particular focus of the training.
“The Supreme Court in its Shelby County decision drastically altered voting rights in America, significantly disadvantaging voters in the courts, but cases must be brought to protect the rights of all Americans to vote and a new generation of litigators must be trained to bring these cases,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center.
Experts in the field provided background on the Voting Rights Act and relevant federal court cases to participants and then focused on the mechanics of litigating voting rights cases. The Voting Rights Act was covered in detail and participants learned how it impacts voting rights laws on a state-by-state basis. Hebert once again served as lead instructor and was joined by veteran voting rights litigators and scholars in the field.
The Atlanta session was the third Institute training held outside of Washington, DC. Earlier this year, trainings were held in New York City and Columbus, Ohio. The next session is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., on May 9.
To read the full agenda for the Atlanta training, click here.
Watchdogs File FEC Complaints Against National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Senate Majority PAC
On March 27, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed two separate complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the National Republican Congressional Committee, a party committee that supports Republican candidates, and Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates.
The complaint against the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) urged the Commission to conclude that the group had violated federal law by including the names of Democratic candidates in the titles of at least 19 NRCC special project websites without the website titles clearly and unambiguously showing opposition to the named candidates as required by federal law.
Late last year, the NRCC began setting up websites with URLs and headlines that imply support for named Democratic candidates for Congress and with prominent “donate” buttons. In less prominent text, the websites indicate opposition to the named candidates and note that the websites are paid for by the NRCC. Any money donated via the websites goes to the NRCC.
“The titles of these NRCC websites do not show opposition to the named candidates, so these websites violate federal law meant to protect donors and others from being tricked and mislead by noncandidate committees,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.
The complaint against Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, urges the FEC to investigate an apparent illegal in-kind contribution made by the campaign committee of U.S. Senate candidate Bruce L. Braley. According to multiple press reports, Senate Majority PAC, which is prohibited from contributing to candidates, is paying to air television advertisements that include “b-roll” video footage originally produced by Rep. Braley and/or his campaign. Such republication of Braley campaign materials constitutes a violation of the law by Senate Majority PAC.
“Senate Majority PAC’s expenditures exceeding $240,000 to air an ad containing Braley campaign b-roll footage are in-kind contributions from the super PAC to the Braley campaign under FEC regulations, but Super PACs are prohibited from contributing to candidates,” said Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan.
To read the NRCC complaint, click here.
To read the Senate Majority PAC complaint, click here.
Watchdog Groups Warn Kentucky Opportunity Coalition Its Ads Are Illegal In-Kind Contributions to McConnell Campaign
On March 21, the Campaign Legal Center joined Democracy 21 in calling on the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition (KOC) and the McConnell Senate Committee ’14 to stop running an ad that violates the federal campaign finance laws. The letter warns that KOC’s use of McConnell campaign video “B-roll” in a television advertising campaign supporting the candidate represents an illegal in-kind contribution.
“Though the Supreme Court in Citizens United freed up groups like Kentucky Opportunity Coalition to make unlimited ‘independent’ expenditures, spending to distribute ads using candidate video footage isn’t ‘independent’ spending. It’s an illegal in-kind contribution under well-established federal law,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.
On March 19, KOC began a $1.8 million ad campaign utilizing the footage, just eight days after the McConnell campaign posted video footage produced by the campaign on the campaign’s YouTube account. KOC took four portions of the campaign “B-roll” that had been prepared and posted by the McConnell campaign and incorporated that video into its supposedly “independent expenditure” ad.
To read the letter, click here.
Watchdog Groups Challenge House Ways and Means Committee Letter Claiming IRS Pursuit of Crossroads GPS was Improper
On April 9, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) urging a criminal investigation of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner, accusing her and the agency of “aggressive and improper pursuit of Crossroads [GPS].” In response, Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer issued a statement defending IRS pursuit of Crossroads GPS which spent tens of millions of dollars on political ads while using its 501(c)(4) status to conceal the identities of its donors.
Hebert and Wertheimer’s statement noted: “The IRS’s investigation of Crossroads GPS was not only proper, but essential to the agency’s fulfillment of its law enforcement responsibilities. Far from being too aggressive, the IRS’s efforts with respect to Crossroads GPS were too slow. Crossroads GPS has raised and spent nearly $100 million on candidate election ads since its formation in 2010 - activity that Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center believe constitutes abuses of the tax laws and violations of the campaign finance laws.”
Their statement outlined a series of letters to the IRS by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center documenting that Crossroads GPS was not entitled to section 501(c)(4) tax status as a “social welfare” organization and calling on the IRS to take appropriate action. Many of the letters raised similar concerns about three other organizations, including Priorities USA, a group that supported Democrats, American Action Network a group that supported Republicans and Americans Elect, a group that supported Independents.
To read the full statement, click here.
PIPAC Coalition Praises Important FCC Step for Transparency in Political Advertising
On April 4, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice reminding all U.S. television broadcasters that as of July 1, 2014, they will be required to post their political files online in a Commission-hosted database. The Legal Center as a leader of the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition (PIPAC) praised the FCC follow through in the face of fierce opposition by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). PIPAC has repeatedly urged the FCC to require this disclosure to increase transparency of political advertisers as required by statute.
“Applying these online disclosure requirements for every TV broadcast station in the U.S. is an important victory for transparency in our political process,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of Campaign Legal Center. “By moving forward with the online filing requirement for the political file, the FCC’s policy will help ensure that viewers have the information they need to assess for themselves the messages they are viewing.”
In addition to the Campaign Legal Center, PIPAC’s members include the Benton Foundation, Common Cause, Free Press, Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown Law, New America Foundation, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation, United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc.
As the FCC noted in its reminder, “stations affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) licensed to service communities in the top 50 Designated Market Areas (DMAs) were required to post political file documents online beginning August 2, 2012.” All stations will be required to do so in July. Prior to 2012, the ad files were only available by making an appointment at a local TV station to arrange a personal visit during business hours and usually incurring a charge for making copies of the files.
Meredith McGehee Joins Legacy International Delegation to North Africa
From April 11-18, CLC Policy Director Meredith McGehee participated in a conference in Rabat, Morocco for young professionals involved in civic engagement in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The trip was hosted by the nonprofits Legacy International and the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Joining McGehee as part of the U.S. delegation were two former Members of Congress, Peter Torkildsen (R-MA) and Yvonne Burke (D-CA), along with Legacy International’s President J.E. Rash, a Senate Health Committee staffer, an expert on digital marketing, a professional videographer and a representative of the American Public Health Association.
The North African delegation was part of Legacy International’s Legislative Fellows Program, intended to provide delegates with the opportunity to exchange views with other young professionals in the region engaged in civic engagement projects in their respective countries and to gain advocacy skills. During the week in Morocco, the North Africans participated in skill building workshops focused on advocacy led by McGehee and other U.S. delegates. The combined delegation also made on-site visits to a nonprofit in a poor neighborhood in Rabat working with drop outs and another in Fez working to promote literacy and job skills for women.
McGehee's trip to Morocco was part of a longer-running Campaign Legal Center international cultural/political exchange with North Africa and the Middle East facilitated by Legacy International and the State Department. Last fall, the Legal Center hosted a group of Legacy International delegates from the region for a discussion of money in U.S. elections. The Legal Center is hoping to host another exchange delegate in the future.
Trevor Potter Addresses Wilson School at Princeton
On April 22, Trevor Potter delivered the 2014 Donald S. Bernstein lecture at Princeton University’s Wilson School of Public & International Affairs. In his address, “Can Our Democracy Survive the Supreme Court?”, Potter discussed developments in campaign finance law, particularly with regards to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Policy Director Joins CRP Sunshine Week Panel
On March 20, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee joined the Center for Responsive Politics' (CRP) Bob Biersack and Russ Choma in discussing leadership PACs, ethics and disclosure as part of a series of events put together by CRP to celebrate Sunshine Week. Following the panel discussions at the American Bar Association offices in Washington, the discussion with the audience highlighted the new growing resistance from congressional Republicans to disclosure efforts.
Paul S. Ryan Speaks at Valparaiso Law Review Symposium on Money in Politics
On April 4, 2014, just two days after the Supreme Court issued its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, CLC Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan spoke at a fortuitously-timed symposium held by the Valparaiso Law Review entitled “Money in Politics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The symposium began with panels examining the impact of Citizens United v. FEC and recent efforts by the IRS to regulate political activities by tax-exempt entities. Ryan spoke on the third and final panel, together with James Bopp, Jr. and Liz Kennedy of Demos, examining the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision.
Legal Center Senior Counsel Speaks at GW Political Law Studies Initiative Event on IRS Regulation of 501(c)(4) Political Activities
On April 9, 2014, CLC Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan spoke on a panel discussion at George Washington Law School, sponsored by the GW Political Law Studies Initiative’s Alumni Steering Committee, regarding the ongoing IRS rulemaking proceeding pertaining to the regulation of political activities by 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. Joining Ryan on the panel were Cleta Mitchell of the Foley & Lardner law firm, John Pomeranz of the Harmon, Curran law firm and moderator Ron Jacobs of the Venable law firm.