CLC Update August 26, 2010

  1. Legal Center Urges Negotiation in Wake of DISCLOSE Act Filibuster
  2. House Ethics Committee Praised for Taking Rare Enforcement Action
  3. Second Circuit Rules on Connecticut Public Financing Program
  4. Legal Center President Addresses the American Bar Association
  5. Legal Center Executive Director and Counsel Speak to Midwest Democracy Network Conference


Legal Center Urges Negotiation in Wake of DISCLOSE Act Filibuster

On July 27, 2010 the U.S. Senate was unable to muster the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster and pass the DISCLOSE Act – the congressional response to a controversial Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.  Policy Director Meredith McGehee issued a statement voicing her disappointment with the outcome and urging Senators to press forward in negotiating a bill that can pass this Congress.  

“We remain hopeful that negotiations will continue to between both parties to pass this legislation before we find ourselves in the midst of a presidential race when the stakes will be even higher and the anonymous checks even bigger,” said McGehee.  McGehee expressed hope that Republican Senators who voted for the historic McCain-Feingold law would lend their support to the DISCLOSE Act.

In the days leading to the vote the Legal Center and other reform groups actively courted Senators’ support of the bill and sent letters to the full Senate on July 23, to Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on July 13, and to Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) on July 12, and again on July 16 in response to his letter to the groups vowing to oppose the legislation.

The Senate is expected to bring the DISCLOSE Act to the floor for another vote in September.  The Legal Center and other reform groups will continue to work to muster the vote to overcome a filibuster and allow the bill to pass on a simple up-or-down vote.   


Second Circuit Rules on Connecticut Public Financing Program

On July 13, 2010, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision both approving and striking down aspects of Connecticut’s comprehensive public financing system in Green Party of Connecticut v. Garfield.  The Court of Appeals invalidated the public financing program’s “trigger provisions,” which provide participating candidates with additional public funding in the event they face large expenditures by a nonparticipating opponent or independent group.  The Court, however, rejected plaintiffs’ claims that the program’s eligibility and qualification requirements imposed an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates.

The Court of Appeals also upheld Connecticut’s ban on political contributions from state contractors, but held unconstitutional the parallel ban on contributions from lobbyists.

Associate Legal Counsel Tara Malloy issued a statement criticizing aspects of the ruling and citing a string of recent court decisions as emphasizing the need for the U.S. Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act.  “Deep pocketed special interests are hard at work in our nation’s capital and in state capitals across the country, and it is vital to our democracy that we know who is attempting to buy access to our elected officials”, commented Malloy. 

Subsequent to the court’s decision, the Connecticut legislature amended its campaign finance law, overriding a gubernatorial veto, in order to address a number of the adverse aspects of the decision.


House Ethics Committee Praised for Taking Rare Enforcement Action

On July 29, 2010, an investigative subcommittee of House ethics committee released a Statement of Alleged Violations outlining the case against Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)    for 13 alleged violations of House ethics rules.

Campaign Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee issued a statement praising the fact that the ethics committee had taken any action after a lengthy ethics enforcement “truce” in the House but stressing that Rep. Rangel deserved the opportunity to present his case.  “It is a relief to see the Ethics Committee taking these matters seriously and not simply sweeping this matter under the rug as it has with other seemingly clear cut violations of House ethics rules,” McGehee stated.  

She further emphasized that the rare action by the ethics committee does not eliminate the need for the Office of Congressional Ethics which has been widely criticized within Congress.  She stressed that the office “has played an important role in ensuring a more transparent and accountable process.” 

The ethics subcommittee’s allegations against Rep. Rangel’s are expected to move to a trial phase before the committee in September.  


Legal Center President Addresses the American Bar Association

On August 6, 2010, Legal Center President Trevor Potter participated in a panel discussion of the Citizens United decision at the 2010 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Board Member Scott Thomas also participated on the panel, “Citizens United: A Unique Journey through Campaign Finance – Separating the Law from the Rhetoric”, which discussed the legal history behind the case, the strategy of the litigants, and the likely impact on future elections and campaign finance litigation. 


Legal Center Executive Director and Counsel Speak to Midwest Democracy Network Conference

On July 20 and 21, 2010, the Legal Center’s Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert and Associate Counsel Tara Malloy participated in sessions of the Midwest Democracy Network’s Summer Workshop in Madison, Wisconsin.  Ms. Malloy’s discussed state litigation following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC on the panel, “What Are Our New Opportunities for Campaign Finance?”  Mr. Hebert discussed strategies for grassroots groups to be more effective in the upcoming redistricting process, as well as ongoing redistricting reform efforts in several states.