- Court Finds Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act
- South Carolina Voter ID Law Goes to Trial
- Latest Court Disclosure Challenge Opposed by Campaign Legal Center
- Watchdogs Defend Federal Disclosure Laws in Latest Challenge Filed in Wyoming
- Watchdogs Defend Contractor Contribution Ban in Court Filing
- Campaign Legal Center Challenges Florida’s Plan to Purge Voters
- Fourth Circuit Denies Rehearing in Challenge to Century-Old Law Banning Corporate Contributions to Candidates & Parties
- Legal Center and Democracy 21 Send Further Evidence to IRS that Groups Seeking to Influence Elections are Wrongly Claiming 501(c)(4) Status
Court Finds Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act
On August 30, a three judge panel in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that a Texas voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act. The state brought its suit, Texas v. Attorney General Eric Holder, after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded the law was discriminatory and blocked its implementation. The court found that the photo ID law disproportionately impacted minorities in the state and imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert is part of the legal team representing voters that would be hurt by the law.
The opinion was especially significant in that it marked the first time a federal court has ruled on the legality of a voter ID law under the Voting Rights Act. Under the Act, Texas like South Carolina and a number of other states with histories of voter discrimination must seek the approval of DOJ to make changes to its voting laws.
The ruling was the second by a federal court in a week to determine that Texas had violated the Voting Rights Act and the rights of its citizens. Earlier in the week, a separate three-judge panel found Texas’ three statewide redistricting plans to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
“These two decisions speak volumes about the fact that the Voting Rights Act is still very much needed to protect the rights of minority voters, even in the 21stCentury,” said Hebert. “Minority voters are being targeted by these voter ID laws for blatantly partisan and discriminatory purposes. If legislators feel that voter ID laws must be on the books, this decision makes clear that such laws must be inclusive and flexible to ensure all eligible citizens have free access to their most basic right, the right to vote.”
To read the decision, click here.
South Carolina Voter ID Law Goes to Trial
During the week of August 27, trial was held in the case South Carolina v. United States, in which the state is seeking Voting Rights Act approval of its controversial voter ID law. Trial was held before a three judge panel in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Campaign Legal Center Executive Director, J. Gerald Hebert is serving as co-counsel for a group of Intervenors who may be disenfranchised if the voter ID law is allowed to take effect.
South Carolina sued after the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) concluded that the law failed to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The law would require voters to present a state-issued driver's license or ID card, or a U.S. military ID or passport in order to cast a ballot.
South Carolina, along with a number of other states and municipalities with a history of voter discrimination, is covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which requires it to secure DOJ or Court approval for changes in its election laws. DOJ determined that the state’s voter ID law would disproportionately impact minorities and blocked its implementation.
Latest Court Disclosure Challenge Opposed by Campaign Legal Center
On August 29, The Campaign Legal Center submitted an amicus brief in opposition to the latest attempt by outside groups to gut existing disclosure laws in Hispanic Leadership Fund (HLF) against the Federal Election Commission (FEC)in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The organization is seeking to air television advertisements criticizing President Obama without complying with “electioneering communication” disclosure requirements, which include donor disclosure.
“Electioneering communication” disclosure requirements apply to broadcast ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate in close proximity to an election. The law defines “clearly identified” to include not only ads that explicitly name a candidate, but also ads that make the identity of the candidate “apparent by unambiguous reference.”
The ads proposed by HLF would not mention President Obama by name and instead would use the terms “the White House” and “the Administration” and even audio recordings of the President’s voice. In an attempt to evade the electioneering communication disclosure requirements, HLF argues that its ads do not refer to a clearly identified candidate.
“The proposed ads are unsubtle and unambiguous attack ads against a clearly identified candidate. Federal law requires the funders of such advertisements to be revealed to the public,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “For decades the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure laws as serving the vital public interests in enabling voters to make informed decisions on Election Day and preventing corruption of elected officials.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, click here.
Watchdogs Defend Federal Disclosure Laws in Latest Challenge Filed in Wyoming
On August 10, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming in the latest challenge to federal disclosure laws. Free Speech v. FEC concerns a challenge to the “subpart (b)” definition of “expressly advocating” (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b)), as well as the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) methodology for determining when a group has campaign activity as its “major purpose,” an important step in the larger determination of political committee status. The subpart (b) definition of express advocacy is crucial because it captures sham issue ads that do not say “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate, but “could only be interpreted by a reasonable person as containing advocacy of the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s).”
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure provisions by overwhelming margins. This lawsuit ignores that precedent, and specifically the Wisconsin Right to Life decision, in which the Supreme Court defined the ‘functional equivalent of express advocacy’ using a definition nearly identical to the regulation being challenged here,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.”
In March, Free Speech submitted an advisory opinion request to the FEC proposing to run a series of attack ads and seeking to avoid registering as a political committee in order to hide the identities of its contributors. The Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed comments with the FEC at the time urging the Commission to advise the organization “Free Speech” that many of its ads were “express advocacy,” and as a result, it would likely be required to register and report as a political committee.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
To read the comments filed with the FEC in March, click here.
Watchdogs Defend Contractor Contribution Ban in Court Filing
On August 23, The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, submitted a brief opposing an effort in Wagner v. FEC to overturn the ban on political contributions by federal contractors to federal candidates, parties and other political committees. The 70-year-old restriction on campaign contributions from persons and entities contracting with the federal government was enacted in 1940 to address corruption in federal contracting in the wake of scandals—most notably the “Democratic campaign book” scandal.
“Plaintiffs ignore the threat of pay-to-play corruption that would soar in the absence of this commonsense restriction, as well as the scandals on the state level that have prompted legislatures across the country to enact similar contractor contribution bans,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Plaintiffs inappropriately ask the court to take on a legislative role and tinker with the law, suggesting changes that wouldn’t even remedy what plaintiffs view as problems. The court was right to reject plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and should rule against them again in this instance.”
Wagner v. FEC is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which rejected plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction in April.
To read the brief submitted today by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Campaign Legal Center Challenges Florida’s Plan to Purge Voters
On August 22, The Campaign Legal Center submitted an amended complaint to a federal court in Florida to address recent developments in the Secretary of State’s (“SOS”) ongoing efforts to remove thousands of registered voters from the state’s voter rolls before the general election in November, 2012. The Legal Center’s attorneys are part of the legal team representing a wide array of groups and individuals who have brought this legal challenge. The case is Arcia v. Detzner, No. 12-22282 (S.D. Fl.)
This case was originally brought in June 2012 to challenge a program initiated by the Florida Secretary of State (SOS) to identify non-citizens who are currently on Florida’s voter rolls. The suit alleged that the Secretary’s actions violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), along with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The program was abandoned due to numerous errors and flaws in the list of voters identified by the Secretary of State. However, some Florida County Supervisors of Elections did utilize the flawed list produced by the Florida SOS and notified voters that they had been identified as non-citizens. Many persons on the list were citizens however, and the Florida SOS never took any steps to reinstate or reassure the legally registered voters who had been mistakenly identified as non-citizens. Instead, the SOS has sought access to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Database (SAVE) to cross-check his list of potential non-citizens and to continue and complete his planned systematic purge. Because the planned purge will violate both the NVRA and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Plaintiffs filed a motion to file their amended complaint.
To read the amended complaint, click here.
Fourth Circuit Denies Rehearing in Challenge to Century-Old Law Banning Corporate Contributions to Candidates & Parties
On August 10, in U.S. v Danielczyk, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied a motion to rehear the case. In late June, the Fourth Circuit had reversed a district court decision that had ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedent in order to strike down the century-old federal ban on corporate contributions to candidates and political parties. The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed an amici brief in the Fourth Circuit urging the result reached by the Court.
The restriction on corporate political contributions has been repeatedly upheld by the United States Supreme Court since its passage in 1907, most recently in FEC v Beaumont in 2003. In May 2011 Judge Cacheris of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia issued a decision striking down the law, but he had failed to consider or even cite the Beaumont case. The oversight led to widespread criticism and Judge Cacheris ordered a rebriefing of the case, but ultimately chose to disregard the Beaumont precedent in reaffirming his earlier decision.
“The Fourth Circuit corrected Judge Cacheris’ gross judicial overreach in the lower court and was correct in standing by its initial decision,” said Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Tara Malloy. “The constitutionality of the ban on direct corporate contributions has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court and the lower courts, and Judge Cacheris chose to simply ignore precedent.”
The case, U.S. v. Danielczyk, was a criminal matter that involved numerous allegations of campaign finance violations, including that the defendants illegally directed corporate contributions to the 2008 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Legal Center and Democracy 21 Send Further Evidence to IRS that Groups Seeking to Influence Elections are Wrongly Claiming 501(c)(4) Status
On August 21, The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 sent a letter to Douglas H. Shulman, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and to Lois Lerner, Director of the Exempt Organizations Division. This letter highlighted the need for new regulations to define the eligibility requirements for Section 501(c)(4) status and emphasized the growing abuse of the privileged tax status by organizations spending millions of dollars advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates.
The letter included a report published by ProPublica entitled, "How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare." The extensively-researched report investigates multiple 501(c)(4) groups through a variety of methods including their actual advertising buys and filings with the IRS and election officials. The journalists uncovered widespread abuse of the tax code, major discrepancies in filings with different agencies as well as the laundering of funds through other organizations.
To read the letter to the IRS, click here.
To read the ProPublica report, click here.