- SCOTUS Brief Defends Aggregate Contribution Limits to Prevent Return of Million Dollar “Soft Money” Donors
- Trevor Potter Delivers Chautauqua Institution Lecture
- Trevor Potter Featured at National Press Club Event on Corporate Disclosure
- Watchdogs Urge FEC to Reject Democratic & Republican Parties’ Request to Use “Recount Funds” as Slush Funds
- Reformers’ Filing Reminds FEC that it Has No Authority to Declare Federal Laws Unconstitutional
- Watchdogs Urge FEC to Reject Democratic Governors’ Association Proposal to Violate Soft Money Ban
- Reform Groups Call On FEC Chair to Buck Partisan Political Pressure to Undermine Enforcement
- Watchdog Groups Challenge Illegitimate Attempt by Republican FEC Commissioners to Sabotage Campaign Finance Enforcement by Federal Agencies
- Reform Groups Urge FEC Commissioners to Take No Action on Proposed Enforcement Manual Changes
- Reform Groups Urge House to Reject Latest Attempt to Repeal Presidential Public Financing System
- OPEN Act Seeks Disclosure of Corporate and Union Political Spending and Limits On 501(c)(4) Political Activity
SCOTUS Brief Defends Aggregate Contribution Limits to Prevent Return of Million Dollar “Soft Money” Donors
On July 25, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amici brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending the federal aggregate contribution limits and warning that invalidation of the limits would herald a return to the abuses of the “soft money” era that were outlawed by the McCain-Feingold Act and held corruptive by the Supreme Court in 2003. Absent the challenged limits, the brief argued, individual donors could circumvent the base contribution limits by contributing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in “limited” contributions to a huge number of candidates, party committees and PACs each election cycle.
The brief emphasized that if the aggregate limits were invalidated, an individual could contribute $5,200 toward every single House and Senate candidate of the donor’s preferred party, $32,400 to each of that party’s three federal party committees and $10,000 to each of that party’s fifty state committees for a total of $3.6 million in a two-year election cycle. The total could be further increased by as many $5,000 contributions to PACs as an individual chose to make.
“Striking down the aggregate contribution limits would allow candidates to solicit, and each donor to give, contributions totaling over $1 million per election cycle. This would open the door to exactly the type of corruption, or at the very least the appearance of corruption, that the Supreme Court cited in upholding the original aggregate contribution limits in Buckley v. Valeo,” said Tara Malloy, Legal Center Senior Counsel.
Legal Center’s Executive Director, J. Gerald Hebert, predicted that the McCutcheon case will be carefully watched by the American people to see if the Supreme Court continues down the dangerous road of overturning common sense campaign finance rules aimed at curbing big money interests from buying politicians. “In recent years, the Supreme Court has done enormous damage to its institutional interests by handing down decisions that overturn decades of legal precedent and that are harmful to our democracy,” Hebert observed.
The groups signing onto the brief filed by the Legal Center included AARP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, The League of Women Voters of the United States, Progressives United and Public Campaign.
In September of 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that the aggregate limits are justified, and rejected the arguments of the plaintiffs that the limits were unconstitutional. The Legal Center’s brief in the lower court in support of the limits was cited in the court’s opinion.
To read the amici brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and the other organizations, click here.
To read the District Court's decision upholding the aggregate contribution limits, click here.
Trevor Potter Delivers Chautauqua Institution Lecture
On July 16, the Campaign Legal Center President, Trevor Potter, lectured at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York as part of 2013 series on "Markets, Morals and the Social Contract." Before an audience of several thousand in the Institution’s historic amphitheater, Potter addressed the increasing role of money in politics and challenges that America faces as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The other four featured lecturers of the week included columnist David Brooks of The New York Times, Professor Michael J. Sandel of Harvard University and George Packer of The New Yorker.
To view Potter’s lecture, click here.
Trevor Potter Featured at National Press Club Event on Corporate Disclosure
On July 24, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke on a panel convened by the Center for Economic Development’s (CED) and The Conference Board Governance Center at the National Press Club entitled, “Perspectives from Business on Campaign Finance Reform.” Other panelists included Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and senior executives from Fortune 500 companies. The panel discussed corporate disclosure of political spending and the release of a new CED report, “Hiding in Plain Site: The Problem of Transparency in Political Finance.”
Watchdogs Urge FEC to Reject Democratic & Republican Parties’ Request to Use “Recount Funds” as Slush Funds
On August 2, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in response to an Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2013-10, in which both the Democratic and Republican parties seek to use their segregated “recount funds” to pay for office building expenses and in effect double their federal contribution limits.
“The parties are asking the FEC to create a new soft money system, effectively doubling their contribution limits by regulatory sleight of hand. Their request is outrageous and should be rejected by the Commission,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “The parties shamelessly seek to use an ill-conceived FEC-created loophole allowing parties to raise ‘recount funds’ under a separate contribution limit to now pay for ‘office building’ expenses that have nothing to do with recounts. The parties’ request is all the more audacious considering that Congress explicitly outlawed separate “office building” accounts in 2002, when it dismantled the corrupt soft money system.”
To read the comments, click here.
Reformers’ Filing Reminds FEC that it Has No Authority to Declare Federal Laws Unconstitutional
On July 22, the Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments in response to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2013-09, which asks the agency to exceed its authority by declaring a statute unconstitutional and announcing that the agency will no longer enforce the statute—even though the Supreme Court has upheld the statute as constitutional.
Specifically, the AOR submitted on behalf of Special Operations Speaks PAC (“SOS PAC”) and U.S. Senate candidate Col. Robert L. Maness, asks whether the PAC may make, and the candidate accept, a contribution exceeding the $2,600 limit applicable to non-multicandidate political committees, up to the $5,000 limit applicable to multicandidate political committees despite the fact the SOS freely admits it has not and will not meet the requirement that it contribute to five or more candidates for federal office in order to qualify as a multicandidate political committee.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the requirements in question, yet the requestors ask the FEC to ignore and exceed the limits of its authority and declare them unconstitutional,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Such an outrageous request, filed by campaign finance attorneys as seasoned as those retained by the requestors, would certainly seem to point to plans for protracted litigation.”
To read the comments, click here.
Watchdogs Urge FEC to Reject Democratic Governors Association Proposal to Violate Soft Money Ban
On July 9, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission urging the agency to reject a request by the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) for permission to fund federal election activity with money raised outside federal contribution limits (i.e., “soft money”), which would clearly violate the McCain-Feingold Law soft money ban.
“The statute anticipates exactly this type of attempted circumvention of the law and makes it abundantly clear that federal election activity must be funded using money raised under federal contribution limits,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “This request is a Trojan Horse, but those sending it are clearly seeking willing accomplices inside the walls of the FEC.”
Under the soft money ban, state party committees, as well as any “association or similar group of candidates for State or local office or of individuals holding State or local office” must use funds raised under federal contribution limits to pay for federal election activity—defined in the law to include voter registration, get-out-the-vote (“GOTV”) activities, voter identification and ads that promote, attack, support or oppose federal candidates. The DGA along with Jobs and Opportunity (J&O), an organization under the full control of the DGA, submitted Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2013-4 to the FEC asking if they could pay for federal election activity with unlimited soft money.
To read the comments filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Reform Groups Call on FEC Chair to Buck Partisan Political Pressure to Undermine Enforcement
On August 2, the Legal Center joined with ten other reform groups to urge FEC Chair Ellen L. Weintraub not to yield to political pressure from Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) to undermine the enforcement of the nation’s campaign finance laws.
Rep. Miller, Chairman of the House Administration Committee, criticized the FEC for failing to adopt amendments to an agency Enforcement Manual and urged the Commission to act promptly on the matter. The letter to Chair Weintraub urged her to wait until the Commission had a full complement of Commissioners before voting on changes to the FEC’s Enforcement Manual proposed by the Republican Commissioners seeking to take advantage of a temporary 3-2 majority on the Commission.
“Rep. Miller has been conspicuously silent on the glacial pace of FEC enforcement in general but suddenly chooses to apply pressure when she sees the opportunity for partisan political gain,” said Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan.
To read the letter, click here.
Watchdog Groups Challenge Illegitimate Attempt by Republican FEC Commissioners to Sabotage Campaign Finance Enforcement by Federal Agencies
On July 12, the Campaign Legal Center joined Democracy 21 and Americans for Campaign Reform in voicing strong objections to changes to the Federal Election Commission’s Enforcement Manual that have been proposed by Commissioners McGahn, Hunter and Petersen. The groups also object to the possibility that these significant changes to the agency’s Enforcement Manual will be made by a partisan majority vote at a time when there is less than a full complement of six Commissioners on the agency, with Republican Commissioners presently outnumbering Democratic Commissioners 3-to-2. Such a vote would be entirely unnecessary and inappropriate, particularly in light of the Commissioner nominations presently pending confirmation in the Senate.
“The Commissioners proposing these changes have repeatedly blocked FEC enforcement of the laws on the books. This proposal would further undermine the efforts of the FEC’s professional staff as well as other federal agencies to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws,” said Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan. “The current Republican Commissioners have gone to unprecedented lengths to stymie effective enforcement of our campaign finance laws. This latest attempt to hamstring campaign finance law enforcement—a parting shot by an outgoing Commissioner serving an expired term—is bad public policy and must be stopped.”
To read the full letter, click here.
Reform Groups Urge FEC Commissioners to Take No Action on Proposed Enforcement Manual Changes
In a letter sent on July 19 to the five FEC Commissioners, the Legal Center and other reform groups urged Commissioners to take no action regarding the FEC Enforcement Manual until the two nominees who have been nominated to serve on the Commission are confirmed and take office. The groups warned that the changes would undermine the ability of the FEC and other agencies to enforce the campaign finance laws passed by Congress.
The proposed changes to the Enforcement Manual, would prohibit FEC professional staff from utilizing publicly available information or accepting and using information from, or providing information to, any local, state or federal law enforcement agency, including the Department of Justice and U.S Attorneys offices, without the vote of four Commissioners.
The reform groups sending the letter included Americans for Campaign Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S PIRG.
To read the full letter, click here.
Reform Groups Urge House to Reject Latest Attempt to Repeal Presidential Public Financing System
On July 22, the Campaign Legal Center joined with other reform groups in urging House Members to reject yet another attempt to repeal the presidential public financing system. In a letter sent to the full House of Representatives, the groups urged Members to vote “no” on H.R. 2019, sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), which purports to provide for a 10-year pediatric research initiative and repeals the presidential public financing system.
Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) made clear in a Dear Colleague letter that Rep. Harper’s bill does not actually authorize any additional funding for pediatric research. The proposed legislation would put the money into the general appropriations process and merely says that the funds could be used for pediatric research. The reform groups sending the letter voiced support to fix the presidential public financing rather than do away with the post-Watergate, anticorruption measure altogether. They emphasized that the presidential public financing system was utilized by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before opponents of the system killed legislative efforts to update the system to keep pace with the evolution of presidential campaigns.
To read the full letter, click here.
OPEN Act Seeks Disclosure of Corporate and Union Political Spending and Limits On 501(c)(4) Political Activity
On July 12, Rep. Matt Cartwright introduced H.R. 2670, the Openness in Political Expenditures Now Act (OPEN Act), to address the flood of secret political spending by corporation and unions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The legislation would require corporations and labor unions to disclose political expenditure details to shareholders or union members. The legislation would also cap the amount of political spending by tax-exempt 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations at the lesser of 10% of the organization’s total annual budget or $10,000,000.
“Representative Cartwright’s bill would curb the rapidly-growing abuse of the tax code by de facto political committees posing as 501(c)(4) social welfare groups in order to hide the identities of those seeking to buy influence in Washington,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Further, the bill would provide greater disclosure of corporate and union political spending, which the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision assured us existed, but in fact does not.” To read the full bill, click here.