- Legal Center, Watchdogs Groups File Suit against FEC, Call on Federal Court to Overturn Dismissal of Complaint against Crossroads GPS
- Van Hollen, Watchdogs Withdraw IRS Lawsuit After Agency Launches New Rulemaking on 501(c)(4) Political Activity
- Voting Rights Institute to Train New Generation of Voting Rights Lawyers Expanding Nationally
- Bipartisan Voting Rights Bill Praised as an Important First Step in Undoing Damage Done by Supreme Court in Shelby County
- Civil Rights Division Nominee Praised Prior to Confirmation Hearing
- Legal Center Urges New Mexico to Erect Bulwarks to Contribution Limits & Disclosure Laws in Wake of Court Ruling
- Legal Center Files in Support of Connecticut Agency’s Proposed Ruling on State’s Campaign Finance Laws
- Minnesota Urged to Make Clear That Expenditures Made With Funds Raised By Candidates Are “Coordinated” Expenditures, Not “Independent” Expenditures
- Legal Center Names Second Rapoport Legal Fellow, Adds Staff Attorney
- Legal Center Joins Corporate Reform Coalition in Criticizing SEC Decision to Drop Political Spending Disclosure Rules from 2014 Agenda Priorities
- Reform Groups Urge Senators to Vote No on Partial Presidential Public Financing Repeal
- Reform Groups Tout Sunlight Foundation Study on Inadequate Broadcaster Disclosure Compliance to FCC
- Reform Groups Urge Ways & Means Committee to Vote No on Proposed Legislation to Halt New IRS Rules
- Reform Groups Push for Congress to Require Disclosure of Presidential Library Fundraising
- Senior Counsel Addresses Annual COGEL Conference
- Policy Director Speaks to Dartmouth Seminar Students
- Legal Center Policy Director Speaks at American University
On January 31, the Legal Center filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of watchdog groups against the Federal Election Commission (FEC), arguing the court should overturn the agency’s dismissal of a complaint about the secretive political spending group Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies (GPS).
The lawsuit, Public Citizen v. FEC, was brought by the parties to the 2010 complaint: Public Citizen; Craig Holman, campaign finance expert for Public Citizen; ProtectOurElections.org; and Kevin Zeese, an attorney for ProtectOurElections.org. Attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen are representing the plaintiffs in the action.
The groups contend that Crossroads GPS – an organization created by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie to influence the 2010 midterm elections – fits the legal definition of a political committee: any group that receives or spends more than $1,000 during a calendar year to influence elections and whose major purpose is to support or oppose the election of federal candidates. Political committees must disclose information about their donors and expenditures. However, because the FEC has refused to investigate whether Crossroads GPS is a political committee, the organization will continue to keep its donors secret.
“Three members of the FEC have chosen to ignore the Commission’s own well-established policies and the strong urging of its own General Counsel to investigate these apparent violations, so there is no other recourse but the courts to make the Commissioners fulfill the duties of their office,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “The ‘see no evil’ posture adopted by the three Republican Commissioners in ignoring what appear to be clear cut violations of the law and to not even allow an investigation is simply disgraceful.”
In response to the complaint, the FEC’s own general counsel determined that there is substantial reason to believe Crossroads GPS is a political committee. But the FEC deadlocked 3-3 along party lines in December 2013 over whether to investigate further, so it dismissed the complaint.
To read the complaint filed with the court, click here.
To read the original FEC complaint, click here.
To read the statement by the Democratic Commissioners of the FEC, click here.
To read the FEC General Counsel’s recommendation, click here.
Van Hollen, Watchdogs Withdraw IRS Lawsuit After Agency Launches New Rulemaking on 501(c)(4) Political Activity
A December Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announcement that it would undertake a rulemaking proceeding to address the problems arising from campaign activities by 501(c)(4) groups prompted U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democracy 21, Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center to dismiss without prejudice the lawsuit they filed in federal court to obtain such a rulemaking proceeding.
The lawsuit, originally filed on August 21, 2013, challenged the failure of the IRS to conduct a rulemaking proceeding to adopt new rules to properly implement eligibility requirements for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization in the wake of widespread abuse of the tax status following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Under the existing rules, 501(c)(4) organizations spent more than $300 million in the 2012 federal elections, with the great bulk of those campaign expenditures made by 501(c)(4) organizations that kept secret the identity of the donors funding their campaign spending.
In dropping the lawsuit, Rep. Van Hollen and the watchdog organizations vowed to closely monitor the IRS proceedings going forward, promising that if the agency fails to adopt new regulations to properly implement the tax laws and prevent groups from misusing the laws to obtain 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, more litigation will ensue.
The lawsuit stemmed from a petition filed with the IRS in July 2011 by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center urging the agency to undertake a rulemaking proceeding to bring its regulations into compliance with a provision of the Internal Revenue Code requiring 501(c)(4) groups to be devoted “exclusively” to social welfare activities, which do not include campaign activities.
To read the notice of dismissal filed today, click here.
To read the rulemaking petition filed with the IRS, click here.
Voting Rights Institute to Train New Generation of Voting Rights Lawyers Expanding Nationally
On January 17, The Campaign Legal Center announced that the Voting Rights Institute will expand to New York, Ohio and Georgia in the coming months to train the next generation of Voting Rights lawyers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s highly-controversial Shelby County decision striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Practitioners and law students will learn the ‘ins and outs’ of voting rights enforcement in the wake of the Court’s ruling, particularly cases brought to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. J. Gerald Hebert, the Legal Center’s Executive Director, will serve as the Institute’s lead instructor and he will be joined by seasoned voting rights litigators, appellate advocates, and scholars in the field.
The Voting Rights Institute was first held at American University’s Washington College of Law last June, the same week as the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case. The Legal Center and the American Constitution Society are co-sponsoring the Institute and will hold half-day training programs, taught by some of the most respected voting rights practitioners in the country, which will count toward Continuing Legal Education (CLE).
“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the abuses of the voting rights of Americans have come in waves and have been startling in their audacity, making it very clear that the next generation of voting right lawyers must be trained to take up the mantle of leadership to preserve this precious democratic right,” said Hebert. “The playing field has been drastically and unfairly tilted by the Supreme Court in favor of those who seek to control which citizens vote and which citizens do not vote, and trained voting right litigators are greatly needed. The Voting Rights Institute is working to fill that vital need and will continue to do so going forward.”
Bipartisan Voting Rights Bill Praised as an Important First Step in Undoing Damage Done by Supreme Court in Shelby County
On January 16, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced by a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert issued a statement praising the proposed legislation as an important first step to restoring and protecting the rights of all Americans to vote and make their voices heard in elections.
“This legislation is a clear indication that Congress recognizes the great harm done by a narrow majority of Supreme Court Justices and a strong signal that Members understand it is now their responsibility as the legislative branch to repair the damage done by the Court,” Mr. Hebert said.
He pointed out some troubling provisions in the bill, particularly with regards to certain exemptions for voter ID laws that are found to be discriminatory, but emphasized that he looked forward to working with Members on both sides of the aisle to improve the legislation.
To read the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, click here.
Civil Rights Division Nominee Praised Prior to Confirmation Hearing
On January 7, the Campaign Legal Center joined with 75 organizations in voicing their strong support of the nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate the day before Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation hearing, the groups hailed the nominee as one of the preeminent civil rights litigators of his generation and one who has earned respect and admiration from a bipartisan set of colleagues, lawyers, and leaders.
The groups praised Mr. Adegbile as exceptionally qualified to lead the Civil Rights Division at this time in history, pointing out that he has twice argued in defense of the Voting Rights Act in the U.S. Supreme Court, which President Ronald Reagan called “the crown jewel of American liberties.” In his distinguished career, Mr. Adegible has worked as a litigator for a large corporate law firm, served for a decade in various leadership positions at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and is currently serving as Senior Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
To read the letter, click here.
Legal Center Urges New Mexico to Erect Bulwarks to Contribution Limits & Disclosure Laws in Wake of Court Ruling
On January 6, the Campaign Legal Center urged the State of New Mexico to proactively address likely fallout related to the controversial Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United after a federal appeals court (Republican Party of New Mexico v. King) struck down the state contribution limits for independent expenditure committees. In comments filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking, the Legal Center urged the state to address the issues of disclosure and coordination in particular, in order to avoid some of the consequences suffered by other states and at the federal level.
“The experiences of other states strongly suggests that New Mexico will soon see an explosion of big-money Super PACs and ‘dark money’ groups that do not publicly disclose their donors,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel. “The State has an opportunity through this rulemaking to mitigate some of the potential damage but it needs to act quickly. Otherwise the integrity of the State’s contribution limits and disclosure laws will be in jeopardy.”
In addition to addressing the issues of disclosure and coordination, the comments filed by the Legal Center also addressed a number of other campaign finance and lobbying matters outlined in the State’s notice of proposed rulemaking.
To read the comments filed by the Legal Center, click here.
Legal Center Files in Support of Connecticut Agency’s Proposed Ruling on State’s Campaign Finance Laws
On February 5, the Campaign Legal Center filed comments with Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission strongly supporting the agency’s Proposed Declaratory Ruling 2013-02 upholding a variety of state campaign finance laws. The proposed ruling was issued in response to a petition by Perkins Coie, on behalf of clients seeking clarification of the state’s campaign finance laws in the wake of Citizens United and other court decisions.
The clarifications regarded application of the state’s political committee registration and disclosure laws to three types of organizations, as well as Connecticut’s contractor contribution ban. The Legal Center’s comments urge the Election Enforcement Commission to issue the ruling as written and offers legal precedent to assure the state of the constitutionality of the ruling and the laws behind it.
“States across the nation continue to have their regulations called into question in light of the highly controversial Citizens United decision, but Connecticut’s regulations and this proposed ruling are on solid legal footing,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel.
To read the Legal Center’s full comments, click here.
Minnesota Urged to Make Clear That Expenditures Made With Funds Raised By Candidates Are “Coordinated” Expenditures, Not “Independent” Expenditures
On February 10, the Legal Center urged the Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board to approve an advisory opinion making clear that if a candidate solicits funds for an outside group, expenditures made by the group supporting such candidate will be deemed “coordinated” with the candidate, not “independent” from the candidate. The nonpublic request, filed by attorneys on behalf of an anonymous client, asks whether a candidate’s fundraising of unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations for an independent expenditure committee would be “independent” of the committee’s later express advocacy efforts to elect that same candidate.
In comments filed with Minnesota’s campaign finance agency, the Legal Center emphasized that allowing candidates to solicit these funds would by definition constitute coordination, and in effect eliminate the state’s corruption-preventing candidate contribution limits. The comments further stressed that under Minnesota law, an expenditure is not “independent” of a candidate if it is made with the “implied consent” or “cooperation” of the candidate. The Legal Center urged the Board to approve the draft advisory opinion that concludes the obvious—that candidate fundraising for an expenditure constitutes implied consent and cooperation regarding that expenditure. Such an opinion would be fully in keeping with Supreme Court precedent, which has repeatedly recognized that candidate solicitations pose a serious threat of corruption and circumvention, even if the funds are accepted and spent by another entity.
“This anonymous requestor has asked the agency to ignore the laws passed by the Minnesota State Legislature as well as the clear precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court in order to allow what would amount to solicitations by candidates of unlimited contributions for their own benefit,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Legal Center Executive Director. “The High Court has been abundantly clear in its recognition that this type of solicitation poses a very serious threat of corruption or at the very least the appearance of corruption, either of which is sufficient to uphold such limits.”
To read the comments filed by the Legal Center, click here.
Legal Center Names Second Rapoport Legal Fellow, Adds Staff Attorney
On December 18, the Campaign Legal Center announced Emma Simson as the recipient of the second Rapoport Legal Fellowship, and the hiring of Megan McAllen, the first Rapoport Fellow, as a staff attorney. The fellowship is made possible by a generous grant from the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation. The one-year position is designed for recent law school graduates embarking on careers in campaign finance and election law.
“The generosity of the Rapoport Foundation continues to allow us to bring in very talented young lawyers at a time when common sense campaign finance laws and voting rights are under siege in our nation,” said Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert. “The additions of Ms. Simson and Ms. McAllen have allowed us to expand our role in the courts to defend campaign finance and disclosure laws and to help safeguard the fundamental American right to vote on Election Day.”
New voting laws that harm minority voters, which have spiked since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last year, will be a primary focus for Ms. Simson. Ms. McAllen, now an Associate Counsel at the Legal Center, will continue litigating a variety of campaign finance and voting rights cases before state and federal courts, and will be active in an expanding range of voting rights and election protection efforts.
Ms. McAllen is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law (2011) and Princeton University (2007). She is admitted to practice law in the State of California. Ms. Simson is a graduate of Yale Law School (2013), the University of Oxford (MSc, 2010), and the University of Maryland (2007).
Legal Center Joins Corporate Reform Coalition in Criticizing SEC Decision to Drop Political Spending Disclosure Rules from 2014 Agenda Priorities
On December 3, the Campaign Legal Center joined with dozens of other members of the Corporate Reform Coalition in expressing deep disappointment with the SEC’s decision to remove the political spending and disclosure rule from the agency’s 2014 agenda. The groups called the decision to drop the rule and others from the 2014 Commission agenda a step back from the SEC’s proactive stance in protecting investors. The SEC has received nearly 700,000 comments – a record breaking number -- urging disclosure of political spending.
In a publicly-released statement, the Coalition members emphasized that surveys commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development and the Center for Political Accountability found a strong majority of business leaders endorsing corporate disclosure of direct and indirect political spending. The groups pointed out that more than 100 leading companies have already taken the initiative to publicly disclose their political spending, demonstrating the ease with which these disclosures can be accomplished.
The coalition called for an explanation from SEC chairman Mary Jo White as to why the investor demand for this updated regulation is being ignored. The groups urged the Commission to renew its political disclosure rulemaking, emphasizing that it is critical both for democracy and the rights of investors in the marketplace.
Reform Groups Urge Senators to Vote No on Partial Presidential Public Financing Repeal
On January 14, The Campaign Legal Center joined with other reform groups in urging Senators to oppose H.R. 2019, which purports to provide funding for a 10-year pediatric research initiative and repeal a portion of the presidential public financing system. In a letter sent to the Senate, the groups emphasized that H.R. 2019 is not a real effort to increase funding for pediatric research, but rather the fourth attempt by House Republican leaders, beginning in the last Congress, to repeal the presidential public financing system.
The January 14 letter noted that in a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter opposing H.R. 2019 sent to House members on December 11, 2013, Representatives made clear that H.R. 2019 would not actually increase spending for pediatric research. The bill does not provide any additional funds to NIH; rather, it specifies that the funds shall be available for NIH pediatric research “only to the extent and in such amounts as provided in advance in appropriations Acts.”
“H.R. 2019 would repeal a portion of an anti-corruption campaign finance law which has served the nation well for most of its existence and has provided ordinary Americans with a critical role to play in financing presidential elections. The presidential public financing system needs to be repaired, not repealed.”
To read the letter, click here.
Reform Groups Tout Sunlight Foundation Study on Inadequate Broadcaster Disclosure Compliance to FCC
On December 20, The Campaign Legal Center joined the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition (PIPAC), the Sunlight Foundation and Center for Effective Government in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring their attention to a recent Sunlight Foundation study that examines inadequate television station compliance with the online political file disclosure requirements enacted by the Commission.
In the study, Sunlight chose 200 ad contracts at random from the current online political files. Of those 200 ad contracts, 94 were ads targeting federal candidates. Only 8 of the contracts disclosed candidate name and office, 57 of the disclosure forms left the information out, and another 22 had no disclosure forms at all. The study also examined issue advertising on topics including gun control and immigration. Of the 21 issue ads found, there were only 4 disclosure forms that described the subject of the ad.
The report suggests that some of the non-compliance might be due to a lack of understanding. Even LUC Media, a supporter of disclosure and large media buyer, failed to disclose when an ad supported or attacked candidates.
The letter and study identified lack of disclosure as a universal problem and emphasized that the simplest way to ensure full disclosure is to adopt data standardization requirements. “Citizens,” the letter concluded, “should not have to rely on the good graces of broadcasters and ad buyers to ensure they receive the disclosure they are entitled to by law and which is necessary to have an informed electorate.”
To read the letter, click here.
Reform Groups Urge Ways & Means Committee to Vote No on Proposed Legislation to Halt New IRS Rules
On February 10, the Legal Center joined with other reform groups in sending a letter to members of the House Ways and Means Committee urging Members to oppose legislation currently under consideration by the Committee that would mandate a one-year delay in the current rulemaking by the Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service to modify regulations governing standards for “social welfare” organizations under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. The legislative proposal is scheduled for markup on February 11, 2014.
The groups emphasized that the abuse of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations for partisan political purposes had exploded after the Supreme Court’s highly controversial Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010. In 2012 those groups spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising, predominantly attacking candidates for federal office, while hiding the identity of their funders. The letter stressed that the rulemaking to modify the 50 year-old regulations are long overdue.
The groups signing the letter along with the Legal Center include Americans for Campaign Reform, Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, The Sunlight Foundation and U.S PIRG.
To read the letter, click here.
Reform Groups Push for Congress to Require Disclosure of Presidential Library Fundraising
On February 6, The Campaign Legal Center along with more than 20 other organizations urged the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives to bring the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act (H.R. 1133) to the floor for a vote. The bipartisan bill would bring much-needed transparency to the murky world of funding presidential libraries, where sitting presidents raise unlimited amounts of money without any transparency. H.R. 1133 would require presidential library fundraising groups to submit quarterly reports on donors who make donations above a certain threshold to support a presidential library. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would be required to make the reports available in a public, searchable database.
The presidential library foundation recently launched by President Obama has reportedly pledged to disclose all contributions of $200 or more on a quarterly basis. The pledge, however, is not legally binding; nor will it carry over to future presidents. Further, no oversight mechanism exists to ensure compliance with this commitment, and it is not clear how the records will be disclosed, what they will contain, or whether they will be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
To read the letter, click here.
Senior Counsel Addresses Annual COGEL Conference
On December 9-10, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan spoke on two panels at the annual Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference in Quebec City, Canada. Ryan spoke on one panel regarding recent developments in campaign finance litigation and another regarding recent developments in campaign finance legislation and policy.
Policy Director Speaks to Dartmouth Seminar Students
On February 3, CLC Policy Director Meredith McGehee taught Dartmouth Professor Deborah Brooks's senior seminar on Media and Advertising. Ms. McGehee spoke about the role of the Campaign Legal Center; the status of our campaign finance system (especially challenges the U.S. faces after the Citizens United decision), political advertising, disclosure, and lobbying in Washington.
Legal Center Policy Director Speaks at American University
On January 9, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee spoke at American University's Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute on “The Causes, Characteristics, and Consequences of Lobbying Reform." At the Institute, which includes both undergraduate and graduate students, Ms. McGehee described the loopholes in the current lobby disclosure law, highlighted possible reforms including those proposed by the American Bar Association's Task Force on Lobby Reform and also discussed the roles of campaign finance, gifts and travel in Washington's policy-making arena.