- Florida’s 2010 Congressional Redistricting Ruled Unconstitutional by Florida Circuit Court
- Second Circuit Turns Back Challenge to Vermont’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws and Contribution Limits
- Democratic Governors Association Drops Challenge to Connecticut’s Post-Citizens United Campaign Finance Reforms
- Campaign Legal Center Files Brief Urging Ninth Circuit to Overturn Ruling that Ignored Precedent and Struck Down Montana Campaign Contribution Limits
- Ninth Circuit Urged to Rehear Case Striking Down Judicial Campaign Laws by Legal Center & Other Groups Concerned About Judicial Integrity
- Watchdogs File FCC Complaints Against TV Stations that Failed to Properly ID Political Ad Sponsors
- Present Instances of Voter Discrimination Highlighted in Campaign Legal Center Statement for Voting Rights Amendment Act Senate Hearing Record
- Legal Center Condemns House Ethics Committee Elimination of Required Disclosure of Privately Financed Travel by Members on Financial Forms
- Watchdogs Call on Senate Ethics Committee to Open Ethics Process and Create Outside Investigative Office
- Reform Groups Urge Senate to Enact DISCLOSE Act to Close Gaping Disclosure Loopholes Used to Hide Donors
- Legal Center Attorneys Lead Workshops on Redistricting, the Voting Rights Act, and Campaign Finance Law at Summer Institute on Law and Government
- Panel Discussion on New Soft Money Report Features of Counsel Larry Noble
- Of Counsel Larry Noble Participates in Federalist Society Debate on Campaign Finance Reform
Florida’s 2010 Congressional Redistricting Ruled Unconstitutional by Florida Circuit Court
On July 10, Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida found that the Florida Legislature violated the state constitution when it redrew its congressional boundaries. Voters in Florida overwhelmingly supported amending the Florida Constitution in 2010 to bar the Legislature from intentionally favoring or disfavoring a political party or an incumbent/candidate. Judge Lewis found a “group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process” and that they did so “all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and Congress that would favor the Republican Party.” He further found that “[t]hey made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting.”
The Court found that Congressional Districts 5 (Rep. Connie Brown) and 10 (Rep. Daniel Webster) were each drawn with the intent of favoring the Republican Party. By removing black voters from another district and placing them in District 5, the Florida Legislature did so intentionally to make the adjoining district (District 7) more Republican. As for District 10, Judge Lewis found it contained an odd appendage which was added to benefit the incumbent Webster. District 10 was thus struck down because it was drawn intentionally to benefit the Republican Party and favor the incumbent.
“The Florida Legislature ignored the law and the will of Florida voters and let itself be hijacked by Republican political consultants and operatives” said Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert. “The decision is a devastating indictment of those who manipulated the redistricting process secretly behind closed doors and tried to shield it from the public. Political consultants and legislators even destroyed evidence about the redistricting process, apparently in an effort to keep their conspiracy secret.”
Hebert along with the Orlando law firm of King Blackwell Zehnder and Wermuth, and attorneys at Jenner and Block served as co-counsel to the League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Council of La Raza, and Common Cause Florida and Florida voters who brought the lawsuit.
On July 15, the Florida Legislature announced it would not appeal the decision.
To read the full opinion of the Circuit Court, click here.
Second Circuit Turns Back Challenge to Vermont’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws and Contribution Limits
On July 2, the Campaign Legal Center scored another victory in a campaign finance case. In Vermont Right to Life Committee (VRLC) v. Sorrell, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the State of Vermont’s campaign finance disclosure law and the application of state contribution limits to a purported “independent” political committee.
“This decision is an unqualified win for the voters of Vermont who will continue to receive the information they need about independent political spending to make meaningful decisions at the polls,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “In recent years the disclosure laws of nearly two dozen states have been attacked—even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the disclosure of independent election spending is entirely consistent with the First Amendment.”
In addition to challenging Vermont’s disclosure requirements, the plaintiff VRLC asked the court to invalidate the state contribution limits as applied to its sister committee that allegedly made only independent expenditures. The Second Circuit, however, declined to take these unsupported allegations of independence at face value. After reviewing the district court’s extensive factual analysis, it determined that the “independent” committee was functionally indistinguishable from VRLC, which openly contributed to and communicated with candidates.
“It is a relief to see a court take seriously its responsibility to ensure that an ‘independent’ group is in fact independent and to draw the line on the type of coordinated activity that clearly gives rise to potential quid pro quo corruption and public concerns about the integrity of our political system,” said Ms. Malloy.
The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the Second Circuit in defense of Vermont’s disclosure laws and contribution limits.
To read the full opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, click here.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, click here.
Democratic Governors Association Drops Challenge to Connecticut’s Post-Citizens United Campaign Finance Reforms
Last month, the Legal Center was successful in defending an attack on Connecticut’s campaign finance laws. On June 20, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) withdrew its challenge to Connecticut’s campaign finance laws enacted in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The Campaign Legal Center, joined by three Connecticut watchdog groups, had filed amici briefs in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut urging the court to reject the DGA’s attempt to have much of the organization’s election related activity declared outside of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws. The DGA dropped its challenge after the court rejected its attempt to obtain a preliminary injunction against enforcement of key provisions of the law, finding DGA was unlikely to prevail on its claims.
“The voluntary dismissal of this suit is a victory for sensible campaign finance reforms and the citizens of Connecticut as the DGA was attempting to open the door for groups seeking to support candidates in Connecticut elections yet avoid registering as political committees and abiding by the state’s limits, prohibitions and reporting rules,” said Larry Noble, Of Counsel to the Campaign Legal Center. The DGA had sued after Connecticut’s State Election Enforcement Commission (SEEC) said that fundraising by a candidate for an organization could be evidence of coordination in some circumstances. The DGA’s lawsuit claimed that the SEEC’s ruling and parts of the 2013 reform statute the Governor signed into law were interfering with its plans to have Governor Daniel Malloy raise money for the DGA not subject to the state’s campaign finance laws, while DGA made unlimited expenditures for ads supporting Governor Malloy’s reelection.
Common Cause of Connecticut, Connecticut Citizen Action Group and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut joined in the brief. Patrick Tomasiewicz, of Fazzano & Tomasiewicz, is serving as Counsel of Record in the filings.
To read the notice of voluntary dismissal filed by the DGA (June 20, 2014), click here.
To read the ruling from the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut denying the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and granting in part the state’s motion to dismiss the suit (June 10, 2014), click here.
To read the supplemental amici brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause of Connecticut, Connecticut Citizen Action Group and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut (June 6, 2014), click here.
To read the groups’ first amici brief (May 13, 2014), click here.
Campaign Legal Center Files Brief Urging Ninth Circuit to Overturn Ruling that Ignored Precedent and Struck Down Montana Campaign Contribution Limits
On July 1, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Common Cause, Justice at Stake and the League of Women Voters, filed an amici brief in Lair v. Motl urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn a District Court ruling striking down Montana’s political campaign contribution limits. The brief emphasizes that the District Court disregarded both Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent to overturn Montana’s limits on contributions to state candidates, including judges, from individuals and political parties.
“The Ninth Circuit has already found that Montana’s contribution limits are justified by vital and constitutionally permissible state interests, and the validity of that decision was in no way altered by subsequent Supreme Court case law,” said Megan McAllen, Campaign Legal Center Associate Counsel. “The Supreme Court has been steadfast in its recognition that limits on direct contributions to candidates are a justifiable means of preventing corruption and its appearance.”
The District Court overturned the “base” candidate contribution limits applicable to individuals and PACs—which have already been upheld by the Ninth Circuit—as unconstitutionally low based on the Supreme Court’s intervening decision in Randall v. Sorrell, which struck down Vermont limits that were markedly lower and more restrictive than Montana’s.
In addition to the limits on candidate contributions from individuals and PACs, the lower court struck down Montana’s limits as they apply to contributions from political party committees. Montana does not limit the amount that any individual or PAC may give to political parties, but instead restricts the “aggregate” amount a candidate can receive from his or her political party. By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down limits on the aggregate amount individuals could give to multiple candidates and party committees within the existing base limits, on grounds that those aggregate limits served no “plausible” anti-circumvention objective given the existence of base limits.
To read the full brief, click here.
Ninth Circuit Urged to Rehear Case Striking Down Judicial Campaign Laws by Legal Center & Other Groups Concerned About Judicial Integrity
On June 17, the Campaign Legal Center joined with other nonprofit groups concerned with the integrity of the courts in filing an amici curiae brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review en banc Wolfson v. Concannon, in which a three-judge circuit panel struck down Arizona rules for judicial conduct as applied to non-judge candidates, but left those rules standing for incumbent judicial candidates.
The three-judge panel struck down Arizona’s ban on judicial candidates personally soliciting political contributions, as well as its ban on judicial candidates endorsing, speaking in favor of or campaigning for non-judicial candidates—but only as these bans apply to non-judge candidates.
“Public trust in the judicial process is vital to the public’s faith in the courts, and the decision of the three-judge panel not only flies in the face of precedent, but also seriously threatens to undermine public trust in the judicial branch,” said Paul S. Ryan, Senior Counsel for The Campaign Legal Center. “The ruling creates patently unfair electoral system where candidates running head-to-head for the same judicial office are subject to completely different sets of rules and begs a rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit.”
The other groups signing the brief included the Brennan Center for Justice, the Arizona Judges’ Association, the American Judicature Society and Justice at Stake. Randolph Sherman and Robert Grass of Kate Scholer LLP are serving as attorneys for amici curiae.
To read the brief, click here.
Watchdogs File FCC Complaints Against TV Stations that Failed to Properly ID Political Ad Sponsors
On July 17, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against two television stations that incorrectly identified front groups as the “true sponsors” of political advertisements, when they were in fact paid for by one individual. The complainants are represented by the Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center.
“The stations are only too happy to cash the checks for these ads but cannot be bothered to actually comply with the law requiring them to make public the funders behind those ads,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center policy director. “Viewers deserve to know who is bankrolling the endless ads seeking to influence the outcome of elections and the law requires it.”
The complaints cited ads that ran on WJLA, in Washington D.C., and KGW in Portland, OR. In both instances the ads were attributed to Super PACs (“NextGen Climate Action Committee” & “American Principles Fund”) rather than, as required by law, to the individuals (environmentalist and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer & hedge fund manager Sean Fieler), who provided nearly all the funding for their respective groups.
The Communications Act and the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules require broadcasters to go beyond simply naming the entity that paid for an ad. In this case, both super PACs acted essentially as personal advertising arms for the individuals behind them, and the stations failed to fully and fairly inform the public about who was attempting to influence them. Under the Communications Act, broadcasters are required to “exercise reasonable diligence” to obtain the information needed for proper sponsorship identification.
To view the complaint against WJLA, click here.
To view the complaint against KGW, click here.
Present Instances of Voter Discrimination Highlighted in Campaign Legal Center Statement for Voting Rights Amendment Act Senate Hearing Record
On June 25, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert submitted a statement to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in connection with a hearing on The Voting Rights Amendment Act (S.1945), revealing current instances of voter discrimination across the country and expressing strong support for Congress to enact a new voting rights bill.
The Senate Committee hearing was held exactly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the preclearance coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act. States and local governments covered under the formula were required to clear all voting changes with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing them. The Court’s decision in Shelby County left communities with recent histories of voter discrimination free to implement discriminatory changes without having to undergo federal review first.
Hebert’s statement highlighted voting changes made in both Beaumont and Galveston County, Texas, where DOJ had found certain proposed voting changes discriminatory the year before the Shelby County decision. In 2012, DOJ had found that proposed voting changes in both jurisdictions significantly disadvantaged minority voters. But once the preclearance coverage formula was struck down by the Supreme Court, both Beaumont Independent School District and Galveston County are now implementing the same discriminatory voting law changes previously rejected by DOJ.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County was woefully misguided and the discriminatory voting laws being implemented are a direct result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County,” said Hebert. “These examples are part of a wave that will only continue to swell until the Voting Rights Amendment Act is enacted to stem the tide and protect the franchise.”
To read the full statement and the attachments, click here.
Legal Center Condemns House Ethics Committee Elimination of Required Disclosure of Privately Financed Travel by Members on Financial Forms
On July 1, the House Ethics Committee eliminated the requirement for House Members to disclose their private financed travel on their financial disclosure forms, according to National Journal. The Committee made this change without any public announcement whatsoever, and the day after it was discovered, the Committee Chair, Ranking Member and Committee staff refused to comment on the controversial move.
“With public confidence in the U.S. Congress reaching a record low of 7%, according to Gallup, you would think the House Ethics Committee would focus on building public confidence in the institution, rather than looking for ways to make their dirty laundry harder to find,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center.
For decades, Members of Congress have been required to disclose on their financial disclosure forms the privately financed travel they accept. These trips include travel that is paid for by groups that do not lobby but which are often connected with sister organizations that do. According to Legistorm, members of Congress and their aides took more free trips in 2013 than in any year since the Jack Abramoff scandal—nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 million. With this change in policy, the public will still be able to find travel disclosures through the Clerk of the House website, but the more commonly accessed financial disclosure forms will not contain that information.
In the wake of public outrage over the move, the Committee reinstated the requirement.
Watchdogs Call on Senate Ethics Committee to Open Ethics Process and Create Outside Investigative Office
On June 16, the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen urged the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to make its process of ethics investigations more transparent and more accountable. In a letter to Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the groups urged the creation of an independent ethics investigative office similar to the Office of Congressional Ethics Office (OCE) in the House. In the short term, the watchdogs urged the Committee to undertake a variety of other reforms to improve the ethics process, increase transparency and help to restore public trust in the process.
The recommendations urged revising procedures to create timetables for public reports on the status of investigations; updating current requirements for ethics training for Senators and staff; reviewing and updating of current travel rules to curb abuses of the exception for privately financed travel; making public recommendations for effective implementation of the STOCK Act; and initiating extensive Senate outreach regarding permissible campaign activities.
“The Senate ethics process remains too insular and opaque, and is often perceived as more interested in protecting the Senators’ ‘club’ than enhancing the institution’s public credibility,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “When ethics investigations go to the Committee and simply vanish for months or even years on end, the public loses confidence not only in the process but in their Senators.”
To read the letter detailing the recommendations to the Committee, click here.
Reform Groups Urge Senate to Enact DISCLOSE Act to Close Gaping Disclosure Loopholes Used to Hide Donors
On June 24, the Campaign Legal Center joined other reform groups issued a statement expressing strong support for the DISCLOSE Act of 2014 introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) with 49 cosponsors. The DISCLOSE Act would ensure that voters know the identity of donors who have been secretly financing campaign expenditures in federal elections.
In addition to the Campaign Legal Center, the organizations included Americans for Campaign Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and Sunlight Foundation.
According to the statement:
Donors funneled more than $300 million in secret contributions into the 2012 national elections through outside spending groups…[t]he basic right of citizens to know whose money is being spent to influence their votes has long been recognized by Congress in enacting campaign finance disclosure laws and by the Supreme Court in upholding these laws.
The DISCLOSE Act would close the gaping disclosure loopholes that have allowed [for] massive amounts of secret contributions being spent in federal elections…[i]f Senators have specific problems with provisions of the Act, they should negotiate with the bill’s sponsors, not stonewall the legislation and continue to keep citizens in the dark about the sources of the huge amounts being spent to influence their votes.
To read the full statement from reform groups, click here.
Legal Center Attorneys Lead Workshops on Redistricting, the Voting Rights Act, and Campaign Finance Law at Summer Institute on Law and Government
On June 23, 24 and 25, election law experts from the Campaign Legal Center led several three-hour workshops for law students and practitioners at the Summer Institute on Law and Government at American University’s Washington College of Law. Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert taught “Redistricting and the Law” on June 23 and “The Future of the Voting Rights Act” on June 24. Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan taught “Campaign Finance Law: Latest Developments” on June 25.
To find out more about the Summer Institute on Law and Government, click here.
Panel Discussion on New Soft Money Report Features of Counsel Larry Noble
On June 18, a panel discussion on the campaign finance report, The New Soft Money, was held at The George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C., featuring Campaign Legal Center counsel Larry Noble. The new report, a project of election law researchers at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, details the growing prevalence of outside spending in congressional elections, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Moritz Law professor Daniel P. Tokaji and graduate research fellow (and former Campaign Legal Center legal intern) Renata E.B. Strause co-authored the report.
To read Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul Ryan’s blog post on the new report, click here.
To find out more about and download The New Soft Money report, click here.
Of Counsel Larry Noble Participates in Federalist Society Debate on Campaign Finance Reform
On June 16, Campaign Legal Center counsel Larry Noble participated in a debate with former Federal Election Commission chairman and Professor Brad Smith on the future of campaign finance reform. Hosted by The Federalist Society and held at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the lively debate focused on the judicial and practical effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC.