CLC Update July 2, 2010

  1. Supreme Court Upholds BCRA “Soft Money” Ban
  2. Supreme Court Upholds Washington State Disclosure Law in Doe v. Reed
  3. DISCLOSE Act Passed By the House


Supreme Court Upholds BCRA “Soft Money” Ban

On June 29, 2010, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed a three-judge District Court ruling in RNC v FEC upholding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s (BCRA) “soft money” ban.  By a vote of 6-3, the Court affirmed a lower court decision that had rejected the Republican National Committee’s challenge to the prohibition on the raising and spending of campaign funds outside federal contribution and spending limits.

In a statement Executive Director Gerry Hebert hailed the decision saying it was “welcome news for anyone disturbed by the pay-to-play model of democracy and commerce in Washington.” He noted that the question had been decided by the Court in McConnell just seven years ago and “[i]t would have been irresponsible for the high Court to revisit that issue again and show an utter lack of respect for judicial precedent.”

Before the passage of BCRA in 2002, funds in unlimited amounts were being contributed to national party committees from unrestricted sources (e.g., corporations, unions, etc.).  The Supreme Court had previously found the soft money ban constitutional in its landmark 2003 decision McConnell v FEC decision.

The Legal Center filed an amici brief in the case on behalf of the BCRA sponsors in the RNC case.


Supreme Court Upholds Washington State Disclosure Law in Doe v. Reed

On June 24, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Doe v. Reed that Washington State’s law authorizing disclosure of referenda petition signatories does not violate the First Amendment.  The Court ruled 8-1 to reject the facial challenge to disclosure but noted that the plaintiffs could still pursue their as-applied challenge to the release of the referenda petitions.

In a statement Executive Director Gerry Hebert called the decision an “encouraging development for our democracy, especially after recent decisions from the Supreme Court turning the clock back a century on campaign finance laws.”  Hebert noted that the ruling was the second major decision in a year from the Court strongly upholding disclosure laws.  In January, by the same 8-1 margin, the Court upheld disclosure provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in Citizens United v. FEC.

Alleging fears of harassment, plaintiffs sought to block the release of the names of individuals who signed a petition to place a referendum on the ballot seeking to overturn the state’s new domestic partnership law.

The case is one of a series of lawsuits challenging all forms of political disclosure that are making their way through the courts.


DISCLOSE Act Passed By The House

On June 24, 2010, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) by a vote of 219 to 208. In a statement, Policy Director Meredith McGehee called the vote a “victory for citizens over special interests.”  On the eve of the vote, the Legal Center, along with other reform groups, sent a letter urging Representatives to vote in favor of the DISCLOSE Act.

The legislation was introduced in response to the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the door for corporations and unions to spend their treasury funds in federal elections. The DISCLOSE Act would require timely and effective disclosure of these campaign-related expenditures, among other provisions.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill before the August recess.  McGehee urged Senators to follow the lead of the House so “the American people will be able to learn who is really trying to influence our elections and who is attempting to buy power in Washington.”