- Donor Disclosure Provisions Again Upheld by Fourth Circuit in Real Truth About Obama
- Legal Center Senior Counsel Condemns Supreme Court’s Summary Reversal of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock
- House Appropriators Back Down from Attempt to Block New FCC Regulations to Put Public Files Online
- FEC Deadlocks On Attempted Evasion of Disclosure Laws
- Reformers Criticize White House Response to Petition Calling for New FEC Commissioners
- FEC Clears Political Contributions Via Text Message
- Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support Bill Reforming Presidential Public Financing System
- Legal Center President Addresses Netroots Nation Annual Gathering
- Executive Director and Senior Counsel Lead Workshops at American University Law School Summer Law Institute
- Legal Center President Addresses League of Women Voters’ 50thAnnual Convention
- Senior Counsel Speaks at “Shadow Money” Conference at National Press Club
Donor Disclosure Provisions Again Upheld by Fourth Circuit in Real Truth About Obama v. FEC
On June 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling upholding FEC rules governing donor disclosure in The Real Truth About Obama (RTAO) v. FEC. The suit specifically challenged the “subpart (b)” definition of “expressly advocating” (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b)), as well as the FEC’s methodology for determining when a group has campaign activity as its “major purpose,” an important step in the larger determination of political committee status.
“This unanimous decision from the Fourth Circuit represents the latest in a string of victories for political transparency in the courts against a concerted nationwide litigation effort seeking to eliminate or cut back disclosure laws at the federal and state level,” Legal Center Senior Counsel Tara Malloy stated. “The public deserves to know who is footing the bills for the political advertising that can make or break candidate campaigns. The Supreme Court, even in its controversial decision in Citizens United, made it abundantly clear that disclosure of political spending is vitally important to our democratic process.”
The appeal to the Fourth Circuit was the latest development in the long-running proceedings in the case which originally challenged a number of FEC rules, including the rule implementing the electioneering communications funding restriction that was adopted after the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC (11 C.F.R. § 114.15). The district court and court of appeals each upheld all of the challenged rules in 2008 and 2009. Subsequent judicial decisions, most notably Citizens United v. FEC, mooted much of the case, however, and it was returned to the district court.
To read the decision of the Fourth Circuit, click here.
The Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, has filed several amici briefs in the case dating back to 2008. To read the brief filed with the Fourth Circuit in 2011, click here.
Legal Center Senior Counsel Condemns Supreme Court’s Summary Reversal of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and summarily reversed the Montana State Supreme Court in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, striking down Montana’s long-standing corporate expenditure restriction. The State argued that its ban was constitutional in light of its long history of corporations corrupting the political process in the mineral rich state. The Campaign Legal Center coordinated the amici effort on behalf of the State in its defense of its ban on corporate independent political expenditures.
“Unfortunately the only surprise would have been if the Supreme Court had taken the opportunity to revisit its horribly misguided decision in Citizens United. Clearly the Supreme Court has decided to wash its hands of the disastrous results of its earlier decision,” Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan stated. “Apparently the same five Justices who gave us Citizens United are not troubled by the fact that special interests are picking the winners and losers in our federal and state elections.
In his dissent, Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, emphasized that ‘technically independent expenditures’ can in fact corrupt despite the majority opinion in Citizens United. The Campaign Legal Center had argued this point extensively in its amici brief on behalf of a number of reform groups filed with the Court in May.
“If anyone truly believes that independent expenditures cannot corrupt they are simply not paying attention,” added Ryan.
To read Paul S. Ryan’s full statement, click here.
To read the Campaign Legal Center’s amici brief, or other documents related to the case, click here.
House Appropriators Back Down from Attempt to Block New FCC Regulations to Put Public Files Online
On June 20, House Appropriators backed down from an attempt to withhold funding for implementation of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order requiring broadcasters to put their political files online instead of on paper. The Legal Center and other organization had roundly criticized the effort and urged Senate appropriators to stop it.
On June 6, by an 8-4 party-line vote, Republican Appropriators on the Financial Services Subcommittee had attached a rider to the FY 2013 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that would withhold funding for the implementation of a FCC regulation requiring broadcasters to post online requests made for political advertising time. Under a decades-old statute, TV broadcasters must maintain files about requests for political advertising time, which includes information about when the spots aired, the rates charged, and the classes of time purchased.
“The rider on the House Appropriations bill is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to deny public access to public information,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “The FCC's new rule simply updates for the 21st Century laws that have been on the books for decades. The Senate should stop this misguided effort in its tracks.”
On June 13, the Campaign Legal Center, along with seventeen other organizations, called on Senate appropriators to stop a House Appropriation subcommittee rider to block funding for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that broadcasters post their public political files online.
The rider was ultimately dropped from the House bill during the full committee markup.
To read the letter to Senate Appropriators, click here.
To read the statement condemning the rider inserted by House Appropriators, click here.
FEC Deadlocks On Attempted Evasion of Disclosure Laws
On June 14, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was unable to agree that ads proposed by the 501(c)(4) group American Future Fund (AFF), using recordings of President Obama’s voice and the phrases “the White House” and “the Administration,” refer to a “clearly identified candidate” and therefore constitute “electioneering communication” subject to disclosure laws requiring the group to reveal its funders. AFF had asked the agency whether eight submitted television advertisements would trigger the reporting requirements for electioneering communications. The FEC deadlocked on 5 of 8 proposed advertisements submitted in AFF’s Advisory Opinion Request (AOR 2012-19).
“Electioneering communication” is a broadcast ad within a defined pre-election time frame that “refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.” An FEC regulation defines the phrase “refers to a clearly identified candidate” to mean: “[T]he candidate’s name, nickname, photograph, or drawing appears, or the identity of the candidate is otherwise apparent through an unambiguous reference. . . .”
Referring to the FEC deadlock, Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel said: “The FEC should have responded to this question from AFF in much the same way that Washington Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper did when he was recently asked an equally preposterous question: ‘That’s a clown question, bro.’” Ryan added: “AFF is clearly playing games for the sole purpose of hiding their donors from voters. And the FEC’s three Republican commissioners would be happy to let them get away with it, deliberately undermining laws passed by Congress.”
On May 11, the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed comments urging the FEC to reject the AFF attempt in its AOR to avoid filing electioneering communications reports and disclosing donors.
To read the comments filed by the Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Reformers Criticize White House Response to Petition Calling for New FEC Commissioners
In a letter to President Obama sent on June 19, the Campaign Legal Center joined with eleven other organizations in criticizing the Administration’s lackluster response to a petition signed by 27,000 Americans calling on the President to appoint new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
“27,000 Americans urged the President to appoint new Commissioners to the FEC and at least attempt to fix a broken agency. Four months later in response they received a form letter e-mail that says nothing and commits to nothing,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “To say the response was underwhelming would be an understatement. At the end of the day, the petition process looks like a cynical gimmick. ”
The groups signing the letter along with the Legal Center included: Americans for Campaign Reform, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, CREDO Action Network, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters of the U.S., MapLight, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, United Republic and U.S. PIRG.
To read the full letter, click here.
FEC Clears Political Contributions Via Text Message
On June 11, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted unanimously to allow individuals to make political contributions via text messages. This decision opened up a new avenue for national campaigns and political action committees to collect small contributions. By texting a phrase to a certain number, an individual will now be able to make an instantaneous donation of up to $50, that will be added to his or her cell phone bill.
“This is a common sense means of increasing the role of small donors in elections,” Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan stated to OpenSecrets.org.
On April 30, 2012, the Legal Center, along with nine other watchdog groups, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in support of the proposal, which was made by two political consulting firms (one Republican and one Democratic). The Legal Center’s comments emphasized the benefits of encouraging the participation of small donors in the political process:
“In addition to amplifying the voices of small donors, it can increase civic engagement by bringing more people into the political process and enable Members of Congress to spend more time with constituents and less time dialing for dollars.”
To read the FEC’s decision, click here.
To read the comments filed by Legal Center and other watchdog groups, click here.
Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support Bill Reforming Presidential Public Financing System
On June 19, the Legal Center and other reform groups expressed strong support for legislation introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) to repair the presidential public financing system.
“2012 has seen a return of unlimited contributions, secret money and corporate funds to our elections, the same kind of money that led to the Watergate scandals,” read the letter. “The nation needs a modernized presidential public financing system focused on average citizens and small donors to provide presidential candidates with a viable alternative to influence-seeking political money.”
The groups signing the letter along with the Legal Center included: Americans for Campaign Reform, Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Campaign, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
To read the letter, click here.
Legal Center President Addresses Netroots Nation Annual Gathering
On June 8, Legal Center President Trevor Potter appeared at the seventh annual gathering of the Netroots Nation. Thousands of bloggers, labor and organizational leaders, grassroots organizers and online activists attended the event in Providence, at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Potter’s served on a panel entitled, “Citizens United, Super PACs, and the Fight for Our Democracy,” moderated by former Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA), President of the Center for American Progress. Other panelists included Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Becky Bond, President of the CREDO Super PAC.
Executive Director and Senior Counsel Lead Workshops at American University Law School Summer Law Institute
On June 18, 19 and 20, 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 “Battles Over Redistricting” on June 18 and “Future of the Voting Rights Act and Preclearance of Districts” on June 19. Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan taught “Campaign Finance, Citizens United, and the Path Ahead” on June 20.
Legal Center President Addresses League of Women Voters’ 50th Annual Convention
On June 11, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke at the League of Women Voters’ 50th annual convention in Washington, DC. Potter served on a panel moderated by Elisabeth MacNamara, the President of the League, entitled, “How Do We Unite and Conquer?” Potter discussed political reforms and the influence of money in politics in front of about 800 League members from all 50 states. Other panelists included Eleanor Clift, Newsweek political reporter and McLaughlin Group panelist, and former Congressman Mickey Edwards (R-OK) of the Aspen Institute.
Senior Counsel Speaks at “Shadow Money” Conference at National Press Club
On June 20, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul Ryan spoke at an event hosted by the Center for Responsive Politics at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. At the conference entitled “Shadow Money: Stealth, Wealth and Political Nonprofits,” Ryan served on a panel focusing on the current campaign finance landscape, including the merits of disclosure. The keynote speaker was Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and participants from other panels included campaign finance and tax lawyers, academics, journalists and representatives from organizations supporting and opposing reform.