- Campaign Legal Center Receives MacArthur Foundation Award
- Legal Center Defends Mississippi Disclosure Laws in 5th Circuit Filing
- Delaware Attorney General Files Brief in Defense of State’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws
- Campaign Legal Center co-hosts latest Voting Rights Institute in Columbus, Ohio
- Campaign Legal Center Joins with Watchdogs & Rep. Van Hollen in Two Sets of IRS Rulemaking Comments While Stephen Colbert Files His Own and Requests to Testify
- Campaign Legal Center files FEC Complaint Calling for Investigation of Vitter Super PAC Solicitations
- Former FEC General Counsel Larry Noble Joins the Campaign Legal Center Along with New Legal Fellow & New Operations Manager
- Minnesota Campaign Board Agrees with Legal Center Comments
- Legal Center Warns Jasper, Texas that Proposed Annexations Could Lead to Violations of Voting Rights Act
- Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 Urge FEC to Uphold Mobile Phone Ad Disclaimer Requirements & Conduct Long Overdue Rulemaking
- FEC Agrees with Campaign Legal Center that Former Rep. Towns Violated Ban on Personal Use of Campaign Funds
- FEC Complaint Calls for Investigation of Possible Illegal Contributions & Coordination by Montana Congressional Candidate & Super PAC He Founded
- Campaign Legal Center joins with reform groups in letter to the President Urging Veto
- Trevor Potter Speaks at the University of Minnesota
- Trevor Potter & Larry Noble Speak at William and Mary School of Law
- Paul S. Ryan Speaks at Yale Law School
- Megan McAllen Addresses American University’s Washington Program
Campaign Legal Center Receives MacArthur Foundation Award
On February 20, The Campaign Legal Center was one of seven nonprofit organizations around the world to receive the 2014 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The Award recognizes exceptional nonprofit organizations who have demonstrated creativity and impact, and invests in their long-term sustainability with sizable one-time grants. The Campaign Legal Center was recognized for its work in reducing the influence of money in the political system, strengthening voting rights, and regulating lobbying.
"At the Campaign Legal Center, we work hard to better the working of our democracy, and while we know that we do have an impact, we are truly humbled by this prestigious recognition of our work and by the generosity of the MacArthur Foundation," said Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter.
Additional information about why MacArthur selected the Campaign Legal Center for the Award and to watch an overview video, click here.
Legal Center Defends Mississippi Disclosure Laws in 5th Circuit Filing
On March 4, the Campaign Legal Center filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in defense of the State of Mississippi’s campaign finance disclosure laws in Justice v. Hosemann. The brief urges the Court of Appeals to overturn a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, which ruled that the individuals who brought the case would not have to reveal their spending or their funders as they promote the passage or defeat of state constitutional amendment ballot measures.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure laws and been very clear in its recognition of the vital public interest in disclosing the identities of those funding efforts to influence elections - including in the ballot measure setting,” said Megan McAllen, Legal Center Associate Counsel. “It must be emphasized that this law does not restrict in any manner how much these individuals may raise and spend in support of or opposition to state constitutional amendment initiatives, but only requires them to disclose that advocacy to the voting public.”
The challenge to Mississippi’s disclosure requirements for state constitutional ballot measures was brought on behalf of five individuals seeking to pool their resources and raise additional funds from outside sources to impact such measures and to do so while hiding the identities of their backers.
The Legal Center urged the Fifth Circuit to apply the pertinent precedent and reverse the lower court’s decision, arguing that the district court “improperly discounted the state’s interests, disproportionately emphasized the Plaintiffs’ burdens, and failed to pay any deference” to Mississippi’s duly elected state legislators.
To read the brief, click here.
Delaware Attorney General Files Brief in Defense of State’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws
On March 7, the Delaware Attorney General filed a brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware urging the Court to deny a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by the Plaintiff, Delaware Strong Families (DSF). The case, Delaware Strong Families v. Biden, involves a constitutional challenge to campaign finance disclosure provisions associated with Delaware’s new electioneering communications law.
Lawyers from the Campaign Legal Center and the law firm WilmerHale represent the Defendants, Delaware Attorney General Joseph R. Biden III and Delaware Commissioner of Elections Elaine Manlove.
To read the brief, click here.
Campaign Legal Center co-hosts latest Voting Rights Institute in Columbus, Ohio
On February 21, The Campaign Legal Center’s latest Voting Rights Institute training took place in Columbus, Ohio. The goal of the training sessions is to identify attorneys and law firms interested in voting rights enforcement and to train the next generation of voting rights litigators. The half-day training program co-hosted by American Constitution Society was the second Institute training held outside of Washington, DC. The first was held in January in New York and another is scheduled for March 28 in Atlanta.
Experts in the field were there to provide background on the Voting Rights Act and relevant federal court cases to participants and reviewed the mechanics of litigating voting rights cases. The Legal Center’s Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert, served as the lead instructor and was joined by veteran voting rights litigators, appellate advocates, and scholars in the field.
“The Supreme Court in its Shelby County decision drastically altered voting rights in America, significantly disadvantaging voters in the courts, but cases must be brought to protect the rights of all Americans to vote and a new generation of litigators must be trained to bring these cases,” Hebert said.
The Voting Rights Institute receives financial support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (rbf.org) and the Wallace Global Fund.
Campaign Legal Center Joins with Watchdogs & Rep. Van Hollen in Two Sets of IRS Rulemaking Comments While Stephen Colbert Files His Own and Requests to Testify
On February 27, the Campaign Legal Center filed two different sets of comments in an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulemaking on “Guidelines for Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities,” urging the agency to curb the widespread abuse of the tax status for partisan political purposes. The two sets of comments focused on the IRS definitions of “campaign-related political activity” and the statutory requirement that 501(c)(4)s confine their actions to social welfare. Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert, represented by Trevor Potter through his private practice, also filed comments and requested the opportunity to testify.
In one set of comments the Legal Center joined with Democracy 21 and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calling on the IRS to adopt a new definition of “campaign-related political activity” to replace the existing vague “facts and circumstances” test. The comments support a proposal made by the IRS to use a test that treats as campaign-related activity any public communication that refers to a candidate in the period 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. They go on to and urge the IRS to treat as “candidate-related political activity” any public communication that promotes, supports, attacks or opposes a candidate, commonly known as the “PASO” test.
In the second set of comments Public Citizen was joined by the Legal Center, Democracy 21 and Representative Van Hollen in urging the IRS to enforce the statute as passed by Congress mandating that 501(c)(4) groups focus “exclusively” on social welfare. IRS regulations currently allow campaign spending by section 501(c)(4) groups as long as it is not their “primary” activity, which has been widely interpreted to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their resources on electioneering. But the comments remind the IRS that the Code itself, which the agency is required to follow, clearly requires that 501(c)(4) groups be operated “exclusively” to promote social welfare. By equating “exclusively” with “primarily,” the IRS’s current regulations, and the agency’s practice, violate the plain meaning of the statutory language as well as Supreme Court precedent that definitively construes it to allow no more than an insubstantial amount of non-exempt activity.
“This rulemaking is critically important to stem the growth of what is already widespread abuse of this privileged tax status,” said Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert. “Any group that wants to engage in substantial campaign-related spending is free to do so; it would only need to register as a 527 organization and reveal its donors.”
To read the IRS comments filed with Public Citizen, Democracy 21 and Rep. Van Hollen, click here.
To read the comments to the IRS, with Democracy 21 and Rep. Van Hollen, click here.
Campaign Legal Center files FEC Complaint Calling for Investigation of Vitter Super PAC Solicitations
On March 18, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed a complaint urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate possible illegal soft money solicitations for the Super PAC of Senator David Vitter (R-LA) in excess of federal contribution limits and from sources prohibited from contributing in federal elections.
The complaint alleges that Senator Vitter, his fundraisers and the Fund for Louisiana’s Future (FLF) made solicitations far in excess of the $5,000 federal contribution limit without disclaimers required by law for solicitations made by federal candidates and officeholders. FLF supports both Senator Vitter’s 2016 Senate reelection bid as well as a Louisiana gubernatorial run in 2015 and thus serves as both a federal and a state political committee.
“Senator Vitter’s fundraisers seem to have ignored the rules that prohibit a Senator from soliciting unlimited soft money contributions for a Super PAC supporting the candidate,” said Larry Noble, Of Counsel to the Campaign Legal Center. “Instead, they are using him to solicit contributions for FLF in excess of $5,000, requesting $25,000 and even $100,000 contributions without ever stating that the Senator is allowed to only solicit contributions that comply with federal limits and source prohibitions.”
To read the complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Former FEC General Counsel Larry Noble Joins the Campaign Legal Center Along with New Legal Fellow & New Operations Manager
On March 3, the Campaign Legal Center welcomed former Federal Election Commission (FEC) General Counsel Larry Noble to its staff, along with Legal Fellow Catherine Hinckley Kelley and Operations Manager Kazi Jones.
“It will be a pleasure to be back working side by side with Larry, and benefiting from his strategic advice and legal skills, as I was able to do when we were worked together at the FEC,” said Trevor Potter, Legal Center President.
“Larry brings with him the lessons learned and expertise gained over more than two decades of experience in the field of campaign finance and we look forward to bringing his skills to bear on the myriad challenges faced by the campaign finance reform movement,” Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert added. “We are also pleased to welcome Catie Kelley back to the Legal Center and to bring on board Kazi Jones to manage operations in our growing and dynamic organization.”
Mr. Noble will focus his work on the Legal Center’s campaign finance litigation and FEC regulatory program. He was with the FEC for more than twenty years and served as General Counsel from 1987 until 2000. During his career he has also headed up both the Center for Responsive Politics and Americans for Campaign Reform and spent a number of years in private practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP.
Ms. Kelley joins the Campaign Legal Center as a Legal Fellow directly from the FEC where she has worked as a staff attorney since 2010. She previously worked at the Legal Center as a policy analyst from 2005 to 2007 before leaving to attend law school. Ms. Kelley is a graduate of the Washington College of Law and Bates College. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Maryland.
Ms. Jones comes to the Legal Center as the new Operations Manager after serving as the Administrative Director of Americans for Campaign Reform. She previously worked as the operations manager of The Bonner Group and The Center for Health and Gender Equity. Ms. Jones is a graduate of Howard University.
Minnesota Campaign Board Agrees with Legal Center Comments
On February 11, the Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board, in agreement with comments filed by the Campaign Legal Center on February 10, reinforced a wall of separation between candidates and outside political groups. The opinion discourages candidates and outside groups from cooperating on fundraising that could eventually pour money back into the politicians' races and likely violate state law. The unanimous opinion determined that such activity would destroy the legal independence of the political groups and give candidates an invitation to solicit "disguised contributions" they aren't allowed to put into their own coffers.
The Legal Center’s comments had 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.
"Placing reasonable limits on the degree of cooperation that may occur between a candidate and a purportedly 'independent' group represents a practical and perfectly legal approach to the question at hand," J. Gerald Hebert commented at the time.
To read the comments filed by the Legal Center, click here.
Legal Center Warns Jasper, Texas that Proposed Annexations Could Lead to Violations of Voting Rights Act
On March 14, the Campaign Legal Center informed officials from the City of Jasper, Texas that the annexations of predominantly white subdivisions, currently under consideration by the City, appear to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The City of Jasper is considering the annexation of three predominantly white subdivisions which would dilute black voting strength in the City. Further, one of the subdivisions under consideration for annexation would be added to the City’s District 4, where black voters have previously demonstrated an effective ability to elect a candidate of their choice. In 1988, the City's similar attempt to annex predominantly white neighborhoods was rejected by the Department of Justice during a review while Jasper was still required under the Voting Rights Act to preclear any and all voting changes before administering them.
“We wanted to put the City on notice that the proposed annexations raise serious compliance issues under the Voting Rights Act,” said J. Gerald Hebert. “The Supreme Court's misguided decision last year in the Shelby County case, nullifying a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, does not give state and local officials license to adopt discriminatory voting procedures.”
To read the letter sent by the Campaign Legal Center, click here.
Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 Urge FEC to Uphold Mobile Phone Ad Disclaimer Requirements & Conduct Long Overdue Rulemaking
On February 25, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, strongly urged the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to uphold federal disclaimer requirements for political advertisements on mobile phones and further pressed the agency to conduct a related rulemaking originally proposed by the FEC in 2011. The watchdog groups filed comments in response to the FEC’s draft Advisory Opinions 2013-18, produced in response to a request from Revolution Messaging LLC seeking an exemption from the disclaimer requirements.
The comments of the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 promoted the adoption of Revised Draft A, which concluded that the advertisements in question do not qualify for exemptions but that certain alternative means of delivering the disclaimers is acceptable (e.g., linking to a website that contains the complete disclaimer). The comments strongly condemned Draft B, which concludes that the ads are exempt from the disclaimer requirements, warning that its adoption would eviscerate disclaimer requirements for political ads delivered via mobile phones—a rapidly growing type of advertising.
“These disclaimer requirements have been consistently upheld by the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly recognized the vital importance of informing voters what person or group is bankrolling the political speech in advertisements,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “It is long past time for the Commission to return to and complete the rulemaking it proposed in 2011 on disclaimer requirements for Internet advertisements and to also address advertising utilizing Internet-connected emerging technologies such as smartphones. These technologies should not be exempted and the Commission needs to make the applicable disclaimer specifications clear, instead of wasting considerable time and resources repeatedly answering advisory opinion requests on this topic.”
On February 27, 2014, the FEC deadlocked 3-3 along party lines and was unable to render an opinion.
To read the comments filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
FEC Agrees with Campaign Legal Center that Former Rep. Towns Violated Ban on Personal Use of Campaign Funds
On March 10, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reached a conciliation agreement with the campaign committee of former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) concerning allegations that he illegally converted campaign funds to personal use based on a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center in 2012. As part of the agreement the campaign committee will pay a $5,000 fine and Mr. Towns, who retired in 2013, will reimburse the committee. FEC reports indicated that former-Rep. Towns’ campaign had leased an Infiniti for at least 12 months at a cost of more than $600 per month and published reports indicated that the vehicle had been used exclusively or primarily by the former Congressman’s wife Gwen Towns for non-campaign-related personal activities.
“While it is a relief that the usually-deadlocked FEC could muster the necessary votes to find reason to believe a violation occurred here, it nonetheless seems absurd that it required nearly two years to close a case involving such a clear-cut violation,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel.
To read the conciliation agreement and the FEC’s notification letter, click here.
To read the original complaint filed on May 30, 2012, click here.
FEC Complaint Calls for Investigation of Possible Illegal Contributions & Coordination by Montana Congressional Candidate & Super PAC He Founded
On March 5, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, urged the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to investigate possible illegal in-kind contributions and coordination between Montana congressional candidate Ryan Zinke and the Super PAC he formed and that now supports his candidacy. The complaint, based on published reports, points to Special Forces for America’s (SOFA) use of photographs that appear to have come from the Zinke campaign in television advertisements aired in support of Zinke’s candidacy. SOFA has spent more than $50,000 distributing the pro-Zinke ads since Zinke launched his campaign in October.
“It appears that this Super PAC, set up by Mr. Zinke, is now using Zinke campaign photos in its so-called ‘independent’ ads. If so, this is a clear violation of a federal law that prohibits Super PACs from republishing candidate campaign materials,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “This is just another example of the myth of the independence between outside groups like SOFA and the candidates they support—a myth that the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC bought into when it announced that so-called independent expenditures don’t pose a threat of corruption.”
To read the complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Campaign Legal Center joins with reform groups in letter to the President Urging Veto
On March 14, the Campaign Legal Center joined with reform groups to write a letter, urging President Barack Obama to veto H.R. 2019, which repeals public funding for party presidential nominating conventions. The legislation which purports to provide funding for a 10-year pediatric cancer research initiative takes away $126 million over a ten-year period from presidential convention funding and authorizes (but does not appropriate) the money to be used for pediatric cancer research. The letter argues that while this funding is authorized for medical research, it would have to be paid for by funds taken from other programs subject to the existing overall non-defense discretionary spending caps, and not by funds made available by repealing the funding for nominating conventions. On February 24, the groups had urged the House to vote against the backchannel effort to defund this aspect of the Presidential Public Financing system.
To read the letter to President Obama, click here.
Trevor Potter Speaks at the University of Minnesota
On February 19, Trevor Potter was a featured speaker at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs conference, “Shining the Light on Money: Campaign Finance and the Need for More Disclosure.” Potter’s address and panel discussion, “Elections for Sale: Where's the Outrage?” was moderated by Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. Other panels at the conference included leaders of the Minnesota State Legislature at a time when that body is reconvening and weighing additional campaign finance disclosure legislation.
Trevor Potter & Larry Noble Speak at William and Mary School of Law
On February 27, Trevor Potter and Larry Noble spoke at the 8th Annual William & Mary Election Law Symposium in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Symposium, “McCutcheon and the World of Political Giving: a Fundamental Change,” explored McCutcheon v. FEC, the challenge to aggregate contribution limits currently awaiting decision by the Supreme Court. In addition to discussing possible outcomes and their practical realities, the symposium reflected on how the Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence has changed so drastically under the Roberts Court and where the McCutcheon decision would likely lead the Court in the future.
Paul S. Ryan Speaks at Yale Law School
On February 21, Yale Law School hosted the 2014 Rebellious Lawyering Conference. At the conference, Paul S. Ryan was part of a panel that spoke about money in politics following the Citizens United decision. This panel explored the ways efforts to undermine limits on campaign spending have changed our elections, and examined ways to resist the tide of money and its potentially corrupting effects.
Megan McAllen Addresses American University’s Washington Program
On February 19, Legal Center Attorney Megan McAllen addressed American University’s Washington Semester Program, discussing the current state of money in politics and outlining potential reforms the Campaign Legal Center is currently pursuing. The program hosts students from around the country and schedules discussions for students with leading figures on the important political issues of the day.