- Another Attack on State Campaign Finance Laws Turned Back in Texas
- Legal Center Files in Defense of Washington State Disclosure Law Already Upheld by Supreme Court
- Legal Center Calls on IRS to Ignore Efforts to Curb Eligibility Investigations of Political Groups Utilizing Tax-Exempt Status
- Legal Center and Democracy 21 Call on IRS to Establish Bright-Line Standard
- Legal Center and Democracy 21 Remind FEC it has No Authority to Strike Down Contribution Limits
- Legal Center and Democracy 21 Urged FEC to Require Registration for Obvious Political Committee
- Government Watchdog Groups Ask Presidential Candidates to Reveal More Bundler Information
- Trevor Potter Statement to Senate Rules Committee on DISLCOSE Act
- Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support and Pass the DISCLOSE Act
- Senate Accepts Weaker House STOCK Act, Drops Other Reforms
- Members Urged to Support Amendment to FCC Bill Requiring Disclosure
- Legal Center President Speaks at Stevenson Center Luncheon
- Washington & Lee Law Students Hear from Executive Director on Voting Rights Act and Redistricting
- Legal Center President, Jack Abramoff and Buddy Roemer Form Panel on Campaign Finance Reform
- Legal Center President Speaks With Reform Groups about Money in Politics
- Policy Director Addresses American University Students
- FEC Program Director and Director of Communications Meet with Seattle University Students
Another Attack on State Campaign Finance Laws Turned Back in Texas
In a sweeping decision issued on March 28, a Texas Court upheld numerous Texas campaign finance laws that had been challenged on constitutional grounds in Texas Democratic Party, et al. v. King Street Patriots, et al. Judge John K. Dietz of the District Court of Travis County, Texas issued summary judgment in the challenge to provisions of Texas campaign finance law, including the state restriction on corporate contributions to candidates, officeholders and political committees, and the disclosure and organizational requirements applicable to political committees.
“The decision represents the latest in a string of victories against an aggressive nationwide litigation blitz aimed at overturning a host of state campaign finance laws in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “Judge Dietz saw right through the unsubstantiated attempt by attorneys for the King Street Patriots to imply that Citizens United extended to corporate contribution restrictions and disclosure requirements, despite the fact that the case did not address the former and upheld the latter by an 8-1 majority.”
The Texas Democratic Party originally alleged that the King Street Patriots, a non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation, made in-kind contributions to the Texas Republican Party in violation of Texas’s restriction on corporate political contributions, and failed to register as a “political committee” and comply with state disclosure law. The King Street Patriots, in response, filed a broad counterclaim challenging numerous provisions of Texas campaign finance law.
The summary judgment allows the original Texas Democratic Party action to move forward seeking damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, in connection with several alleged violations of state campaign finance laws committed by the King Street Patriots.
To read the summary judgment, click here.
To read the Legal Center’s amicus brief opposing the King Street Patriots’ counterclaim, click here.
Legal Center Files in Defense of Washington State Disclosure Law Already Upheld by Supreme Court
On March 29, the Campaign Legal Center filed an amicus brief in Doe v. Reed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in support of a Washington State disclosure law in an as-applied challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled the law constitutional in a facial challenge in 2010.
“The Supreme Court, by an 8-1 vote, made very clear that it believes disclosure is vital to the health of our democracy,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Associate Legal Counsel. “As Justice Scalia wrote, ‘requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.’ The legal bar for exemption from disclosure is appropriately very high and should not be lowered in this case. To imply that these petition signers face a threat akin to members of the Socialist Workers Party or the NAACP in the Deep South during the civil rights era is an affront to real civic courage, ” Ryan added.
The case was brought on behalf of “John Doe” and Protect Marriage Washington, a group opposed to same-sex marriage and domestic partnership rights, in an effort to halt Washington State from releasing, under the state Public Records Act, petitions filed in a 2009 referendum campaign to repeal a domestic partnership law enacted by the state legislature.
To read the Legal Center brief, click here.
Legal Center Calls on IRS to Ignore Efforts to Curb Eligibility Investigations of Political Groups Utilizing Tax-Exempt Status
On March 9, in a letter sent to the IRS, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 called on the agency to ignore any “pushback” against IRS investigations that are necessary to determine whether groups are attempting to improperly claim tax exempt status as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations. A number of Senators have written to the IRS in recent months regarding the activities of 501(c)(4)s, in some cases to discourage the agency from questioning groups to determine their eligibility for the special tax status.
The letter sent by the watchdog groups to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division emphasized that the agency must enforce the law fairly and without partisan bias, but must not shrink from enforcing the law against violations of the tax code by political groups.
“It is imperative that the IRS enforce the laws on the books and not shrink from political pressure or baseless criticisms leveled at the agency for doing nothing more than verifying that groups applying for special tax status are in fact eligible,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Special interest groups and political players have been forming 501(c)(4) organizations so they can impact federal elections and conceal their donors from the public. Many of these organizations are not eligible for the special tax status. If the IRS does not act now to curb these abuses, then the latest vehicle for unlimited and undisclosed political spending will become even more widespread.”
To read the letter to the IRS, click here.
Legal Center and Democracy 21 Call on IRS to Establish Bright-Line Standard
In a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on March 22, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 called on the agency to promptly initiate a rulemaking proceeding to revise and clarify its regulations that spell out how much candidate campaign activity 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations may engage in under the Internal Revenue Code. The privileged tax status has been widely embraced by special interest and political operatives to fund large scale political advertising campaigns on behalf of candidates.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 had submitted a “Petition for Rulemaking on Campaign Activities by Section 501(c)(4) Groups”, but the IRS has taken no public action to date.
“The inaction of the IRS is only serving to inspire further abuses of the tax code as 501(c)(4)s are misused by special interests and individuals seeking to buy influence in Congress and the White House without revealing their identities to the public,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The IRS needs to establish a bright-line standard on eligibility for this privileged tax status or the already flagrant abuses will become even more widespread and the damage to our democracy will be made infinitely worse.”
The letter cited additional egregious examples of abuses of 501(c)(4) tax status by groups running candidate ads across the country. It also brought to the attention of the IRS comments made by an association of legitimate 501(c)(4) organizations that the widespread misuse of the tax-status was undermining both the credibility and the fundraising of groups for which the tax status was intended.
To read the full letter, click here.
Legal Center and Democracy 21 Remind FEC it has No Authority to Strike Down Contribution Limits
On March 26, the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), reminding the Commission that it has no authority to strike down statutory aggregate contribution limits, or any other laws passed by Congress, as requested by Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2012-14.
The AOR filed on behalf of Shaun McCutcheon asks the FEC to declare unconstitutional the $46,200 biennial limit on aggregate contributions from individuals to candidates and their authorized committees, though the request both acknowledges and later ignores that a statutory aggregate contribution limit has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court in Buckley made very clear that aggregate limits are constitutional, yet this request asks the Commission to exceed its authority by declaring such a limit unconstitutional, thus opening the door for individuals to contribute millions of dollars to candidates and authorized committees every single election cycle,” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director for the Campaign Legal Center. “The FEC is an administrative agency, not a court of law. The agency clearly lacks the legal authority to adjudicate the constitutionality of a duly-enacted statute.”
The comments emphasize that the FEC has no choice but to inform McCutcheon that if he exceeds the limit he will be in violation of federal law. Further they stress that if a lawsuit is filed the FEC “must meet McCutcheon in court and defend the law once again.”
To read the comments, click here.
Legal Center and Democracy 21 Urge FEC to Require Registration for Obvious Political Committee
On March 22, the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), urging the Commission to advise the organization ‘Free Speech’ that if it engages in its proposed activities it will have no choice but to register and report as a political committee.
As the comments filed by the Legal Center and Democracy 21 point out, the Free Speech request (AOR 2012-11) is absurd in light of the laws passed by Congress and upheld by the courts:
Notwithstanding Free Speech’s claims to the contrary, it is clear from the fact that every one of its proposed ads and solicitations is focused on federal candidates and elections (with many containing “magic words” express advocacy), Free Speech clearly has the “major purpose” of influencing federal elections.
“The Free Speech request spells out textbook activities of a political committee and then asks the FEC to essentially ignore the law and allow the group to avoid registering and reporting as a political committee,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center FEC Program Director. “This is an open and shut case and the commissioners have no choice but to inform Free Speech that it cannot lawfully undertake the activities it proposes without registering and reporting as a political committee.”
To read the comments, click here.
Government Watchdog Groups Ask Presidential Candidates to Reveal More Bundler Information
On March 13, the Legal Center and eight other government watchdog organizations asked Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, as well as President Barack Obama, to reveal more details about fundraisers for their presidential campaigns who "bundle" contributions in amounts greatly exceeding what they're permitted to contribute on their own.
The groups asked the candidates to divulge not only the names of their bundlers -- which Obama and Sen. John McCain, the Democratic and Republican nominees, did in 2008, and which Obama is doing again in the 2012 campaign -- but to disclose the exact amount that each bundler raises for their official campaign committees as well as joint fundraising committees that benefit the campaigns. The groups also urged the candidates to release bundlers’ locations by city and state, and their occupations and employers -- disclosure no more burdensome than what the Federal Election Commission requires for any donor contributing more than $200.
"We recognize that our organizations are asking you to share more information than the law requires of presidential candidates," the letters say. "But it's not more than the American public deserves to know."
The letters were signed by the Campaign Legal Center, Campaign Finance Institute, Center for Responsive Politics, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters of the United States, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.
To read the letter to Newt Gingrich, click here.
To read the letter to President Barack Obama, click here.
To read the letter to Ron Paul, click here.
To read the letter to Mitt Romney, click here.
To read the letter to Rick Santorum, click here.
Trevor Potter Statement to Senate Rules Committee on DISCLOSE Act of 2012
On March 29, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter submitted a statement on the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 (S. 2219) at the request of the Senate Rules Committee. Potter was unavailable to testify due to a prior out-of-town commitment, so the statement was entered into the record at the Rules Committee hearing on the bill.
Potter’s statement emphasized the Legal Center’s support for the legislation and urged the Committee to quickly move the bill on to the full Senate without weakening amendments. Potter stressed that “S. 2219 is appropriately targeted, narrowly tailored, clearly constitutional and desperately needed.”
The statement also pointed to the broad support for disclosure traditionally from both parties in Congress and even overwhelmingly from the U.S. Supreme Court in the controversial 5-4 decision in Citizens United. “With the Supreme Court having struck down corporate speech restrictions, it is now up to Congress to supply the full disclosure the Court hailed,” Potter wrote.
To read the statement, click here.
Reform Groups Urge Senators to Support and Pass the DISCLOSE Act
On March 21, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and a number of other Senators introduced the DISCLOSE Act of 2012. The Campaign Legal Center and nine other reform groups emphasized their support of the disclosure legislation and urged the Senate to promptly consider and pass the bill.
The letter reminded Senators of the overwhelming public support for disclosure for outside groups and pointed out that this streamlined bill eliminates provisions critics used to justify their opposition to a version of the legislation that still mustered 59 votes in the U.S. Senate just two years ago.
“Unlike the DISCLOSE Act considered in 2010, the legislation introduced on March 21 focused solely on disclosure provisions and does not contain any special exceptions for any group.”
In addition to the Legal Center, the other organizations supporting the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 included: Americans for Campaign Finance Reform, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation.
Senate Accepts Weaker House STOCK Act, Drops Other Reforms
On March 20, the Senate passed the weaker STOCK Act previously passed by the House instead of going to conference to iron out the discrepancies. The Campaign Legal Center issued a statement criticizing the move, but hailing the passage of at least the insider trading provisions.
“Insider trading by Members of Congress is clearly insidious, but refusing to ensure that our elected officials are subject to criminal penalties for defrauding the public and enriching themselves demonstrates why Congress is held in record low esteem by the public it is supposed to serve,” Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee stated. “Sadly once again, Congress has done little more than the bare minimum to address the public anger unleashed by a scathing “60 Minutes” piece on congressional insider trading.”
The House bill had stripped out anti-corruption provisions to restore the ability of prosecutors to hold government officials accountable after a series of controversial court rulings have defanged anti-corruption statutes. Both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees have passed freestanding versions of this legislation during this Congress. Also removed were provisions to ensure better transparency for the growing "political intelligence" industry.
On March 6, the Campaign Legal Center and other reform groups had written a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to insist on a STOCK Act conference to restore the anti-corruption provisions to the legislation that had been stripped out of the House version.
To read the statement, click here.
To read the letter, click here.
Members Urged to Support Amendment to FCC Bill Requiring Disclosure
On March 27, the Campaign Legal Center and other reform groups urged Members to support an amendment to require disclosure of those funding television advertisements as the House considers H.R. 3309, a bill to curb Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulatory powers.
The amendment to improve transparency in federal elections was introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). The underlying bill drew criticism that it would impede the FCC’s ability to protect consumers but the amendment would require groups running political ads on TV to disclose their contributors giving more than $10,000 and place a list of those funders in the political files of the broadcast stations running the ads.
“Representative Eshoo’s amendment would simply let Americans know which special interests or individuals are shelling out money to help elect which candidates,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director. “Polls have shown this type of disclosure has the overwhelming support of Americans already sick and tired of campaign ads funded by groups revealing little about their backers. This is information that voters deserve, and it is information voters will increasingly demand as the November elections approach and the barrage of campaign ads spreads to cities and towns in every corner of our nation.”
To read the letter, click here.
Legal Center President & Sen. Feingold Address Stevenson Center Luncheon
On March 29, Legal Center President Trevor Potter and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) were the panelists at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy luncheon discussion billed as “The Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics”. The two longstanding reform advocates discussed the history of campaign finance reforms, the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and answered questions from the audience. The event, moderated by Elizabeth Brackett of Chicago’s WTTW-TV, was held at the University Club of Chicago.
Washington & Lee Law Students Hear from Executive Director on Voting Rights Act and Redistricting
On March 28, Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert addressed an audience at Washington & Lee University Law School in Lexington, Virginia at the invitation of the school’s American Constitution Society Chapter. Hebert discussed the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and current suits challenging it, Section 5 bailouts and redistricting.
Legal Center President, Jack Abramoff and Buddy Roemer Form Panel on Campaign Finance Reform
On March 22, Legal Center President Trevor Potter moderated a discussion between former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Louisiana Governor and current third-party presidential hopeful Buddy Roemer to discuss political corruption and campaign finance reform at a salon hosted by the Committee for the Republic.
Abramoff, who served three years in prison for defrauding clients, is promoting his new book “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist.” Roemer is actively campaigning to be the third-party candidate for the secretly-funded Americans Elect.
Legal Center President Speaks With Reform Groups about Money in Politics
On March 27, Legal Center President Trevor Potter was a featured speaker on the Campaign for Stronger Democracy’s monthly “Democracy Exchange” call. Potter, along with Karen Hobert Flynn of Common Cause and Karen Sharff from Citizen Action of New York, discussed Super PACs, the 2012 election and some of the ways that states and localities can reign in the impact of money in politics.
Policy Director Addresses American University Students
On March 10, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee addressed the Bryce Harlow Workshop on Ethics and Lobbying at American University. The session was entitled “Lobbying and Campaign Finance: Sources of Ethical Dilemmas”. McGehee also answered questions posed by the students.
FEC Program Director and Director of Communications Meet with Seattle University Students
On Friday, March 23, Legal Center FEC Program Director Paul Ryan and Communications and Research Director David Vance met with students from Seattle University to answer questions posed by the students. The students, studying campaign finance for the semester, had spent the week in Washington meeting with experts and brought their own reform theories to discuss with Ryan and Vance.