- Legal Center Files Complaint Against Rep. Shock for Illegal $25,000 Solicitation
- Senior Counsel Testifies Before Senate Rules Committee on Senate Electronic Filing
- FEC Announces It Will Not Appeal Van Hollen Decision
- Van Hollen Opposes Stay of Disclosure Ruling
- FCC Vote Brings Broadcaster Political Ad Files to the Internet for Top 50 Markets
- Legal Center Files FEC Comments in Support of Proposal to Allow Political Contributions via Text Message
- Legal Center President Delivers Capstone Lecture at Lawrenceville School
- Senior Counsel & Communications Director Meet with European Election Observers
Legal Center Files Complaint Against Rep. Shock for Illegal $25,000 Solicitation
On April 30, the Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) for his illegal solicitation of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to make a contribution of $25,000 to a Super PAC. Press reports had quoted both Rep. Shock and a spokesman for Leader Cantor freely admitting that the solicitation was made for an amount five times the legal limit to the Campaign For Primary Accountability.
The FEC in an advisory opinion last year (AO 2011-12) made clear that a federal officeholder “may only solicit contributions of up to $5000 from individuals . . . and Federal political action committees” for a super PAC such as Campaign For Primary Accountability. An article published in Roll Call made very clear that Rep. Schock asked Majority Leader Cantor to make a $25,000 contribution to the super PAC.
“Rep. Schock and Leader Cantor’s campaign spokesman Ray Allen told Roll Call in no uncertain terms that a solicitation was made for $25,000, which amounts to a public confession to a clear violation of the law,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel in a statement. “The FEC must pursue this violation by Rep. Schock or the agency would in effect be green-lighting candidates soliciting multi-million dollar contributions to the ostensibly ‘independent’ Super PACs that have been doing the dirty work of presidential candidates in the primaries – an activity expressly banned by the agency.”
To read the complaint, click here.
Senior Counsel Testifies Before Senate Rules Committee on Senate Electronic Filing
On April 25, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan testified before the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration in support of the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 219). The bill would require electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure reports by Senate candidates, as House and Presidential candidates have done for more than a decade.
Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and for the office of President, and nearly all federal political committees, currently file their campaign finance disclosure reports electronically with the FEC. This data is typically uploaded onto the FEC website for public access within 24 hours. By contrast Senate filings generally take weeks to become publicly available.
“What reason can the Senate possibly have for clinging to its archaic paper-based disclosure system?”, Ryan said in his opening statement. “Unless the Senate’s goal is to deny voters important information and waste millions of taxpayer dollars in this time of fiscal crisis, the Campaign Legal Center can fathom no excuse for Senate’s continued refusal to mandate electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure reports.”
The bill introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) currently has 25 cosponsors, including a number of Republicans. Ryan and Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson were the only witnesses.
To view video of the full hearing, click here.
To read Ryan’s full opening statement, click here.
FEC Announces It Will Not Appeal Van Hollen Decision
On April 26, the FEC announced that it will not appeal the district court’s March 30, decision in Van Hollen v. FEC that struck down a FEC regulation that had greatly narrowed the scope of disclosure connected to “electioneering communications.” The regulation allowed nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, 501(c)(6) business associations and other groups to spend tens of millions of dollars on “electioneering communications” in the 2010 elections while keeping secret the donors who funded these ads. The district court vacated the disclosure regulation and ordered the FEC to rewrite the regulation.
Van Hollen Opposes Stay of Disclosure Ruling
On April 30, counsel to U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.) filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to oppose a motion for a stay of the district court decision in Van Hollen v. FEC.
The district court on March 30, 2012 vacated a FEC rule that allowed donors to groups running “electioneering communications” to evade disclosure. Two intervening parties in the case, the Hispanic Leadership Fund and the Center for Individual Freedom, moved the D.C. Circuit to stay the district court decision and thereby to block the greater disclosure of electioneering communications that the decision would require.
On April 27, the district court in Van Hollen denied a similar motion for a stay filed by the two intervening groups, noting that “[t]he public has a strong interest in the full disclosure mandated by the [statute].” Counsel to Rep. Van Hollen had filed a brief on April 13, to urge the district court to deny the stay and to retain its decision.
The Campaign Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, is part of Representative Van Hollen’s pro bono legal team, which was led by Roger Witten of the law firm WilmerHale.
To read the brief filed in the Court of Appeals opposing a stay of the district court’s decision, click here.
To read the brief filed in the district court opposing a stay of the district court’s decision, click here.
FCC Vote Brings Broadcaster Political Ad Files to the Internet for Top 50 Markets
On April 27, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2-1 to require broadcasters to make their public political ad files available through a central, online database hosted by the FCC. The files, currently available only at the individual stations themselves, include information about who purchased political ad time, the disposition of any request to purchase time for a political ad, the amount charged and when the political ad actually ran. For the first two years, the new rule applies only to stations that are affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) and are licensed to serve communities in the top 50 Designated Market Areas (DMAs).
Since 1965, TV broadcast stations that hold licenses from the FCC to use the publicly owned airwaves to serve specific communities have been required to disclose information about “community-relevant information for public review.” The purpose of the disclosure was to help ensure that the broadcasters are meeting their public interest obligations and, in the case of the political file, especially to ensure they are abiding by their statutory obligations to offer candidates lower cost advertising in the heat of a campaign – an “anti-gouging” assurance.
The Legal Center commended the vote by Commissioners Julius Genachowski and Mignon Clyburn in the face of strong opposition by broadcasters but expressed concern that many congressional races expected to see expensive ad wars fall outside the top 50 markets will not be covered by the new requirement this election cycle.
“It is unfortunate that in this year’s election, there will still be many markets that are expected to see massive advertising campaigns by outside groups where this information will remain difficult to access,” Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee said in a statement. “It is in the smaller, more affordable markets where political ads for congressional and state races play a more significant role in the outcome of elections. Just look at the races for Senate in New Mexico, Virginia, Nebraska, and Montana.”
To read the statement, click here.
Legal Center Files FEC Comments in Support of Proposal to Allow Political Contributions via Text Message
On April 30, the Legal Center, along with nine other watchdog groups, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in support of a proposal to allow political contributions to be made via text message. The Advisory Opinion Request (AOR 2012-17) was made by two political consulting firms (one Republican and one Democratic) seeking to utilize the practice used with great success by charities to raise money using text messaging.
The request from Red Blue T and ArmourMedia states that the firms will use a customized Service Order between the requestor consultants’ clients and the mobile messaging and billing aggregator to address objections raised by the Commission to a similar proposal in 2010. The primary hurdles were finding a means to comply with the requirement that contributions be forwarded to the recipient political committees within ten or 30 days, depending on the type of recipient committee, and finding a means to prevent political contributions from being comingled with other corporate funds of the vendors. The terms of the proposed special Service Order address these compliance issues.
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 full comments, click here.
Legal Center President Delivers Capstone Lecture at Lawrenceville School
On April 30, Legal Center President Trevor Potter addressed students at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey as part of this year’s Capstone course lecture series on the 2012 presidential election. The class and its guest lecturers encourage seniors at the school “to look at complex problems from multiple perspectives and to help them integrate the various disciplines they have studied.” Other speakers in the series this year include Legal Center Board Member Norman Ornstein, Joan Biskupic of USA Today, Ross Douthat of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Kathleen Hall Jamieson of U Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication.
Senior Counsel & Communications Director Meet with European Election Observers
On April 23, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan and Communications & Research Director David Vance met with a delegation from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe’s (OSCE) to discuss the upcoming U.S. elections. The team from OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights were making an initial assessment of the current electoral situation at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State to determine whether to deploy observers closer to Election Day as they have in every national election in the U.S. since 2002.