CLC Update November 3, 2009

  1. FEC Declines to Seek Rehearing of EMILY's List Decision
  2. Oral Argument in Unity08 Appeal
  3. Senators McCain & Feingold Defend Corporate Political Spending Ban on Senate Floor
  4. Legal Center, Reform Groups Continue to Back New Congressional Ethics Office
  5. DOJ investigation of Texas State Representative Requested by Legal Center and CREW
  6. Legal Center Presents Public Financing Workshop to Ocean City Council
  7. Legal Center President Participates in Conference on Three Branches of Government
  8. ABA Fall Meeting Address by Legal Center President
  9. Visiting Students from Ohio Northern University College of Law Hosted by Legal Center
  10. Legal Center Attorney Ties the Knot


FEC Declines To Seek Rehearing of Emily's List Decision

On October 22, the FEC announced that the Commissioners had deadlocked in a 3 - 3 vote on whether to seek further judicial review of the recent D.C. Circuit decision in EMILY's List v. FEC. The Legal Center issued a statement condemning the decision as yet another abdication of the Commission's duty to enforce the laws on the books. The tie vote had the effect of rejecting the FEC General Counsel's recommendation that the Commissioners seek a rehearing of the decision by the full en banc Court of Appeals.

The FEC's failure to act will let stand the September 18, 2009 decision of a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit to strike down two key FEC regulations that had served to limit the spending of soft money by independent political committees and 527 groups. Further, this decision not only invalidated these regulations, but also called into question the constitutionality of the statutory limits on contributions to independent political committees enacted 35 years ago. Thus, the FEC's failure to seek a rehearing has the potential to facilitate a return to the massive soft money spending by 527 groups seen in prior elections. The time for petitioning the United States Supreme Court for review of the decision has not yet run.

On March 12, 2009, the Legal Center, with Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the D.C. Circuit to defend the FEC regulations, arguing that they were consistent with the First Amendment and represented a reasonable exercise of the FEC's statutory authority.


Oral Argument in Unity08 Appeal

On October 15, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in Unity08 v. FEC.

The case originated from a 2006 advisory opinion request filed by Unity08, a self-described "nascent political party," seeking guidance from the FEC as to whether it was a "political committee" subject to the contribution limits and disclosure requirements that apply under federal campaign finance laws to political committees. In its request, Unity08 explained that its "Goal One" had been "to elect a Unity Ticket for President and Vice President of the United States in 2008." Because Unity08 was organized solely for the purpose of campaigning in the 2008 presidential election, the FEC opined that it should be deemed a political committee both prior to and after to such time as it actually nominated its presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Unity08 challenged this opinion in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming that the FEC's advisory opinion was arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent with the First Amendment. On October 17, 2008, the district court rejected Unity08's challenge and Unity08 appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On July 6, 2009, the Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, filed an brief with the D.C. Circuit, arguing that the Court of Appeals should affirm the district court's decision holding that Unity08 was a federal political committee.


Senators McCain & Feingold Defend Corporate Political Spending Ban on Senate Floor

On October 21, the Senate sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 took to the floor of their chamber to defend a century's worth of restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns and Court precedent upholding them. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the possibility of paring back those restrictions in Citizens United v. F.E.C.

In statements read before the chamber, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) spoke in defense of those restrictions and their role in protecting the First Amendment rights of citizens and upholding the integrity of our democratic system.

The Senators condemned judicial activism, as well as the cynicism shown by certain Justices during oral argument, stressing that the Court should "practice restraint and rule in a manner consistent with judicial precedent and the Constitution."


Legal Center, Reform Groups Continue To Back New Congressional Ethics Office

Repeatedly in recent weeks, the Legal Center and other reform groups have voiced support for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) in an ongoing turf war with the House Ethics Committee. In an October 27 statement, the groups drew attention to the fact that the Ethics Committee was three days from a deadline to either empanel investigative subcommittees or to release OCE reports pertaining to ethics concerns about House Members. The Ethics Committee had speculated that it might not meet the deadline, prompting the statement.

The Legal Center joined other reform groups in a statement noting the "milestone in the OCE's brief history," asserting that the October 30 deadline is "the first benchmark of the new transparency that was promised in the creation of the OCE." The reform groups issuing the statement included the Campaign Legal Center, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Common Cause, The League of Women Voters, and Democracy 21.

The Ethics Committee released its report and empaneled subcommittees a day early but chastised the OCE. On October 30, the same reform groups issued another statement rebuking the Ethics Committee's public attack on the OCE and its dismissal of allegations aimed at Representative Sam Graves (R-MO). The groups accused the Ethics Committee of attempting to weaken and undermine the OCE. In their statement, the groups said that committee inappropriately challenged the activities of the OCE, and that the matter "should have been resolved more professionally and amicably."

The groups also expressed disappointment in the Ethics Committee Report that, with respect to the dismissal of allegations involving Rep. Graves, found "no relevant House rule or other standard of conduct prohibits the creation of an appearance of a conflict of interest when selecting witnesses for a committee hearing," and urged the House leadership to reject such a notion and correct any false impressions created by the Ethics Committee.


DOJ Investigation of Texas State Representative Requested By Legal Center And Crew

On October 21, the Legal Center and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested a full investigation into allegations of public corruption and possible violations of the Voting Rights Act by a Texas State Representative and a local election official. J. Gerald Hebert of the Legal Center and Melanie Sloane of CREW wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder, summarizing the allegations against Representative Dwayne Bohac (District 138) and Harris County elections office employee Ed Johnson.

Evidence suggests that Bohac kept hidden his outside business interest as a Republican political consultant as he crafted laws to help his clients win elections. Further allegations in the letter noted that Bohac may have obtained driver license records for his consulting business through Ed Johnson, who may have obtained them in an illegal manner. Ed Johnson is also alleged to have rejected, at a vastly disproportionate rate compared to other jurisdictions, tens of thousands of voter registration applications, and there were also allegations that he altered numerous voting records with white correction fluid.

The letter outlines the known facts that "strongly suggest public corruption" and interference with voting rights in Texas and Harris County. It urges the Department of Justice to thoroughly investigate the facts to ensure a fair political process and restore public confidence in democratic elections.


Legal Center Presents Public Financing Workshop to Ocean City Council

On October 8, the Legal Center's Paul S. Ryan traveled to Ocean City, NJ, to present a workshop to the City Council on public campaign financing generally, and on a specific model public financing ordinance designed by the Legal Center for Ocean City. The Legal Center has for years been consulting resident activists and council members in Ocean City regarding campaign finance reform. It represented resident activists in a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that Ocean City possesses the "home rule" authority to enact a municipal public financing system, but a state intermediate court of appeals determined that the legal question was not ripe for judicial review. The Legal Center is now assisting resident activists and council members in crafting a public financing ordinance for adoption by the council.


Legal Center President Participates In Conference on Three Branches Of Government

On October 21-22, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter participated in a Brookings Institution conference on the current workings of the three branches of Government, held at the James Madison Center for the Study of the Constitution at Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. Academics, journalists and former Members of Congress, discussed a range of topics including campaign finance, lobbying regulation, ethics, and redistricting.


ABA Fall Meeting Address by Legal Center President

On October 22, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke on the topic of lobbying reform at the Fall Meeting of the American Bar Association's Administrative Law Section in Washington, DC.


Visiting Students from Ohio Northern University College of Law Hosted By Legal Center

On October 23, the Legal Center's Paul S. Ryan spoke to a group of law students from Ohio Northern University College of School, who were visiting DC to explore career paths in political law. Ryan spoke to the group about the work of the Legal Center and about his own career path in public interest election law.


Legal Center Attorney Ties the Knot

On October 3, Campaign Legal Center Associate Legal Counsel Tara Malloy was married to Preston Quesenberry at the River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, MD. Following the ceremony a reception was held in the Bumper Car Pavilion at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, MD. A number of current and former Legal Center staff attended, danced, rode the carousel, and consumed copious amounts of penny candy during the memorable festivities.