- Federal Court in Wyoming Sides with Campaign Legal Center & Democracy 21, Rejects Latest Disclosure Challenge
- Federal Court Rejects Challenge To Illinois Contribution Limits
- U.S. District Court Upholds Federal Aggregate Contribution Limits
- Court Rejects Another Disclosure Challenge, Siding with Campaign Legal Center Again
- Closing Arguments Heard in South Carolina v. United States
- Watchdogs Criticize FEC for Disregarding Public Comment Period, File Comments on Tea Party Leadership Fund Advisory Opinion Request
- Trevor Potter Featured Guest on Bill Moyers “Elections for Sale”
- Watchdogs Lay Out Clear Violations by Rove’s Group and Warn IRS of Continuing Harm from Lack of Enforcement
- Reform Groups Call for New Appointees to the Office of Congressional Ethics
- Trevor Potter at University of Denver Law School for Speech and Panel
- New America Foundation Forum Features Trevor Potter
- Senior Counsel Addresses American University Washington Program
Federal Court in Wyoming Sides with Campaign Legal Center & Democracy 21, Rejects Latest Disclosure Challenge
On October 3, a federal court in Wyoming dealt another setback to groups challenging disclosure laws nationwide. Citing a “wall of precedent” upholding disclosure laws, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl refused to preliminarily enjoin a number of FEC regulations and policies that implement the federal disclosure laws in Free Speech v. FEC. Specifically, Free Speech is challenging the “subpart (b)” definition of “expressly advocating” (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b) and the FEC’s methodology for determining when a group has campaign activity as its “major purpose” – both crucial regulations in implementing the disclosure requirements applicable to about independent spending in federal elections.
The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief in the case defending the disclosure regulations.
“In upholding these federal regulations, the Wyoming district court has joined the near consensus of the courts that political disclosure is a vital measure that ensures a well-informed electorate and combats political corruption.” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Across the country disclosure laws are being challenged by groups seeking to keep secret their deep-pocketed but publicity-shy funders. While the surge in legal challenges is troubling, we are heartened to see that almost all courts to review disclosure laws in the post-Citizens United era have upheld those laws.”
To read the minute order of the district court, click here.
To read the amici brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Federal Court Rejects Challenge To Illinois Contribution Limits
On October 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a motion for preliminary injunction in a constitutional challenge to Illinois contribution limits in Illinois Liberty PAC (ILP) v. Madigan. Specifically, ILP challenged the contribution limits of $50,000 per election from PACs to a candidate for state office, $5,000 per election cycle from individuals to a candidate for state office, and $10,000 per election cycle from an individual to a PAC. The Campaign Legal Center, with the assistance of local counsel David R. Melton and Thomas Rosenwein, filed a brief amici curiae in support of the state law limits on behalf of itself, together with Chicago Appleseed and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
In analyzing whether to grant plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, a determination based largely on plaintiffs’ likelihood of eventual success on the merits of their arguments, the district court noted the long line of Supreme Court and lower court cases upholding contribution limits and concluded that ILP’s arguments “cannot be reconciled with prevailing campaign finance precedents.” The district court concluded “it is highly likely” that the state law limits will “survive First Amendment scrutiny.”
“In a state where the last two governors have gone to jail for corruption, including one governor whose unlimited pursuit of campaign contributions was at the heart of the scandal, the court explicitly recognized that suspending the state’s contribution limits would reopen the door to corruption and do irreparable harm to Illinois and its citizens,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “This is an example of where the Legal Center can play a vital role in litigation, making clear that there is a long line of court precedent supporting the constitutionality of contribution limits.”
To read the court’s memorandum opinion and order, click here.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, click here.
U.S. District Court Upholds Federal Aggregate Contribution Limits
On September 28, a three-judge panel in Washington DC rejected the Republican National Committee’s challenge to the federal aggregate contribution limits inMcCutcheon v. FEC. In so holding, the court highlighted an argument in the amici brief filed by the Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, that the challenge, if successful, would create the potential for massive evasion of candidate contribution limits through the use of joint fundraising committees, party transfers and other means of circumvention.
“The court clearly recognized that siding with the plaintiffs would have made a mockery of candidate contribution limits by opening the door for widespread evasion,” said Tara Malloy, Legal Center Senior Counsel. “A successful challenge to these aggregate limits would have allowed individuals to contribute millions of dollars to candidates and party committees in a single election. Plaintiffs’ claim that this type of money would not buy influence and create at the very least the appearance of corruption does not pass the laugh test.”
The brief filed by Legal Center, with Democracy 21, emphasized that if the aggregate limits were invalidated, an individual could contribute $5,000 toward every single House and Senate race, $30,800 to each of a party’s three federal party committees, and $10,000 to each of a party’s fifty state committees for a total of $3.5 million in a two-year election cycle. The total would be further increased by as many $5,000 contributions to PACs as an individual chose to make. The three-judge panel recognized this very significant threat and cited it in its opinion.
The case, brought by plaintiffs Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee, challenges both the $70,800 aggregate limit on contributions to non-candidate committees and the $46,200 aggregate limit on contributions to candidate committees in a two-year election cycle.
To read the court opinion, click here.
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Court Rejects Another Disclosure Challenge, Siding with Campaign Legal Center Again
On October 5, an as applied challenge to the constitutionality of disclosure provisions for groups running “electioneering communications” was turned away by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Hispanic Leadership Fund (HLF) v. the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The organization is seeking to air television advertisements criticizing President Obama without complying with “electioneering communication” disclosure requirements. The court upheld the constitutionality of the requirements and rejected HLF’s argument that references to “the White House” and “the Administration” in three of the group’s ads do not constitute unambiguous references to a clearly identified federal candidate—part of the legal definition of “electioneering communication.” The court, however, ruled that two of HLF’s five proposed ads would not meet the definition.
“While we do not agree with the court’s opinion that the use of the President’s recorded voice in an ad would not constitute a reference to a clearly identified candidate to any hearing American with a television set, the court did recognize most of the ads for the bald-faced attempts to evade disclosure that they are,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “It is important to remember that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly and emphatically upheld disclosure laws as vital to the public interest by enabling voters to make informed decisions on Election Day and preventing corruption of elected officials. This case is just one of a string of cases brought by groups attempting to buy influence in Washington while hiding their funders from the public.”
“Electioneering communication” disclosure requirements apply to broadcast ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate in close proximity to an election. The law defines “clearly identified” to include not only ads that explicitly name a candidate, but also ads that make the identity of the candidate “apparent by unambiguous reference.”
To read the order of the court, click here.
To read the court’s memorandum opinion, click here.
To read the brief filed today by the Campaign Legal Center, click here.
Closing Arguments Heard in South Carolina v. United States
On September 24, a three judge court heard closing arguments in South Carolina v. United States, a closely followed case in which South Carolina seeks Section 5 preclearance under the Voting Rights Act for its new voter photo identification laws.
South Carolina sued after the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) concluded that the law failed to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The law would require voters to present a state-issued driver's license or ID card, or a U.S. military ID or passport in order to cast a ballot.
South Carolina, along with a number of other states and municipalities with a history of voter discrimination, is covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires it to secure DOJ or Court approval for changes in its election laws. DOJ determined that the state’s voter ID law would disproportionately impact minorities and blocked its implementation.
The Legal Center serves as co-counsel with the ACLU for a group of Intervenors who will be harmed if the voter ID law is allowed to take effect. A decision is expected later this month.
To read the Defendant-Intervenors' proposed findings and conclusions, click here.
To read the Defendant-Intervenors' reply to South Carolina's response to its proposed findings and conclusions, click here.
Watchdogs Criticize FEC for Disregarding Public Comment Period, File Comments on Tea Party Leadership Fund Advisory Opinion Request
On October 3, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments criticizing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for scheduling consideration of Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) 2012-32 at an October 4 meeting, before the statutorily-required 10-day public comment period ended Friday October 5. Furthermore, regarding the substance of the AOR, the Legal Center argued that the Commission had no authority to grant the Tea Party Leadership Fund (TPLF) request that the Commission declare a statute unconstitutional.
The AOR, filed by TPLF and federal candidates John Raese and Shawn Bielat, asked that the FEC cease enforcement of the statutory requirement that a committee be in existence at least six months in order to attain multicandidate political committee status and become eligible to make larger contributions to candidates. TPLF has already given each candidate $2,500, the maximum contribution allowed from standard political committees to candidates, but asked the FEC to waive the “six months in existence” requirement for multicandidate committee status, which would enable TPLF to contribute an additional $2,500 to each candidate.
“The request itself acknowledges that the statute preventing evasion of candidate contribution limits has been upheld by the Supreme Court, but nevertheless asks the Commission to exceed its authority by declaring the statute unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable,” said Paul S. Ryan, Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Formally considering this request before the end of the comment period shows a complete disrespect for the public comment process required by law and actually rendering an opinion within the comment period would in fact violate the law.”
The comments urged the Commission not only to reject the request but to prepare to defend the law in court against an expected challenge by the requestors.
To read the comments filed by the Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
Trevor Potter Featured Guest on Bill Moyers’ “Elections for Sale”
On September 23, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter was the featured guest on Bill Moyers & Company’s “Elections for Sale” which aired nationally on public broadcasting stations. In a 45 minute interview, Moyers and Potter discussed the record amounts of money being spent this election cycle, the outsized role being played by secretive, outside groups, and the potential for corruption in the current system.
“I can assure you that if someone is spending millions of dollars to elect the candidate, the candidate knows where that money is coming from” Potter told Moyers. “We’re creating opportunities for corruption and candidates being beholden to specific private interests because of funding, yet there's no disclosure to the rest of us.”
To watch the entire interview, click here.
Watchdogs Lay Out Clear Violations by Rove’s Group and Warn IRS of Continuing Harm from Lack of Enforcement
The Campaign Legal Center on September 27 joined Democracy 21 in sending a letter to the IRS further documenting that Crossroads GPS is a campaign operation and thus not entitled to tax-exempt status as a section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization. The letter attached transcripts of ads run by Crossroads GPS in 2012 targeting and praising presidential and congressional candidates, along with other information which refutes claims by Crossroads GPS that its ads are “issue ads,” not campaign ads.
“Crossroads GPS is operating as a shadow Republican National Committee, not a social welfare organization, and there are simply no two ways around the facts here,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Legal Center Executive Director. “A growing mountain of evidence makes laughable the claims that its work is for any sort of social good rather than purely and blatantly partisan political purposes. Even the group’s founder Karl Rove boasts publicly that Crossroads GPS ad buys of more than $50 million, attacking the President or boosting Mitt Romney, are a response to counter the advertising of the Obama campaign.”
To read the full letter sent to the IRS, click here.
To read the transcripts of the ads, click here.
Reform Groups Call for New Appointees to the Office of Congressional Ethics
On September 27, the Campaign Legal Center joined with other reform groups in urging House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to appoint four new members of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The letter reminded the House leaders that replacements would need to be considered before the end of this year, when the terms of four of members will expire, leaving only Chairmen David Skaggs and Porter Goss as sitting members.
The groups praised the work of the OCE for helping “change a secretive and oft-perceived moribund ethics enforcement process into a reasonably more accountable and active system.”
In addition to the Legal Center, the groups signing the letter included Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.
To read the letter, click here.
Trevor Potter at University of Denver Law School for Speech and Panel
On September 25, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter traveled to the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law to participate in a panel entitled “Campaign Finance in a Post Citizens United Era.” The panel discussed the campaign finance landscape leading up to the 2012 election and the overall impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Lawrence Noble (Americans for Campaign Reform) and Mark Grueskin (Heizer Paul Grueskin LLP) joined the panel which was moderated by Professor John Holcomb. Potter also addressed a luncheon for students and faculty.
Both the lunch discussion and evening panel will be made available on the University of Denver’s website.
New America Foundation Forum Features Trevor Potter
On October 2, Legal Center President Trevor Potter participated as a panelist at the New America Foundation forum “Beyond Sticker Shock: How Is Big Money Changing Politics in 2012?” The panel focused on how corporate spending has impacted the 2012 election and what the implications will be for future elections. The panel included Michael Scherer, White House Correspondent for TIME Magazine, and Mark Schmitt, Senior Research Fellow at New America Foundation, and was moderated by Katherine Mangu-Ward, Managing Editor of Reason Magazine.
To watch the forum, click here.
Senior Counsel Addresses American University Washington Program
On October 3, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan addressed American University’s Washington Semester Program, discussing the current state of money in politics and outlining potential reforms the Campaign Legal Center and other groups are currently pursuing. The program hosts students from around the world holding internships in Washington and schedules discussions for students with leading figures on the important political issues of the day.