- Challenge to Texas Voter Photo ID Trial Begins in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas
- Fifth Circuit Denies True the Vote’s Attempted Late Entry into Texas Voter I.D. Challenge
- Reformers Seek Summary Judgment Against FEC for Dismissal of Crossroads GPS Complaint
- Seventh Circuit Urged to Overturn Ruling Which Ignored Precedent to Halt Wisconsin Investigation of Coordinated Spending with Gov. Walker’s Campaign
- District Court Urged to Uphold SEC’s Pay-to-Play Rules
- Legal Center Files Supplemental Letter Brief in Challenge to Mississippi Disclosure Laws at Request of the Circuit Court
- The Campaign Legal Center and Other Watchdog Groups, Successfully Petition The FCC For Policy Change
- Watchdog Groups Call on IRS to Take Timely Action on Adopting New Regulations for Section 501(c)(4) Groups
- Senate Urged to Pass DISCLOSE Act to Combat Growing Crisis of Dark Money In Our Elections
- House Leaders Urged to Publicly Commit to OCE’s Continued Existence in 114th Congress
- Civil Rights & Reform Groups Urge Senate to Confirm EAC Nominees
- Campaign Legal Center and Others Urge Senators to Support Legislation to Curb Bundling by Lobbyists for Members of Congress
- Watchdogs Support Presidential Library Donation Reform Act
- Trevor Potter and Paul S. Ryan Featured Prominently at Fair Courts State Summit
- Lawrence Noble Joins Panel Discussion at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Summit
Challenge to Texas Voter Photo ID Trial Begins in U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, Texas
On September 2, in the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi, trial began in Veasey v. Perry, a challenge to the State of Texas’s controversial voter photo ID law. The case was originally brought by Congressman Marc Veasey, LULAC, and about a dozen Texas voters represented by a legal team that included attorneys from the Campaign Legal Center. The court later consolidated the suit with other subsequent complaints, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Texas voter ID law was originally rejected for preclearance in 2012 by a 3-judge panel which found that the law would have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. But after the U.S Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling struck down the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula in June 2013, Texas, which was no longer required to preclear its voting changes, went ahead and implemented the law.
“This law was found by a federal court to be discriminatory against racial and language minorities. Yet once the decision was vacated, the State of Texas made no effort to mitigate the harmful aspects of the photo ID bill that the DC court identified in this blatantly discriminatory law,” said J. Gerald Hebert.
The complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center in the case claims that the voter photo ID law (SB 14) violates the 1st, 14th, 15th and 24th Amendments to the Constitution, as well as Section 2 of Voting Rights Act.
The Campaign Legal Center is part of the legal team that includes Chad Dunn and K. Scott Brazil (Brazil & Dunn), Neil G. Baron, Armand Derfner (Derfner, Altman & Wilborn), Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. (LULAC) and David Richards (Richards, Rodriguez & Skeith), The trial is expected to last about 2 weeks.
To view plaintiff’s amended complaint (August 22, 2013), click here.
To read a copy of the Legal Center’s brief arguing that the motion to dismiss should be denied, click here.
Fifth Circuit Denies True the Vote’s Attempted Late Entry into Texas Voter I.D. Challenge
On August 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the effort by the organization True the Vote (“TTV”) to intervene in the Texas voter photo ID case. True the Vote sought to intervene to defend the discriminatory law. The Campaign Legal Center serves as counsel to the lead plaintiffs challenging the law in the district court and had filed an opposition in the Fifth Circuit to stay the voter ID lawsuit.
“We are relieved the court denied True the Vote’s belated attempt to join the State of Texas in defending a law serving no purpose other than to suppress the ability of black and Latino registered voters to cast their ballots,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of The Campaign Legal Center. “True the Vote fell far short of establishing the right to intervene in the case and we are pleased the court of appeals correctly denied the organization’s effort to participate.”
On December 11, 2013, TTV was denied intervention as a defendant in the consolidated lawsuits (Veasey v. Perry, No. 2:13-cv-193) challenging Texas’s voter identification law. The district court found that TTV did not have a particularized interest that the litigation threatens to impair or impede, and that TTV’s generalized interests in the issues will be adequately represented by the State of Texas. That decision was affirmed by the court of appeals.
To read the Fifth Circuit Court’s opinion, click here.
Reformers Seek Summary Judgment Against FEC for Dismissal of Crossroads GPS Complaint
On July 30, the Campaign Legal Center and other campaign reform groups asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to declare unlawful the dismissal of a complaint against the secretive political spending group Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies (GPS) by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The motion for summary judgment stems from the FEC’s failure to investigate Crossroads GPS for not registering as a political committee. The FEC Office of General Counsel had recommended that the agency investigate GPS in the face of evidence about the group’s activities, but the Commission deadlocked along party lines leading to the dismissal of the complaint.
The lawsuit, Public Citizen v. FEC, was brought by the parties to the 2010 complaint: Public Citizen; Craig Holman, campaign finance expert for Public Citizen; ProtectOurElections.org; and Kevin Zeese, an attorney for ProtectOurElections.org. Attorneys for the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen are serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The groups contend that Crossroads GPS – an organization created by Republican political strategists to influence the 2010 midterm elections – fits the legal definition of a political committee: any group that receives or spends more than $1,000 during a calendar year to influence elections and whose major purpose is federal campaign activity. Political committees must disclose information about their donors and expenditures, which GPS has failed to do. The FEC’s refusal to investigate Crossroads GPS for failing to register as a political committee has allowed the organization to continue to keep its donors secret for the last three election cycles.
“Courts are the only recourse when three Commissioners ignore the laws passed by Congress, ignore the FEC’s own longstanding policies and ignore the call for an investigation by their own General Counsel,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “We hope the court will be able to see what the three Commissioners who blocked the FEC from proceeding claimed they could not: Crossroads GPS was formed to pour money into our elections.”
Evidence indicates that Crossroads GPS operates as a political committee. Between June and December 2010, Crossroads GPS spent $20.8 million on federal campaign activity – more than half of what Crossroads GPS reported spending the entire year, the FEC’s general counsel determined.
To read the motion for summary judgment filed today with the court, click here.
To read the original FEC complaint, click here.
To read the statement by the Democratic Commissioners of the FEC, click here.
To read the FEC General Counsel’s recommendation, click here.
Seventh Circuit Urged to Overturn Ruling Which Ignored Precedent to Halt Wisconsin Investigation of Coordinated Spending with Gov. Walker’s Campaign
On August 8, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse a district court order that halted an investigation into allegations of illegal coordination between the campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and ostensibly “independent outside groups.” The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa in O’Keefe v. Chisholm additionally ordered prosecutors to destroy evidence gathered in the case tying the Governor and his campaign to outside groups, including Wisconsin Club for Growth. That order was stayed by the court of appeals. The brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 focuses entirely on the flawed First Amendment argument utilized by the district court to enjoin the investigation.
“Judge Randa’s ruling completely disregarded longstanding Supreme Court precedent and instead invented a new theory that the First Amendment forbids regulation of any coordinated spending beyond express advocacy. We hope the Seventh Circuit will see fit to rectify this misguided order expeditiously,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.
The Legal Center’s brief highlights that the Supreme Court formulated the express advocacy test only to modify the regulation of independent spending, not the regulation of contributions or coordinated spending. The brief also points out that Judge Randa’s holding is in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision in McConnell v. FEC, which upheld a federal statute authorizing the regulation of coordinated spending that is not express advocacy—namely, “electioneering communications.”
To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.
District Court Urged to Uphold SEC’s Pay-to-Play Rules
On August 29, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief in New York Republican State Committee v. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urging the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to deny a preliminary injunction and dismiss the latest challenge to pay-to-play laws.
The state Republican parties of New York and Tennessee are challenging an SEC rule barring investment firms from managing state assets for two years after a firm or its associates make more than de minimis contributions to officeholders or candidates who have or would have power to award investment contracts.
The rule was implemented after SEC and state investigations uncovered extensive evidence of fraud in the award of state investment contracts. One such scheme involved former New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who was ultimately convicted of steering $250 million in pension funds to an investment firm in exchange for gifts and more than $500,000 in contributions.
“SEC and state investigators have prosecuted a long and sad laundry list of quid pro quo corruption in the awarding of state investment contracts to major donors,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Pay-to-play laws are a vital bulwark helping to maintain the public’s faith in its government and its elected officials. The courts have long recognized the vital public interest served by such laws.”
To read the brief, click here.
Legal Center Files Supplemental Letter Brief in Challenge to Mississippi Disclosure Laws at Request of the Circuit Court
On August 22, the Campaign Legal Center filed a supplemental letter brief at the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Justice v. Hosemann, a challenge to Mississippi’s disclosure requirements for state constitutional ballot measures. The case is on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, which overturned the law. The Circuit Court requested the new brief to address the impact of Catholic Leadership Coalition of Texas v. Reisman, a Fifth Circuit case decided last month after the Justice appeal had been fully briefed.
CLC’s new brief advises the Court of Appeals that Catholic Leadership does not bear directly on the issues raised by the Justice case, but does reaffirm that disclosure laws impose—at most—only “exceedingly minimal” burdens and serve vital governmental interests, and thus should not be subjected to the demanding standard of strict scrutiny review.
The challenge to Mississippi’s disclosure requirements for state constitutional ballot measures was brought on behalf of five individuals seeking to raise and spend funds to impact such measures without disclosing the identities of their backers.
The Legal Center’s earlier brief in the case urged the Fifth Circuit to apply established precedent and reverse the lower court’s decision, which “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 supplemental letter brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center, click here.
To read the original brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center in March, click here.
The Campaign Legal Center and Other Watchdog Groups, Successfully Petition the FCC For Policy Change
On August 7, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a rulemaking to expand online political file requirements to cable satellite and radio. The action came in response to a petition filed one week earlier by the Campaign Legal Center, the Sunlight Foundation, and Common Cause. Currently, broadcasters, cable, and satellite systems that air political advertisements must maintain public inspection files. While all broadcasters must upload this information into the FCC’s online database, cable and satellite providers need only disclose this information at their offices. The FCC notice requests public comment on the organizations’ petition to extend cable and satellite providers the requirement to post their public files online that now cover broadcasters. In recent years, the amount of political advertising on these other outlets has jumped significantly and is expected to grow even more.
“The Commission in many cases sits on rulemaking petitions for years, so we are very pleased to see them move so quickly on our petition,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on political ads every election cycle seeking to influence cable and satellite viewers and radio listeners, and the stations already ready maintain these files. Making them available online is not a hardship, especially in light of the economic windfall the stations gain from airing the ads.
To view the petition for rulemaking filed by the Campaign Legal Center, the Sunlight Foundation, and Common Cause, click here.
Watchdog Groups Call on IRS to Take Timely Action on Adopting New Regulations for Section 501(c)(4) Groups
On August 14, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 sent a letter to the IRS, summarizing two lengthy sets of comments they had submitted in the ongoing IRS rulemaking proceeding to consider new regulations to govern eligibility for section 501(c)(4) tax status.
In one set of comments submitted with Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the groups addressed issues relating to the amount of campaign activity that social welfare groups are legally permitted to conduct under the Internal Revenue Code and under court interpretations of the Code. The second set of focused on the definition of “candidate-related political activity.”
The IRS is expected to issue a new notice of proposed rulemaking in 2015 that will set forth a revised proposed rule. The Legal Center and Democracy 21 urged the IRS to adopt a final rule expeditiously in order to prevent further abuse of the tax laws in the 2016 election cycle by groups claiming to be social welfare organizations in order to hide the donors financing their campaign activities.
To view the full letter, click here.
Senate Urged to Pass DISCLOSE Act to Combat Growing Crisis of Dark Money in Our Elections
On July 23, the Campaign Legal Center strongly warned against the growing threat of ‘Dark Money’ to our democracy and provided testimony to the Senate Rules Committee that the DISCLOSE Act would provide the disclosure called for by the U.S. Supreme Court in a number of recent campaign finance rulings. In a statement submitted into the hearing record, Legal Center President Trevor Potter and Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert condemned the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) “blatant override of Congressional intent” in the rules issued by the Commission to implement the disclosure requirements of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
Potter and Hebert explained that the FEC precipitated the current crises, undermining Congressional efforts to increase disclosure of the funders of outside spending.
Their statement urged the Rules Committee to expeditiously send the DISCLOSE Act to the full Senate and to vigorously oppose efforts to weaken the legislation in order to bring disclosure regulations in line with current law and in keeping with U.S. Supreme Court rulings calling for complete disclosure of political spending in order to safeguard the integrity of the nation’s elections.
To read the full statement, click here.
House Leaders Urged to Publicly Commit to OCE’s Continued Existence in 114th Congress
On September 4, a diverse coalition of congressional scholars and watchdog groups urged House Leaders from both major parties to publicly commit to the continuation of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for the 114th Congress and to do so well in advance of the upcoming elections.
Created in 2008 in the wake of multiple scandals involving Members that resulted in a number of them doing jail time, the OCE has been attacked by a small number of Members who have proposed defunding or defanging the Office. Prior to the creation of OCE, ethics investigations in the House were shrouded in secrecy, undermining public confidence in the committee. The OCE has not only provided a credible means of investigating allegations against House Members, but has also created new levels of transparency as its investigations are eventually made public. The resulting increase in disclosure and enforcement, however, has made the OCE unpopular with some Members.
“Each Congress, since OCE’s inception, the House has come close to eliminating the Office. We are urging the bipartisan House Leadership to step up now and declare publicly that it stands behind the ethics watchdog,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The House Ethics Committee’s ‘see no evil’ approach to ethics enforcement has alienated citizens and undermined their faith in their elected officials.”
Groups signing the letter are the Campaign Legal Center, Judicial Watch, Taxpayers for Common Sense, The Sunlight Foundation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and Project on Government Oversight (POGO) along with Congressional Scholars Thomas Mann, Norm Ornstein and James Thurber.
To read the letter, click here.
Civil Rights & Reform Groups Urge Senate to Confirm EAC Nominees
On September 8, the Campaign Legal Center joined with more than thirty civil rights and reform groups to urge Senate Leadership to move forward with the nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The groups called for an up-or-down vote in September on the four nominees to the EAC in their letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) and the other members of the committee.
The letter emphasized the importance of a fully-functioning EAC “to ensuring that the right to vote for all eligible Americans is not compromised and that elections run efficiently and fairly.”
On September 10, a hearing was held for the Republican nominees to the EAC. The hearing for Democratic nominees was held previously. Confirmation fights in the Senate have left the EAC without any sitting commissioners.
To read the full letter, click here.
Campaign Legal Center and Others Urge Senators to Support Legislation to Curb Bundling by Lobbyists for Members of Congress
On July 31, the Campaign Legal Center and other reform groups issued a statement urging Senators to support the Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2014. The legislation introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), would limit the ability of lobbyists to use bundled contributions to obtain undue influence with members of Congress.
The proposed legislation would cap the amount that an individual lobbyist could contribute to or bundle for a candidate at $2,600, the maximum contribution level for an individual. The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2014 would also close loopholes in the lobbying laws to ensure that all individuals who are paid to lobby Congress register as lobbyists, and prohibits members and candidates from soliciting contributions from registered lobbyists while Congress is in session.
The other organizations signing the statement included: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and Sunlight Foundation.
To read the statement from reform groups, click here.
Watchdogs Support Presidential Library Donation Reform Act
On July 29, the Legal Center joined a coalition of fifteen government transparency and accountability organizations expressing support for the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2014, introduced by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). The legislation introduces a measure of transparency to fundraising for presidential libraries, which largely is unregulated and open for abuse.
Currently, Presidents raise funds privately to establish their presidential libraries. These efforts, which often begin long before Presidents leave office, are unregulated and undisclosed, creating opportunities for, or the appearance of, influence-peddling. Donations to presidential libraries have been connected to a series of scandals.
The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act requires presidential library fundraising organizations to submit quarterly reports to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on entities that have contributed $200 or more towards the fundraising organization in a single quarter.
In addition to the Legal Center, the other groups signing the letter included the American Library Association, Center for Effective Government, Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Democracy 21, iSolon.org, Northern California Association of Law Libraries, OpenTheGovernment.org, Progressive Librarians Guild, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen, Society of Professional Journalists and Sunlight Foundation.
To read the full letter, click here.
Trevor Potter and Paul S. Ryan Featured Prominently at Fair Courts State Summit
From July 28-30, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter and Senior Council Paul Ryan, were featured prominently at Justice at Stake’s Annual Fair Courts State Summit in Washington. Both Potter and Ryan participated on multiple panels and together led the session, “Disclosure, Recusal, and other Reforms: Responding to McCutcheon & Big Money Spending.” In the closing plenary session, Potter joined the panel discussing the takeaways from the conference and the road ahead.
Lawrence Noble Joins Panel Discussion at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Summit
On August 21, Lawrence Noble joined a panel at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Legislative Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On the panel “The Ethical Challenges of Dark Money,” Noble was joined by Allen Dickerson and Gary Goldsmith in discussing ‘Dark Money’ in politics. They focused on the ethical challenges presented by ‘dark money’ and the impact of independent expenditures on the outcome of state elections.