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Context of 'February 27, 2010: Loophole in ‘Citizens United’ Allows Corporations to Anonymously Finance ‘Third Party’ Political Advertisements'

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The press reports that the US Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying organizations are the biggest winners in the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. The Chamber of Commerce spends more on promoting Republican and conservative candidates than almost any other organization outside of the Republican Party itself. Other trade organizations, which tend to support Republicans, will almost certainly up their spending on behalf of their candidates, or in opposition to Democrats, according to experts interviewed by reporters, as will most corporations.
Unrestrained Spending to Favor Republicans - Democratic lawyer Marc Elias says: “It is a sweeping decision. In one opinion, the Court struck down all bans on corporate independent spending.” GOP lawyer Robert Kelner says that the ruling “will reflect a huge sea-change in campaign finance law. The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising.” Another GOP lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, says: “It’s going to be the Wild Wild West. If corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts… it means that the public debate is significantly changed with a lot more voices, and it means that the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.” Former Federal Elections Commission member Brad Smith says, “This case will lead to more spending, I think, in political elections.” Lawrence M. Noble, the former general counsel for the FEC, says a lobbyist can tell a candidate, “We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you—whichever one you want.” Political science professor Robert Watson, who has consulted with Democratic campaigns, says: “It’s a game changer. And the last thing we need is for major corporations and nonprofits to have unlimited access to buy their members of Congress.” The New York Times writes: “It is expected to unleash a torrent of attack advertisements from outside groups aiming to sway voters, without any candidate having to take the criticism for dirty campaigning. The biggest beneficiaries might be well-placed incumbents whose favor companies and interests groups are eager to court. It could also have a big impact on state and local governments, where a few million dollars can have more influence on elections.” The National Journal states: “Over the long run, the ruling is likely to favor GOPers more than it does Dems. While it does apply to unions and corporations equally, Elias said the presumption is that corporations have more money to spend.” Major corporations will not openly run their own advertising, Kelner says, but they will funnel millions into trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. “If people think that individual companies are going to go out and buy ads, there may be some of that, but for the most part companies are going to flow this money through trade groups and other outside groups,” Kelner says. “This will open the floodgates for money flowing through groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and other associations [that] spend money on political advertising.… There was always a cloud of doubt around outside groups and trade associations, and this lifts those clouds of doubt and leaves behind clear skies.” Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) general counsel Joe Sandler says the ruling may open the door for more attacks on incumbents by corporate and other entities eager to spend money to ease them out. “You will see more sharp-edged, candidate-specific ads on the air closer to the election,” Sandler says. “That could make it more difficult for incumbents to take tough votes in an election year.” [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010] Think Progress, the liberal news Web site affiliated with the Center for American Progress, writes, “The ruling is a giant win for the US Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
Citizens the Real Losers? - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the ruling a complete loss for citizens, saying: “[T]he Supreme Court majority declared that corporate speech trumps the rights of American voters to government free of corporate corruption. The Court has nominally upheld campaign finance disclosure requirements applicable to corporations, but I think time will prove that those disclosure requirements are largely ineffective when dealing with contributions.” Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group calls the ruling a “shocking burst of judicial activism.” Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls the ruling “a terrible mistake,” and says the Court “chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.” Feingold and other Congressional Democrats want to pass legislation that would curb the decision as soon as feasible. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010]
Republicans Celebrate Victory for Free Speech, Say Decision Will 'Level Out' Spending - But Marco Rubio (R-FL), running for Florida’s open Senate seat, says, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who truly value the freedoms outlined in our First Amendment.” And Republican consultant Ed Brookover, who represents Republican House candidate Allen West (R-FL), says he believes spending from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org will equal spending by corporations, and “level out” spending for the two parties. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010]
President Critical of Decision - President Obama speaks out against the decision (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Joseph Sandler, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Ed Brookover, Brad Ashwell, Ben Ginsberg, Barack Obama, Think Progress (.org), Russell D. Feingold, US Chamber of Commerce, Robert Kelner, Robert Watson, New York Times, Marc Elias, Lawrence M. Noble, Republican Party, Marco Rubio, National Journal, Paul S. Ryan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jan Witold Baran.Jan Witold Baran. [Source: Metropolitan Corporate Counsel]Author and law professor Jan Witold Baran cheers the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that allows virtually unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Baran, who alerts readers that he filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court in favor of plaintiff Citizens United, characterizes the ruling as allowing “corporations and unions [to] spend money on political advertising that urges the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.” He cites President Obama’s warning that the decision will unleash a “stampede of special-interest money in our politics” (see January 24, 2010), and derides that warning. He reminds readers that the decision retains the ban on direct contributions by corporations and unions, and that corporations and unions may not “spend money in cahoots with political parties,” but must remain “independent” and not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. He also tells readers that the decision mandates disclosure, saying that the ruling “upheld the laws that require any corporate or union spender to file reports with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours of spending the first dime.” Because of these retentions, Baran writes, there will be no “stampede of special-interest money.” The ruling will put an end to so-called “issue ads,” Baran predicts (see March 27, 1990 and June 25, 2007), the ads that either support or attack an issue and then urge the viewer to contact their congressperson. Because of the new ruling, the ads can now exhort viewers to vote for one candidate or against another because of the issues. Baran goes on to write, “There is also no factual basis to predict that there will be a ‘stampede’ of additional spending.” Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting some corporate and union spending, he says, and notes: “There have been no stampedes in those states’ elections. Having a constitutional right is not the same as requiring one to exercise it, and there are many reasons businesses and unions may not spend much more on politics than they already do. As such, the effect of Citizens United on the 2010 campaigns is debatable.” He says that the ruling is primarily a blowback against Congress’s meddlesome penchant to restrict “campaign speech.… Congress interpreted its power to regulate campaigns as a license to limit, restrict, burden, and confuse anyone who wished to engage in political campaigns.” Now, he says, the Court has reminded Congress that the First Amendment trumps its ability to regulate (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). The ruling is “a breath of fresh air” for everyone except Washington lawyers, Baran says, and concludes: “The history of campaign finance reform is the history of incumbent politicians seeking to muzzle speakers, any speakers, particularly those who might publicly criticize them and their legislation. It is a lot easier to legislate against unions, gun owners, ‘fat cat’ bankers, health insurance companies, and any other industry or ‘special interest’ group when they can’t talk back.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010; Wiley Rein LLP, 2012] Many observers besides Obama predict dire consequences as a result of the Court ruling (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, and January 26, 2010). And unfortunately for Baran’s predictions, a March 2010 appeals court verdict (see March 26, 2010) will join with the Citizens United ruling, particularly a loophole in the ruling (see February 27, 2010), to unleash just the kind of corporate spending that Baran says would never happen.

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Barack Obama, Jan Witold Baran, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Campaign finance lawyers tell the New York Times that a loophole in the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision, a decision that allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on political advertising (see January 21, 2010), could allow corporations and unions to make their donations anonymously and avoid the disclosure requirements that the Citizens United ruling left in place. Two earlier Court decisions, the 1986 Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life (see December 15, 1986) and the 2007 Wisconsin Right to Life rulings (see June 25, 2007), could be used in tandem with the Citizens United decision to make it possible for corporations and unions to donate anonymously to trade organizations and other nonprofit entities. Those entities could then use the money to finance political advertisements. Those nonprofit groups, usually called 501(c) groups after the applicable portion of the IRS tax code, had been allowed to finance so-called “electioneering communications” long before the Citizens United decision, but until now, corporations have not been allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a candidate’s election or defeat. Nor could they donate money to nonprofit groups that engage in “electioneering communications.” The 1986 decision gave some nonprofit organizations the right to advertise for or against political candidates, but banned corporations and unions from giving money to those groups. The Citizens United decision overturned that ban. And the 2006 ruling allowed corporations to spend money on “electioneering communications.” Now, experts like corporate lawyer Kenneth A. Gross, a former associate general counsel for the Federal Election Commission (FEC), believe that corporations will donate heavily and anonymously to those “third party” groups to buy political advertising. “Clearly, that’s where the action’s going to be,” Gross says. Corporations that spend money directly on political advertising still have to identify themselves in the ads, Gross says, and report their donors. Many corporations do not want to identify themselves in such advertisements. The nonprofit groups are an attractive alternative to public disclosure, Gross says. Congressional Democrats call the loophole dangerous, and have proposed legislation that would require nonprofit groups to disclose their donors for political advertising (see February 11, 2010). The Times states, “It is impossible to know whether corporations or unions are taking advantage of the new freedom to funnel pro- or anti-candidate money through nonprofit organizations.” [New York Times, 2/27/2010]

Entity Tags: New York Times, US Supreme Court, Kenneth A. Gross

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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