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Context of 'March 2011: Two Anonymous Plaintiffs File Suit Asking that Legal Residents from Foreign Countries Be Allowed to Make Campaign Donations'

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Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), speaking on the Washington Times’s America’s Morning News television broadcast, says the Democrats’ proposed government-run health care system—the so-called “public option”—will “absolutely” kill more people than it will save. Will “government-run health care… end up killing more people than it saves?” the interviewer asks Coburn. He responds, “Absolutely.” Coburn’s comments are echoed on the floor of the House by two Republicans. Steve King (R-IA) tells members that the government is “going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line. Places like Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe. People die when they’re in line.” And Louis Gohmert (R-TX) states: “One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine!… I would hate to think that among five women, one of ‘em is gonna die because we go to socialized care.” [Real Clear Politics, 7/16/2009; Think Progress, 7/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Steve King, Tom Coburn, Louis Gohmert

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

A lawsuit by two anonymous plaintiffs is filed challenging the foreign-contribution provision of the campaign finance laws, a provision that was not overturned by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010). The lawsuit is on behalf of a Canadian citizen who claims he wants to support President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen who wants to contribute to Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney and to the campaign of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The Israeli-Canadian citizen says they want to help prevent what they call a “government-takeover of the health care system in the United States,” according to the suit. The filing says both plaintiffs are legally authorized to live and work in the United States, but are not permanent residents; one is a young attorney with a moderately successful practice and the other earns a modest salary as a medical resident at a New York hospital. The lawsuit asks that legal residents, as well as citizens and US-registered entities, be allowed to make donations. While the lawsuit appears to be bipartisan in nature, the lawyers representing the anonymous plaintiffs are from a top-flight law firm, Jones Day, which usually represents Republican and wealthy corporate clients. Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser notes that the firm’s clients “include some of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of the Citizens United decision—including Koch Industries and the US Chamber of Commerce.” The lawyers are Warren Postman and Yaakov Roth, both of whom are former Supreme Court clerks and thusly do not come cheap—in 2005, Jones Day charged as much as $370 an hour for services provided by lawyers with similar levels of experience. Millhiser writes: “To be clear, a court decision in favor of Jones Day’s clients would not necessarily allow BP or the Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund to immediately start buying US elections. The lawsuit only asks the court to allow lawful residents make campaign contributions. Nevertheless, such a decision would be a significant crack in the wall protecting American democracy from foreign money. There are any number of foreign corporations who would love to see that happen.” [Politico, 3/18/2011; Think Progress, 3/18/2011] The court will deny the lawsuit (see August 8, 2011).

Entity Tags: Warren Postman, Ian Millhiser, Barack Obama, Jones Day, Willard Mitt Romney, Tom Coburn, Yaakov Roth, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court strikes down part of an Arizona law providing public funding for political campaigns. In the case of Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett, the Court rules 5-4 that a provision in Arizona law providing additional funds to publicly funded candidates whose opponents use private donations to outspend them is illegal. Some opponents of unfettered outside spending feared that the Court would use the case to put an end to most, if not all, programs that provide public money to candidates; Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser explains: “Candidates will only agree to accept public financing if it won’t prevent them from running a competitive race. If a state offers only a few thousand dollars in public funds to a candidate whose opponent is backed by tens of millions of corporate dollars, then the non-corporate candidate will have no choice but to raise money on their own. To defend against this problem, Arizona developed a two-tiered public financing system. Candidates receive additional funds if their opponent or corporate interest groups overwhelm them with attack ads, and thus candidates who are determined not to be tainted by the corrupting influence of major donors are not left defenseless.” The ruling will not have an impact on the presidential race, since the federal public financing system lacks such a provision, and since it seems unlikely that either President Obama or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney (R-MA) will use public financing in 2012. The case was brought by two organizations, the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute, on behalf of Arizona state candidates who rejected public funds. The groups argued that the provision infringed on those candidates’ freedom of speech by compelling them to spend less money to avoid triggering the additional funds.
Majority, Minority Opinions - Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed: “We hold that Arizona’s matching funds scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and, therefore, violates the First Amendment.” The matching funds provision “imposes an unprecedented penalty on any candidate who robustly exercises [his] First Amendment right[s],” Roberts adds. If the provision is allowed to stand, “the vigorous exercise of the right to use personal funds to finance campaign speech” leads to “advantages for opponents in the competitive context of electoral politics.” The privately funded candidate, Roberts writes, must “shoulder a special and potentially significant burden” when choosing to exercise his First Amendment right to spend funds on behalf of his candidacy. Justice Elena Kagan dissents, writing that the plaintiffs “are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received—but chose to spurn—the same financial assistance. Some people might call that chutzpah.”
Reactions - Attorney Bill Maurer, who represented the Institute for Justice, says the ruling “makes clear that the First Amendment is not an exception to campaign finance laws; it is the rule” (see January 30, 1976 and January 21, 2010). He adds that he hopes the ruling will serve as “a clear reminder to government officials that they may not coerce speakers to limit their own speech.” Millhiser writes: “So public financing laws can technically remain, but Arizona’s attempt to protect publicly financed candidates from a wave of corporate attack ads is absolutely forbidden. Moreover, because few candidates can know in advance whether the will face an onslaught of hostile corporate ads, most candidates will hedge their bets and avoid the risk of public financing.… Without unlimited corporate money in elections, most candidates could afford to take public funds unless their opponent had unusual access to wealth or wealthy donors.” Referring to the 5-4 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), Millhiser continues, “In the post-Citizens United America, however, no one is safe from corporate America’s nearly bottomless pool of potential campaign expenditures.” Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an organization opposed to the unrestricted influence of outside donors, says, “The five-vote Big Money majority on the court has spoken again in favor of wealthy special interests.” Fred Wertheimer of the campaign finance group Democracy 21 calls the ruling “another seriously misguided campaign finance decision,” but adds “it does not cast any doubt on the continued viability or constitutionality of a number of other existing public financing systems that do not include ‘trigger funds’ or similar provisions.” Common Cause President Bob Edgar says, “This is not the death knell of public financing.” [Politico, 6/27/2011; Think Progress, 6/27/2011]
Plaintiffs Financed by Wealthy Conservative Interests - The next day, Think Progress’s Lee Fang will reveal that the two groups who filed the lawsuit, the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute, are financed by wealthy conservative interests. The Institute for Justice, a group dedicated to bringing cases to court in order to deregulate private corporations and to increase the participation of wealthy corporate interests in elections, was created with “seed money” from oil billionaire Charles Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010). The Walton Family Foundation, a foundation run by the billionaire family of Arkansas retailer Sam Walton (the founder of Wal-Mart), has donated $1.64 million to the group. The Foundation has written that the Citizens United decision and the Arizona case are two top priorities for the Institute. The Goldwater Institute, one of Arizona’s most prominent conservative think tanks, is focused on rolling back health care reform. The Institute is funded by several foundations, including the Walton and the Charles Koch Foundations. Fang notes that much of the funding for both groups remains undisclosed. [Think Progress, 6/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Elena Kagan, Bob Edgar, Bill Maurer, Barack Obama, Willard Mitt Romney, Walton Family Foundation, US Supreme Court, Nick Nyhart, Institute for Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr, Ian Millhiser, Goldwater Institute, Lee Fang, Charles Koch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A three-judge district court in Washington, DC, denies a lawsuit, Bluman v. Federal Election Commission, filed by two foreign citizens asking that they be allowed to contribute money to US political campaigns (see March 2011). Two of the judges, Brett Kavanaugh and Rosemary Collyer, were both appointed to the bench by the Bush administration. The court finds: “[I]t is undisputed that the government may bar foreign citizens from voting and serving as elected officers. It follows that the government may bar foreign citizens (at least those who are not lawful permanent residents of the United States) from participating in the campaign process that seeks to influence how voters will cast their ballots in the elections. Those limitations on the activities of foreign citizens are of a piece and are all ‘part of the sovereign’s obligation to preserve the basic conception of a political community.’” Kavanaugh’s concurrence even cites, briefly, foreign law: “It bears mentioning, moreover, that plaintiffs’ home countries—Israel and Canada—and many other democratic countries impose similar restraints on political spending by foreign citizens. See, e.g., Canada Elections Act [and] Knesset Election Law.” The plaintiffs, identified as Benjamin Bluman and Asenath Steiman, had argued that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) opened the door for foreign involvement in US elections. The case can be appealed to the Supreme Court. [Memorandum Opinion, 8/8/2011; Think Progress, 8/8/2011; New York Times, 1/5/2012] The Supreme Court will deny the Bluman appeal (see January 9, 2012).

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Rosemary Collyer, Brett Kavanaugh, Asenath Steiman, Federal Election Commission, Benjamin Bluman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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