!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'March 25, 2011: Law Expert Believes Supreme Court Will Again Rule in Favor of Wealthy Independent Campaign Donors'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event March 25, 2011: Law Expert Believes Supreme Court Will Again Rule in Favor of Wealthy Independent Campaign Donors. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Loyola Law School Professor Richard Hasen writes that the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) is a “bad day for American democracy.” The Court as headed by Chief Justice John Roberts is a conservative activist court, Hasen writes, determined to recraft “constitutional law in its image.” The Citizens United ruling opens up the American political system “to a money free-for-all.” Hasen originally thought the Court would make a narrow ruling in the Citizens United case, perhaps finding that the campaign finance law often referred to as McCain-Feingold (see March 27, 2002) does not apply to video-on-demand broadcasts. “That would be in line with some of the past decisions of the Roberts Court, when it had preferred to chip away at existing precedent rather than dramatically move the law rightward.” But during questioning, it became clear that the conservatives on the Court were ready to dismantle McCain-Feingold as opposed to merely chipping away at it. The Court struck down limitations on corporate spending entirely (see March 27, 1990) and much of the legal limitations on so-called “soft money” campaign funding (see December 10, 2003). Hasen says that the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy equates funding limitations with censorship. Hasen writes: “There are many responses to Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. He wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the State Supreme Court? Justice Kennedy himself thought so in [a previous case]. And yet he runs away from that decision in today’s ruling. Justice Kennedy acknowledges that with the ‘soft money’ limits on political parties still in place, third-party groups (which tend to run more negative and irresponsible ads) will increase in strength relative to political parties. And that possibility raises the real chance Congress will repeal the ‘soft money’ limits, thereby increasing the risks of quid pro quo corruption.” Hasen believes that Kennedy is enshrining a fundamental principle of financial inequality—that wealthy individuals and corporations now have the legal right to unduly influence elections via their money. Money, Hasen writes, should not be equated with speech, as Kennedy has found. Instead of doing what the Court traditionally does, Hasen writes, and taking a narrow view of a constitutional issue as it has in a recent case (see June 22, 2009)—the time-honored principle of “constitutional avoidance”—this time the Court has gone to the extreme to transform the constitutional interpretation of electoral procedures. “[T]he Court went out of its way to overturn its own precedent, in violation of its usual rule of stare decisis, which calls for respecting past rulings for the good of reliable law-making. And it did so violating its usual rule, which it cited even yesterday, that it does not generally reach issues not raised in the initial petition to the Court. In short, the Court did not have to do what it did today.… This is a Court that has taken a giant leap toward deregulation of the electoral process.” [Slate, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen, John G. Roberts, Jr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Law professor Richard Hasen writes that an Arizona case before the Supreme Court may add to the abilities of wealthy individual and corporate donors to influence elections. In the case of McComish v. Bennett, Arizona’s public campaign financing laws are being challenged. Public financing of campaigns (i.e. using tax dollars for campaigns) is entirely voluntary, but candidates who do opt into the system may not accept outside donations. Privately funded candidates face no such restrictions, but receive no public campaign funding. If a privately funded candidate spends significantly more on the campaign than his/her publicly funded opponent, Arizona’s law has a so-called “trigger” provision that provides matching funds, to a point, to make the spending somewhat more equitable. The case before the Court was brought on behalf of wealthy private donors, and is based on the complaint that the matching funds provision is a violation of their clients’ freedom of speech. Hasen predicts that the Court, with its conservative majority and its ruling in the Citizens United case (see January 21, 2010), will rule in favor of the wealthy plaintiffs and strike down some or all of the Arizona law. Arizona imposes no limits on the spending of outside groups, Hasen argues, and if the matching funds provision is triggered, he asks, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if a wealthy candidate spends gobs of cash running against a candidate who has opted into the public financing system?” He answers, “The publicly financed candidate gets more government dollars to campaign, and the voters hear more speech.” Hasen notes that several conservative legal experts have found that the “free speech” argument is specious. Conservative Ninth Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld wrote against the argument in a previous ruling in the case, observing that in his view “there is no First Amendment right to make one’s opponent speak less, nor is there a First Amendment right to prohibit the government from subsidizing one’s opponent, especially when the same subsidy is available to the challenger if the challenger accepts the same terms as his opponent.” And Charles Fried, the solicitor general during the Reagan administration, filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that it is the wealthy candidates and interest groups who “in reality are seeking to restrict speech.” Hasen believes that the conservative majority will rule in favor of restricting the “speech” of publicly funded candidates in Arizona (and by extension in other states) because, as it ruled in a 2008 case, such financing laws were “an impermissible attempt to level the playing field between wealthy and non-wealthy candidates.” Hasen is blunt in his conclusion, stating, “Five conservative […] justices on the Supreme Court appear to have no problem with the wealthy using their resources to win elections—even if doing so raises the danger of increased corruption of the political system.” [Slate, 3/25/2011] Hasen is correct: the Court will rule 5-4 in the case, which will be renamed Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett, that the matching funds provision is unconstitutional (see June 27, 2011).

Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Richard L. Hasen, US Supreme Court, Andrew Kleinfeld

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Author and political science professor Richard Hasen provides data showing that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) is directly responsible for a huge rise in corporate “outside” spending on behalf of political campaigns. Recent arguments in defense of the decision have said that “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities that take corporate, labor union, and individual donations for the purpose of making television ads in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate or party (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, and February 20, 2012) were not created by the Court’s decision, and therefore Citizens United cannot be held responsible for the enormous surge in spending since the decision was rendered. The arguments equate older “527” organizations (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000) and the enormous donations made on their behalf (see January - November 2004) with the activities of super PACs after the Citizens United decision. “The purpose of the drumbeat appears to be to insulate the Supreme Court from further criticism of the Frankenstein’s monster they’ve created,” Hasen writes. He shows that the two types of organizations—527s and super PACs—are quite different. “It is true that before Citizens United people could spend unlimited sums on independent advertising directly supporting or opposing candidates,” Hasen explains. “But that money had to be spent by the individual directly. It could not be given to a political action committee, which had an individual contribution cap of $5,000 and could not take corporate or union funding. In many cases, wealthy individuals did not want to spend their own money on advertising, which would say, ‘Paid for by Sheldon Adelson’ or ‘Paid for by George Soros,’ so fewer of these ads were made. The only way to avoid having your name plastered across every ad was to give to the 527s, which claimed they could take unlimited money from individuals (including, sometimes, corporate and labor union money) on grounds that they were not PACs under the FEC’s definition of PACs. These organizations were somewhat successful, but a legal cloud always hung over them.” After Citizens United, courts and the Federal Election Commission ruled that super PACs could collect unlimited sums from corporations, unions, and individuals for unlimited independent spending. Hasen writes: “The theory was that, per Citizens United, if independent spending cannot corrupt, then contributions to fund independent spending cannot corrupt either. (I am quite critical of this theory about corruption, but that’s besides the point here.) So what was once of questionable legality before the court’s decision was fully blessed after Citizens United.” Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics and its OpenSecrets (.org) Web site, Hasen compares spending during presidential election years.
bullet 1992: Wealthy individuals, organizations, and corporations are allowed to spend unlimited sums (see January 30, 1976). Outside spending in that campaign, up through early March 1992, was about $1.5 million.
bullet 2000: The law remains essentially unchanged. By March 2000, outside spending was around $2.6 million.
bullet 2004: With the advent of “527” groups, by March 2004, outside spending rose to $14 million.
bullet 2008: Under similar conditions as 2004, by March 2008, outside spending rose to $37.5 million.
bullet 2012: In the first presidential campaign year after the Citizens United decision, spending as of early March 2012 is over $88 million.
2012 outside spending is at 234 percent of 2008 spending, and 628 percent of 2004 outside spending. Hasen writes, “If this was not caused by Citizens United, we have a mighty big coincidence on our hands.” Hasen expects outside spending to rise dramatically once the Republican primary is concluded and the presumptive Republican nominee begins campaigning against President Obama. “Wait until the super PACs and other organizations start raising their unlimited sums for the general election,” Hasen warns. “Further, lots of groups are now using 501(c) organizations rather than super PACs for their campaign spending, in an effort to hide their donors.” Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that during the 2010 midterm elections, spending from groups that used the law to hide their donors rose from 1 percent in 2006 to 47 percent. Moreover, “501(c) non-profit spending increased from 0 percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.” And 72 percent “of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.” The record-breaking spending in the 2008 presidential election—$301 million—was eclipsed in the first post-Citizens United election, the 2010 midterms, when corporate and other outside spending topped out at $304.6 million. Hasen writes: “It was an incredible number for a midterm election season. Why did that happen? Citizens United was decided early in 2010.” [Slate, 3/9/2012]

Entity Tags: Sheldon Adelson, Federal Election Commission, Center for Responsive Politics, Barack Obama, George Soros, US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike