!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'March 26, 2010: Court Ruling Opens Way for ‘Super PACs’'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event March 26, 2010: Court Ruling Opens Way for ‘Super PACs’. 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.

The federal government revises and expands the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see June 25, 1910), a campaign finance law that lacks any enforcement or verification mechanisms, in the wake of the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. The amended version codifies and revises the expenditure limits and disclosure procedures for US Congressional candidates. It will replace the original FCPA as well as its predecessor, the Tillman Act (see 1907), and will remain the backbone of American campaign finance law until 1971. All campaign spending is strictly regulated, with contributions of $50 and over during a calendar year mandated to be reported. Senatorial candidates can spend no more than three cents for each voter in the last election, to a maximum of $25,000. House candidates may also spend up to three cents per voter in the last election, up to a $5,000 maximum. Offers of patronage and contracts are banned, as is any form of bribery. Corporate contributions of all kinds are banned. However, the power of enforcement is entirely vested within Congress, and thusly is routinely ignored. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Pearson Education, 2004; National Public Radio, 2012] In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson will refer to the FCPA as “more loophole than law.” [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; National Public Radio, 2012]

Entity Tags: Tillman Act, Federal Corrupt Practices Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Smith-Connally Act restricts contributions to federal candidates from labor unions as well as from corporate and interstate banks (see 1925). The law is passed in response to the powerful influence of labor unions in elections beginning in 1936, where some unions used labor dues to support federal candidates [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] , and by public outrage at a steelworkers’ union going on strike for higher wages during the war, an action characterized by many as unpatriotic. The law was written both to punish labor unions and to make lawmakers less dependent on them and their contributions. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999] One example held up to scrutiny is the 1936 donation of $500,000 in union funds to the Democratic Party by John L. Lewis of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file] Motivated by anti-union and anti-liberal sentiment after the war’s end, the Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947) will make the ban permanent. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Smith-Connally Act, Democratic Party, Congress of Industrial Organizations, John L. Lewis

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The massive Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) is signed into law by President Nixon. (The law is commonly thought of in the context of 1971, when Congress passed it, but Nixon did not sign it into law for several months.) The law is sparked by a rising tide of anger among the public, frustrated by the Vietnam War and the variety of movements agitating for change. The campaign watchdog organization Common Cause sued both the Democratic and Republican National Committees for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see 1925), and though it lost the suit, it exposed the flaws and limitations of the law to the public. Common Cause then led a push to improve campaign finance legislation, aided by the many newly elected and reform-minded members of Congress. FECA repeals the toothless FCPA and creates a comprehensive framework for the regulation of federal campaign financing, from primaries and runoffs to conventions and general elections. The law requires full and timely disclosure of donations and expenditures, and provides broad definitions of both. It sets limits on media advertising as well as on contributions from candidates and their family members. The law permits unions and corporations to solicit voluntary contributions from members, employees, and stockholders, and allows union and corporate treasury money to be used for operating expenses for political action committees (PACs) or for voter drives and the like. It bans patronage or the promise of patronage, and bans contracts between a candidate and any federal department or agency. It establishes strict caps on the amounts individuals can contribute to their own campaigns—$50,000 for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, $35,000 for Senate candidates, and $25,000 for House candidates. It establishes a cap on television advertising at 10 cents per voter in the last election, or $50,000, whichever is higher. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Federal Election Commission, 4/2008 pdf file] The difference before and after FECA is evident. Congressional campaign spending reportage from 1968 claimed only $8.5 million, while in 1972, Congressional campaign spending reports will soar to $88.9 million. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Federal Corrupt Practices Act, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Common Cause

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the aftermath of the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974), amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972) provide the option for full public financing for presidential general elections, matching funds for presidential primaries, and public expenditures for presidential nominating conventions. The amendments also set spending limits on presidential primaries and general elections as well as for House and Senate primaries. The amendments give some enforcement provisions to previously enacted spending limits on House and Senate general elections. They set strict spending guidelines: for presidential campaigns, each candidate is limited to $10 million for primaries, $20 million for general elections, and $2 million for nominating conventions; Senatorial candidates are limited to $100,000 or eight cents per eligible voter, whichever is higher, for primaries, and higher limits of $150,000 or 12 cents per voter for general elections; House candidates are limited to $70,000 each for primaries and general elections. Loans are treated as contributions. The amendments create an individual contribution limit of $1,000 to a candidate per election and a PAC (political action committee) contribution limit of $5,000 to a candidate per election (this provision will trigger what the Center for Responsive Politics will call a “PAC boom” in the late 1970s). The total aggregate contributions from an individual are set at $25,000 per year. Candidates face further restrictions on how much personal wealth they can contribute to their own campaign. The 1940 ban on contributions from government employees and contract workers (see 1940) is repealed, as are the 1971 limitations on media spending. Perhaps most importantly, the amendments create the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to oversee and administer campaign law. (Before, enforcement and oversight responsibilities were spread among the Clerk of the House, the Secretary of the Senate, and the Comptroller General of the United States General Accounting Office (GAO), with the Justice Department responsible for prosecuting violators (see 1967).) The FEC is led by a board of six commissioners, with Congress appointing four of those commissioners and the president appointing two more. The Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House are designated nonvoting, exofficio commissioners. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] Part of the impetus behind the law is the public outrage over the revelations of how disgraced ex-President Nixon’s re-election campaign was funded, with millions of dollars in secret, illegal corporate contributions being funneled into the Nixon campaign. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Center for Responsive Politics, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Federal Election Commission, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, filed by Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) and former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) against the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo, challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) on free-speech grounds. The suit also named the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a defendant. A federal appeals court validated almost all of FECA, and the plaintiffs sent the case to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the contribution limits set by FECA because those limits help to safeguard the integrity of elections. However, the court overrules the limits set on campaign expenditures, ruling: “It is clear that a primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions… limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.” One of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that financial contributions to political campaigns can be considered expressions of free speech, thereby allowing individuals to essentially make unrestricted donations. The Court implies that expenditure limits on publicly funded candidates are allowable under the Constitution, because presidential candidates may disregard the limits by rejecting public financing (the Court will affirm this stance in a challenge brought by the Republican National Committee in 1980).
Provisions of 'Buckley' - The Court finds the following provisions constitutional:
bullet Limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office;
bullet Disclosure and record-keeping provisions; and
bullet The public financing of presidential elections.
However, the Court finds these provisions unconstitutional:
bullet Limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for presidential candidates who accept public funding;
bullet The $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures;
bullet The limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds; and
bullet The method of appointing members of the FEC, holding that as the method stands, it violates the principle of separation of powers.
In May 1976, following the Court’s ruling, the FEC will reconstitute its board with six presidential appointees after Senate confirmation. [Federal Elections Commission, 3/1997; Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012]
No Clear Authors - The opinion is labeled per curiam, a term usually reserved for brief and minor Court decisions when authorship of an opinion is less relevant. It is unclear exactly which Justices write the opinion. Most Court observers believe Justice William Brennan writes the bulk of the opinion, but Brennan’s biographers will later note that sections of the opinion are authored by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. The opinion is an amalgamation of multiple authors, reflecting the several compromises made in the resolution of the decision. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticism of 'Buckley' - Critics claim that the ruling enshrines the principle of “money equals speech.” The ruling also says that television and radio advertisements that do not expressly attack an individual candidate can be paid for with “unregulated” funds. This leads organizations to begin airing “attack ads” that masquerade as “issue ads,” ostensibly promoting or opposing a particular social or political issue and avoiding such words as “elect” or “defeat.” [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1999, law professor Burt Neuborne will write: “Buckley is like a rotten tree. Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.” Neuborne will write that his preference goes towards reasonable federal regulations of spending and contributions, but “any change would be welcome” in lieu of this decision, and even a completely deregulated system would be preferable to Buckley’s legal and intellectual incoherence. [New York Times, 5/3/2010] In 2011, law professor Richard Hasen will note that while the Buckley decision codifies the idea that contributions are a form of free speech, it also sets strict limitations on those contributions. Calling the decision “Solomonic,” Hasen will write that the Court “split the baby, upholding the contribution limits but striking down the independent spending limit as a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech and association.” Hasen will reflect: “Buckley set the main parameters for judging the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions for a generation. Contribution limits imposed only a marginal restriction on speech, because the most important thing about a contribution is the symbolic act of contributing, not the amount. Further, contribution limits could advance the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Court upheld Congress’ new contribution limits. It was a different story with spending limits, which the Court said were a direct restriction on speech going to the core of the First Amendment. Finding no evidence in the record then that independent spending could corrupt candidates, the Court applied a tough ‘strict scrutiny’ standard of review and struck down the limits.” [Slate, 10/25/2011] In 2012, reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin will call it “one of the Supreme Court’s most complicated, contradictory, incomprehensible (and longest) opinions.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Federal Election Commission, James Buckley, Jeffrey Toobin, US Supreme Court, Eugene McCarthy, Lewis Powell, Potter Stewart, Burt Neuborne, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Richard L. Hasen, William Brennan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Amendments to the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) passed by Congress after the controversial Buckley ruling by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976) bring FECA into conformity with the Court’s decision. The amendments repeal expenditure limits except for presidential candidates who accept public funding, and revise the provisions governing the appointment of commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The amendments also limit the scope of PAC fundraising by corporations and labor unions. The amendments limit individual contributions to national political parties to $20,000 per year, and individual contributions to a PAC to $5,000 per year. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] However, the Constitution restricts what Congress can, or is willing, to do, and the amendments are relatively insignificant. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules in the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. The case addresses limitations on so-called “soft money,” or contributions to a political party not designated specifically for supporting a single candidate, that were imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), often known as the McCain-Feingold law after its two Senate sponsors (see March 27, 2002). A three-judge panel has already struck down some of McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on soft-money donations, a ruling that was stayed until the Court could weigh in. Generally, the Court rules that the “soft money” ban does not exceed Congress’s authority to regulate elections, and does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The ruling is a 5-4 split, with the majority opinion written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens and his conservative colleague Sandra Day O’Connor. The opinion finds that the “minimal” restrictions on free speech are outweighed by the government’s interest in preventing “both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and… the appearance of corruption” that might result from those contributions. “Money, like water, will always find an outlet,” the justices write, and the government must take steps to prevent corporate donors from finding ways to subvert the contribution limits. The majority is joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, and the four other conservatives on the court—Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—dissent. [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003; Oyez (.org), 2011] The case represents the consolidation of 11 separate lawsuits brought by members of Congress, political parties, unions, and advocacy groups; it is named for Senator Mitch McConnell, who sued the FEC on March 27, 2002, the same day the bill was signed into law. Due to the legal controversy expected to be generated by the law and the need to settle it prior to the next federal election, a provision was included in the BCRA that provided for the case to be heard first by a special three-judge panel and then appealed directly to the Supreme Court. This District of Columbia district court panel, comprised of two district court judges and one circuit court judge, was inundated with numerous amicus briefs, almost 1,700 pages of related briefs, and over 100,000 pages of witness testimony. The panel upheld the BCRA’s near-absolute ban on the usage of soft money in federal elections, and the Supreme Court agrees with that finding. However, the Court reverses some of the BCRA’s limitations on the usage of soft money for “generic party activities” such as voter registration and voter identification. The district court overturned the BCRA’s primary definition of “noncandidate expenditures,” but upheld the “backup” definition as provided by the law. Both courts allow the restrictions on corporate and union donations to stand, as well as the exception for nonprofit corporations. The Court upholds much of the BCRA’s provisions on disclosure and coordinated expenditures. The lower court rejected the so-called “millionaire provisions,” a rejection the Supreme Court upholds. A provision banning contributions by minors was overturned by the lower court, and the Court concurs. The lower court found the provision requiring broadcasters to collect and disclose records of broadcast time purchased for political activities unconstitutional, but the Court disagrees and reinstates the requirement. [Legal Information Institute, 12/2003] McConnell had asked lawyer James Bopp Jr., a veteran of anti-campaign finance lawsuits and the head of McConnell’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, to take part in the legal efforts of the McConnell case. However, before the case appeared before the Supreme Court, McConnell dropped Bopp from the legal team due to a dispute over tactics. [New York Times, 1/25/2010] The 2010 Citizens United decision will partially overturn McConnell (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, David Souter, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor, National Rifle Association, Mitch McConnell, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, James Bopp, Jr, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy.Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010] In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; OMB Watch, 1/27/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010; National Public Radio, 2012]
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010; Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010]
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, New York Times, Nick Nyhart, Evan Tracey, David Bossie, Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens, Malcolm Stewart, John G. Roberts, Jr, Los Angeles Times

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

The Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously holds that provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) violate the First Amendment in the case of a nonprofit, unincorporated organization called SpeechNow.org. SpeechNow collects contributions from individuals, but not corporations, and attempted to collect contributions in excess of what FECA allows. In late 2007, SpeechNow asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) if its fundraising plans would require it to register as a political committee, and the FEC responded that the law would require such registration, thus placing SpeechNow under federal guidelines for operation and fundraising. In February 2008, SpeechNow challenged that ruling in court, claiming that the restrictions under FECA were unconstitutional. FECA should not restrict the amount of money individuals can donate to the organization, it argued, and thusly should not face spending requirements. It also argued that the reporting limits under FECA are unduly burdensome. The district court ruled against SpeechNow, using two Supreme Court decisions as its precedents (see January 30, 1976 and December 10, 2003), and ruled that “nominally independent” organizations such as SpeechNow are “uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban.” SpeechNow appealed that decision. The appeals court reverses the decision, stating that the contribution limits under FECA are unconstitutional as applied to individuals. The reporting and organizational requirements under FECA are constitutionally valid, the court rules. The appeals court uses the recent Citizens United ruling as justification for its findings on contribution limits (see January 21, 2010). [New York Times, 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] The FEC argued that large contributions to groups that made independent expenditures could “lead to preferential access for donors and undue influence over officeholders,” but Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for the court, retorts that such arguments “plainly have no merit after Citizens United.” Stephen M. Hoersting, who represents SpeechNow, says the ruling is a logical and welcome extension of the Citizens United ruling, stating, “The court affirmed that groups of passionate individuals, like billionaires—and corporations and unions after Citizens United—have the right to spend without limit to independently advocate for or against federal candidates.” [New York Times, 3/28/2010] Taken along with another court ruling, the SpeechNow case opens the way for the formation of so-called “super PACs,” “independent expenditure” entities that can be run by corporations or labor unions with monies directly from their treasuries, actions that have been banned for over 60 years (see 1925 and June 25, 1943). The New York Times will later define a super PAC as “a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections, and which can take unlimited amounts of money, outside of federal contribution limits, from rich people, unions, and corporations, pool it all together, and spend it to advocate for a candidate—as long as they are independent and not coordinated with the candidate.” Super PACs are not required by law to disclose who their donors are, how much money they have raised, and how much they spend. CNN will later write, “The high court’s decision allowed super PACs to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance practices, later writes that the laws underwriting Super PACs “prevent… voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.” [New York Times, 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission, 2012; OpenSecrets (.org), 2012; CNN, 3/26/2012; New York Times, 5/22/2012]

Entity Tags: Stephen M. Hoersting, New York Times, Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, OpenSecrets (.org), David Sentelle, CNN, SpeechNow (.org)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senate Democrats are unable to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans that is blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
Act Would Mandate Disclosure of Donors - The DISCLOSE Act—formally the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act—would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would have created new campaign finance disclosure requirements and made public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. Additionally, all outside groups, including “super PACs,” would have to report the names of donors. Moreover, the legislation would provide for so-called “Stand By Your Ad” requirements mandating that super PACs and other outside campaign groups producing political advertisements disclose the top funders in the ad. The CEO or highest-ranking official of an organization would, under the act, have to appear in the ad and officially “approve” the message. [Open Congress, 6/29/2010; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012]
Unbreakable Filibuster - Even public support from President Obama fails to sway enough Republican senators to vote against the filibuster, as did changes made to the bill by sponsor Charles Schumer (D-NY) designed to assuage some of Republicans’ concerns about the bill. The bill has already passed the House, shepherded through under Democratic leadership against Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate also, but Senate rules allow the minority to mount filibusters that require 60 votes to overcome, and a number of Republicans would need to break from the Republican pack to vote down the filibuster. Additionally, some conservative senators such as Ben Nelson (D-NE) have not publicly stated their support for the bill. One Republican who had previously indicated she might vote for cloture (against the filibuster), Susan Collins (R-ME), dashed Democrats’ final hopes by saying she would not vote for cloture after all. “The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” says Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.” Other so-called Republican moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have previously indicated they would not vote for cloture. Ironically, one of the “carve-outs” in the bill Schumer added was on behalf of the far-right National Rifle Association (NRA), an addition that Schumer says was made to placate Republicans. Schumer says that even if the bill does not pass now, attempts to reintroduce it will be made. The DISCLOSE Act “is one of the most important for the future of our democracy, not just for the next six months but for the next six decades,” he says. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that you—if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special-interest giving and corporate influence in elections was… part of the problem, then this bill would pass. Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special-interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retorts: “The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010). In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency.” [Politico, 7/26/2010] The “Cornhusker Kickback” McConnell is referencing is a deal struck in late 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to win Nelson’s support for the Democrats’ health care reform package, in which Nebraska, Nelson’s state, would receive 100 percent government financing for an expansion of Medicare. [Las Vegas Sun, 12/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Federal Election Commission, Charles Schumer, Ben Nelson, Barack Obama, US Supreme Court, US Senate, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Olympia Snowe, Mitch McConnell, National Rifle Association, Robert Gibbs, Kevin Kelley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A conservative super PAC, American Action Network (AAN), launches a $19 million advertizing blitz against Democrats in 22 House districts. AAN was founded by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and former Nixon administration official Fred Malek. AAN has already pumped $5 million into races featuring Republican Senate candidates. Founded in February, the group was formed, according to Malek, to “counter what the labor unions are doing on the Democratic side.” The group is split into two parts: the Action Forum, a 501(c)(3), which allows donations to be tax-deductible but limits political activities, and the Action Network, a 501 (c)(4), in which contributions are not deductible or disclosed but the group can advocate for political causes. AAN president Rob Collins says: “This Democrat-controlled Congress has already voted for higher taxes and promises next month to raise taxes on America’s families and businesses. This is simply unacceptable and something we wanted to call attention to.” AAN is part of a larger network of conservative super PACs (see March 26, 2010), including American Crossroads, that plans to spend as much as $50 million on Congressional races. AAN shares office space with American Crossroads. [Politico, 10/13/2010; New York Times, 10/17/2010; CT Mirror, 10/17/2010]
Objectionable Ads - The AAN ads airing in Connecticut draw fire after accusing Democrats Christopher Murray (D-CT) and Jim Himes (D-CT) of voting to provide free health care to illegal immigrants and Viagra to sex offenders. Murray accuses AAN of being linked to a number of Republicans in the Bush administration, and asks who is providing the money for the ads. Campaign finance law allows the donors to organizations such as AAN to remain anonymous. “This is one of the biggest TV buys this district has ever seen,” Murphy says. “And what we deserve to know is who is standing behind it. I want to know. I think that’s what the voters want as well.… These ads on TV right now, fronted by a shadowy, anonymous group of billionaire donors and multi-national corporations are a clear sign of what the difference is in this election.” An AAN spokesman refuses to discuss the finances behind the organization, saying only: “What we do is we comply with the letter of the law. That’s all we have to offer about that.” Murray calls the ad’s allegations “laughable.” Both claims have been debunked by independent fact-checking organizations, though Murray’s opponent Sam Caligiuri (R-CT) says the ad’s content is “verifiable,” and says even if the ad is questionable, Murray has told lies of his own about Caligiuri.
AAN Co-Founder Involved in Criminal Activities as Nixon Administration Official - CT Mirror notes that Malek, a Wall Street millionaire and the co-founder of AAN, was not only a member of the Nixon administration (whose crimes and excesses concerning the Watergate scandal led to a round of campaign finance reforms—see 1974 and May 11, 1976), but was also involved in a recent investment scandal. The New York Times goes further in its examination of Malek, noting that he was heavily involved in the 1972 “Townhouse operation” that raised illegal corporate cash in so-called “slush funds” and distributed the monies in key Senate races (see December 1, 1969, Early 1970, March 23, 1971, and August 18, 1974). Malek, the White House personnel chief in 1972, helped dispense illegal patronage deals to Nixon donors and served as deputy director of CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), an organization heavily involved in criminal activities. And the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Malek was the Nixon administration’s unofficial “Jew counter” (see July 3, 1971 and September 1971) and was part of the administration’s illegal persecution of Jews who worked in the federal government. During the Watergate investigation, Malek admitted that some of CREEP’s activities might have “bordered on the unethical.” Malek worked with American Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove during the Nixon administration, when Rove worked to re-elect Nixon as the executive director of the College Republican National Committee. Malek is a member of the Weaver Terrace Group, an informal amalgamation of Republican strategists from “independent” groups who regularly meet, trade political intelligence, and make joint fund-raising trips. The group is named after the street where Rove used to live. Former Watergate prosecutor Roger Witten says: “It creates all the appearances of dirty dealings and undue influence because our candidates are awash in funds the public is ignorant about. This is the problem that was supposedly addressed after Watergate.” [New York Times, 10/17/2010; Think Progress, 10/18/2010]

Entity Tags: Jim Himes, Christopher Murray, CT Mirror, American Crossroads, American Action Network, Fred Malek, Weaver Terrace Group, Sam Caligiuri, Committee to Re-elect the President, Think Progress (.org), Nixon administration, Rob Collins, Norm Coleman, Roger Witten, Karl C. Rove, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that independent organizations supporting Republicans and Democrats are spending unprecedented amounts of money on supporting, or more often attacking, candidates for office. The huge rise in spending comes as a direct result of the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign donations (see January 21, 2010). While organizations are spending huge amounts of money on both sides of the political divide, spending for conservative candidates outweighs spending on liberal candidates by an 8-1 margin. CRP’s analysis finds that the increased spending helped Republicans retake the US House of Representatives in 2010, and is having a long-term effect on the nation’s campaign and election systems. [Center for Responsive Politics, 5/5/2011; Think Progress, 5/6/2011]
Most Democratic Spending Comes from Unions - Labor unions gave over $17.3 million in independent expenditures opposing Republican candidates. The union contributing the most: the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with over $7 million. The National Education Association (NEA) formed a “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010) that spent $3.3 million on election activities. Super PACs must disclose their donors and the amounts donated (see 2000 - 2005), but an array of groups under the 501(c) tax laws do not have to disclose that information (see September 28, 2010).
Corporations Spend Lavishly for Republicans - While corporations donated some money to Democratic causes, most of their money went to Republicans. Corporations gave over $15 million to super PACs such as American Crossroads, which supports an array of conservative candidates. CRP notes that conservative groups that do not have to disclose their donors spent $121 million, and corporations and wealthy individuals were the likely sources of almost all of that money.
Secret Donations on the Rise - In the 2006 elections, the percentage of spending from groups that do not disclose their donors was 1 percent. In 2010, it was 47 percent. “Nonprofit” organizations that can legally hide their donors and donations increased their spending from zero percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, outside interest groups outspent party committees, by $105 million. The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has gone up 400 percent since 2006. And 72 percent of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. [Center for Responsive Politics, 5/5/2011]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, US House of Representatives, National Education Association, Center for Responsive Politics

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyer James Bopp Jr. forms a super PAC, Republican Super PAC Inc., in order to make unlimited financial contributions towards “independent” expenditures in support of Republican candidates in the November 2012 elections. Bopp is joined by Roger Villere, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party. Bopp is known for arguing high-profile cases against abortion rights (see November 1980 and After and Mid-2004 and After) and campaign finance regulations (see December 10, 2003 and Mid-2004 and After). He was the lawyer who first worked with the lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United, whose lawsuit gave the Supreme Court the opportunity to greatly deregulate campaign finance law (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, and January 21, 2010). According to an email from Bopp and Villere, the Republican Super PAC will coordinate with other independent groups “to bridge gaps in the independent campaigns supporting Republican candidates.… The best way to neutralize President Obama’s unprecedented $1 billion political war chest and the political spending by labor unions and wealthy Democrats is to build a super fund-raising infrastructure for independent expenditure spending.” [New York Times, 5/16/2011] The majority of the money raised and spent on behalf of candidates by super PACs has gone to support Republicans, and not President Obama or Democratic candidates (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), and May 5, 2011).

Entity Tags: Roger Villere, James Bopp, Jr, US Supreme Court, Republican Super PAC Inc, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A new “super PAC” aligned with presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) is being formed by a group of Romney backers and former Romney campaign aides, according to a report by the Washington Post. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Restore Our Future - The Romney super PAC, “Restore Our Future” (ROF), is one of a number of such organizations created in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). Restore Our Future is apparently the first super PAC to form specifically in support of one of the 2012 presidential contenders, with the sole exception of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC in support of President Obama. ROF treasurer Charles R. Spies, who served as Romney’s general counsel in his 2008 presidential effort, refuses to disclose how much the organization has raised, or who is donating. Spies merely says: “This is an independent effort focused on getting Romney elected president. We will do that by focusing on jobs and his ability to fix the economy.” A Romney campaign aide says that a Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing coming up in July will show the organization having raised some $20 million. A major Romney donor who refuses to allow his identity to be revealed says, “We just want to show that we’ve got more dough than anyone.” The Romney campaign’s communication director, Gail Gitcho, says the campaign welcomes any outside support, and points to the Obama campaign as the largest fundraiser in the race, saying, “We are pleased that independent groups will be active in fighting this entrenched power [the Obama campaign] so the country can get back to work.”
Leaders of ROF - Members of the ROF board of directors include Spies; Carl Forti, political director for Romney’s 2008 campaign; and Larry McCarthy, a member of the Romney media team in 2008. Forti is the co-founder of the Black Rock Group consulting firm and the political director of American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC expected to raise over $120 million for candidates in 2012. Neither Forti nor American Crossroads will discuss the role played by Forti in both organizations. ROF actually registered itself with the FEC in October 2010, but has remained unaffiliated and essentially dormant until recent weeks. Now ROF officials are briefing top donors about the organization’s plans and fundraising goals. Former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, the head of Priorities USA Action, says: “I’m not surprised that there’s even more money coming into this race to help Mitt Romney. He’s a pretty deeply flawed candidate; he’s going to need all the help he can get.” Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics says of the super PACs: “The outside groups are akin to the biggest booster club you can imagine for a college football team. The club can’t give cars or gifts to the players, but they can do everything else possible to support them.… It’s a brand-new way to play politics.” [Washington Post, 6/23/2011] The Post fails to note many of the details about ROF’s senior officials. According to the Public Campaign Action Fund, Spies is not only a lawyer and a consultant, but a registered lobbyist for Clark Hill PLC, representing a chain of luxury casinos. ROF’s address as listed on its FEC filings is the same as Clark Hill’s Washington, DC, office. The Action Fund observes, referring to the Republican primary and the number of wealthy donors lined up behind each major candidate, “While [ROF] officially can’t coordinate with the Romney campaign, having lobbyists on your side is definitely a good way to boost one’s standing in the so-called ‘wealth primary.’” [Public Campaign Action Fund, 6/23/2011] The liberal news Web site Think Progress will soon note that McCarthy is a veteran advertising creator for Republican candidates, and was one of the strongest creative forces behind the infamous 1988 “Willie Horton” ad, which many considered to be extraordinarily racist (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 2010, McCarthy served as a media strategist for the American Future Fund, which launched attack ads attempting to link Democrats to the Park 51 community center in Manhattan, deemed by conservatives as the “Ground Zero Victory Mosque” and mischaracterized as a monument celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Those ads were decried by many as being bigoted against Muslims. McCarthy has brushed off criticism of his ads, and said the fact-checking organizations that found his ads to be flawed suffered from a pro-Democratic bias. Think Progress reporter Lee Fang will write that when he tried to find the American Future Fund office in Iowa, the address listed for the group turned out to be a UPS mailbox in a strip mall near an airport. Fang will write, “With a record of such secrecy and racist, anything-goes campaign tactics, one can expect Romney’s new outside group to be just as ugly in the presidential race.” [Politico, 10/29/2010; Think Progress, 6/27/2011]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Carl Forti, American Future Fund, American Crossroads, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, US Supreme Court, Bill Burton, Think Progress (.org), Public Campaign Action Fund, Larry McCarthy, Gail Gitcho, Federal Election Commission, Dave Levinthal, Lee Fang, Restore Our Future, Priorities USA Action, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

A dozen wealthy donors have contributed over half of the money collected by so-called “super PACs” in the first half of 2011, according to an analysis by USA Today. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Majority of Donors Republican Contributors - The majority of those donors are contributing to Republican/conservative organizations, and overall, Republican organizations are outraising Democratic organizations by a 2-1 margin. American Crossroads, the organization formed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, has collected $2 million from billionaire Jerry Perenchio, another million from billionaire Robert B. Rowling, and $500,000 from Texas real estate billionaire Bob Perry. The super PAC supporting the Obama reelection campaign, Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama spokesperson Bill Burton, has collected $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, and $500,000 each from media owner Fred Eychaner and from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011), has received million-dollar donations from hedge fund manager John Paulson, Utah firms Eli Publishing and F8 LLC, and the shadowy W Spann LLC (see July 12, 2011). It has also received half a million each from Perry, financiers Louis Moore Bacon and Paul Edgerly, Edgerly’s wife Sandra Edgerly, New Balance Athletic Shoes executive James S. Davis, J.W. Marriott of the hotel chain Marriott International, and Richard Marriott of Host Hotels and Resorts. Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center says: “The super PACs are for the wealthy, by the wealthy, and of the wealthy. You’re setting up a dynamic where the candidates could become bit players in their own campaigns,” particularly in less-expensive races for the House of Representatives. Katzenberg says his donation to the Obama-supporting super PAC was because of the increasing dominance of “Republican extremists” in national elections: “The stakes are too high for us to simply allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right wing minority to go unchallenged.” Charles Spies, the treasurer of Restore Our Future and Romney’s former general counsel, refuses to discuss donors, but says, “Donors recognize Mitt Romney is the most experienced and qualified candidate to challenge President Obama’s record of out-of-control, big government spending.” One donation drawing scrutiny is a $193,000 donation to the presidential campaign of Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) from a group called Americans for Rick Perry. The primary funder of that group is Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave $100,000 to the group 10 days after Perry signed legislation allowing Simmons’s company to accept low-level radioactive waste from other states at its West Texas facility. A Perry spokesman denies any coordination between Simmons and his campaign, and says Perry has not even decided whether to run for president. Simmons helped fund the 2004 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which launched a powerful campaign that smeared then-presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) and his Vietnam War record. American Crossroads has reported raising $3.9 million during the first six months of 2011. Its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has spent $19 million on anti-Democrat advertising so far. That group does not have to report its donors or the amounts it receives. [USA Today, 8/4/2011]
'Recipe for Corruption - Legal expert Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress comments: “It’s tough to imagine a surer recipe for corruption. Although super PAC’s are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates—one of the few remaining campaign finance laws that wasn’t eviscerated by Citizens United and similar cases (see January 21, 2010)—it’s not like a presidential candidate isn’t perfectly capable of finding out which billionaires funded the shadowy groups that supported their campaign. Moreover, if just a handful of people are responsible for the bulk of these donations, a newly elected president will have no problem figuring out who to lavish favors on once they enter the White House.” [Think Progress, 8/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Robert B. Rowling, Richard Marriott, Bobby Jack Perry, Sandra Edgerly, Service Employees International Union, USA Today, W Spann LLC, A. Jerrold Perenchio, American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA Action, Paul Edgerly, Restore Our Future, Bill Burton, Harold Simmons, Meredith McGehee, Fred Eychaner, Eli Publishing, F8 LLC, Ian Millhiser, Louis Moore Bacon, James S. Davis, John Paulson, Karl C. Rove, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Jeffrey Katzenberg, J. W. (“Bill”) Marriott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously rejects a petition by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) for him to be allowed to head his own “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010). Lee’s “leadership PAC,” the Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC (CCFPAC), had requested permission from the FEC to turn itself into a PAC capable of accepting donations directly from corporations and unions (see October 17, 2011). Previously, the FEC had released a draft opinion opposing the request, but Lee’s lawyer Dan Backer had said he felt the FEC would approve the request. Lee spokesperson Brian Phillips calls the decision “a head-scratcher.” Backer and Lee had counted on the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and essentially say that if corporations and unions can run super PACs, politicians should be able to do so as well. They argued that because the law bars Lee from spending the money on his own reelection efforts, and because he is willing to pledge that he would not personally solicit large donations, the FEC should grant the request. The draft opinion said that Lee’s request violates campaign finance law that expressly prohibits elected officials from being associated with a political entity that collects money beyond the legal limits (see March 27, 2002), and the unanimous decision echoes that finding. A PAC such as the CCFPAC is limited to collecting $5,000 per person per year and is banned entirely from accepting corporate donations. Lee, a “tea party” favorite, would have been the first politician in the country to have his own super PAC. Commissioner Donald McGahn, the most conservative commissioner and an opponent of most campaign finance laws, told Lee and his legal team: “Your argument essentially does away with contribution limits. It’s well beyond what we do here and well beyond what I do here, which is saying something.” McGahn says he agrees that the government should not discriminate when applying regulations on independent expenditures, but that the statute and regulations clearly limit contributions to members of Congress to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. Lee’s office says that letting Lee run a super PAC of his own would actually increase transparency and accountability. Lee may yet appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. [Salt Lake Tribune, 11/24/2011; Think Progress, 11/28/2011; Deseret News, 12/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Brian Phillips, Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC, Donald McGahn, Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to a Washington Post analysis, 10 percent of US billionaires have given to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), who seems to be securing enough primary wins to be named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Romney himself is a former venture capitalist worth at least $250 million. Forty-two of the US’s 412 billionaires have donated to Romney’s campaign and third-party “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). President Obama has 30 billionaires on his donor list, or something over 7 percent. Romney opponents Rick Perry (R-TX) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) have 20 and 12, respectively. The Washington Post reports: “Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions (see January 21, 2010). That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation’s rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy.” Donors can only give $5,000 directly to candidates’ campaigns, but under the Citizens United ruling, they can give unlimited amounts to super PACs that run independent ads on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. “The only limit on the resources is the willingness of the donors to give,” says government professor Anthony Corrado, a former Democratic official. “It doesn’t take long to transfer $500,000 from one account to another.” Obama had a head start in raising campaign funds going into October 2010, largely because the Republican candidates were spending money against one another in primary battles. But now that Romney seems more and more assured as the Republican nominee, Republican donors are expected to focus on donating to his campaign and super PACs, and are expected to catch up to and surpass Obama and the Democrats in short order (see August 2, 2010, September 20, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, May 5, 2011, and August 4, 2011). In 2008, Obama distanced his campaign from third-party donors, and donations from those individuals and interests were relatively down. But, perhaps recognizing the advantage Republicans have in raising money from the wealthy, Obama no longer objects to those donations. Romney’s largest donor so far is hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, who has given $1 million to Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011). Think Progress’s Travis Waldron notes that Paulson made millions by shorting the housing market before the mortgage collapse that sparked the global financial crisis and drove the US economy into a recession. Other billionaires supporting Romney include Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, California real estate developer Donald Bren, and developer and publisher Sam Zell. Several billionaires who used to support Romney’s primary opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway founder Richard DeVos, are expected to begin giving generously to the Romney campaign or to his super PAC. Obama’s richest donor is Len Blavatnik, a Russian-American industrialist who has also donated to Romney. Other billionaires supporting Obama include insurance magnate Peter Lewis, former Google executive Eric Schmidt, and venture capitalist John Doerr. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt downplays the billionaire contributions, saying, “Our campaign is fueled by donations from more than 1 million Americans, 98 percent of which were in amounts of $250 or less.” Corrado says that as the November elections approach, spending will only increase. “One of the things about large investors in campaigns is that they’re very interested in getting results,” he says. “And it is much easier to get a large effect in a race if you can give to directly advocate for and against a candidate.” [Washington Post, 12/1/2011; Think Progress, 12/6/2011]

Entity Tags: Dan Snyder, Sam Zell, Sheldon Adelson, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Ben LaBolt, Restore Our Future, Richard DeVos, Newt Gingrich, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Eric Schmidt, Donald Bren, Peter Lewis, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), John Paulson, Barack Obama, Len Blavatnik, Jon Huntsman, John Doerr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Representatives John Yarmuth (D-NY) and Walter Jones (R-NC) file a bill, the Yarmuth-Jones Disclose Act, that would amend the US Constitution to overturn the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) and take special-interest money out of American politics. The proposed amendment establishes that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, June 26, 2008, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, March 26, 2010, and December 12, 2011). It also makes Election Day—the first Tuesday in November—a legal holiday, and enables Congress to establish a public financing system that would serve as the sole source of funding for federal elections (see 1974, January 26, 2011 and After, June 27, 2011, and December 1, 2011). Yarmuth explains his proposal in the context of the Citizens United case, saying: “Corporate money equals influence, not free speech. The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don’t answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families—and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected.” Jones says in a statement: “If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed. The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that’s simply unacceptable to the American people.” Jones is one of the very few Republicans in Congress who is willing to advocate for campaign finance reform. It is unlikely the bill will pass the Republican-controlled House, and Senate Republicans would likely block it if it made it to that chamber. Amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress before being approved by three-fourths of state legislatures. [US House of Representatives, 12/20/2011; WFPL, 12/20/2011; Think Progress, 12/20/2011] This is not the first attempt to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and regulate campaign financing (see September 20, 2011, November 23, 2010, November 1, 2011, and November 18, 2011).

Entity Tags: Walter Jones, 2012 Yarmuth-Jones Disclose Act, John Yarmuth

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) tells MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd that wealthy donors should be able to give unlimited amounts directly to candidates in lieu of donating to “independent” organizations such as super PACs (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). The US history of campaign finance law (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), including the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), has always put stringent limitations on what donors can contribute directly to candidates. Asked if he thinks the Citizens United decision was a poor one, Romney responds: “Well, I think the Supreme Court decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately and the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.” Ian Millhiser, a senior legal analyst for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, responds: “It’s not entirely clear from this interview that Romney understands what happened in Citizens United. That decision emphatically did not follow any ‘interpretation of campaign finance laws that were written by Congress.’ Rather, Citizens United threw out a 63-year-old federal ban on corporate money in politics.… [I]t was not a case of judges following the law. More importantly, however, Romney’s proposal to allow wealthy donors to give candidates whatever they’d ‘like to a campaign’ is simply an invitation to corruption (see October 17, 2011). Under Romney’s proposed rule, there is nothing preventing a single billionaire from bankrolling a candidate’s entire campaign—and then expecting that candidate to do whatever the wealthy donor wants once the candidate is elected to office. Romney’s unlimited donations proposal would be a bonanza for Romney himself and the army of Wall Street bankers and billionaire donors who support him, but it is very difficult to distinguish it from legalized bribery.” Millhiser notes that Romney had a different view on the subject in 1994, saying then that when you allow special interest groups to buy and sell candidates, “that kind of relationship has an influence on the way that [those candidates are] going to vote.” [Think Progress, 12/21/2011]

Entity Tags: Willard Mitt Romney, Charles David (“Chuck”) Todd, Ian Millhiser

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sharply criticizes the actions of so-called “super PACs.” Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. A mere 12 donors, including several corporations, one union, and a number of billionaires, made up over half of the donations given to super PACs in the first half of 2011, and Republican super PACs have outraised Democratic super PACs by more than a 2-1 margin (see August 4, 2011). Marcus writes that the presidential election is already devolving into an affair “without meaningful contribution limits or timely disclosure, outsourced to political action committees whose spending often dwarfs that of the candidates they support.” The PACs and super PACs rarely obey the law and operate independently of the candidates they support. The Republican primary season demonstrates just how powerful they are: the super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), “Restore Our Future,” has spent $4 million attacking Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA). The veneer of independence for Restore Our Future is thin: it is run by former Romney political director Carl Forti, its treasurer Charles Spies was Romney’s general counsel, its head fundraiser Steve Roche used to head the Romney 2012 finance team, and Romney has spoken at Restore Our Future events (see June 23, 2011). However, Marcus notes, “up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.” Restore Our Future was last required to report its donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in July 2011, when it reported raising $12 million. Gingrich’s own super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” is primarily funded by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, and their fellow Republican candidate Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has the super PAC “Make Us Great Again.” Long-shot Republican candidate Jon Huntsman’s super PAC, “Our Destiny,” is reportedly funded primarily by Huntsman’s wealthy father. And President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has launched anti-Romney ads. Marcus writes, “The rise of these groups erodes the twin pillars of a functional campaign finance system: limits on the size of contributions and timely information about who is writing the checks.” Her concerns are echoed by veteran campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, who recently said: “The establishment of the candidate-specific super PAC is a vehicle to completely destroy candidate contribution limits. It is a vehicle that will spread to Congress and it will lead us back to a system of pure legalized bribery, because you will be back, pre-Watergate, to unlimited contributions that are going for all practical purposes directly to candidates.” For now, super PACs, with their supposed independence, are free to air advertisements attacking opposing candidates while the candidate they support, Marcus writes, “gets to remain above the fray, not required to appear on camera to say that he or she approved this message.” FEC official Ellen Weintraub tells Marcus, “I view the super PAC as the evil twin of the candidate’s campaign committee.” Referring to the legal limit of $2,500 for donations to candidates from individual or corporate donors, Weintraub says, “How can it possibly be true that to give more than $2,500 to a candidate is potentially corrupting but to give millions to an outside group that is acting on the candidate’s behalf is not?” Marcus concludes by saying that “dangerous” super PACs will only increase their influence as the presidential campaign season continues. [Washington Post, 1/3/2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Willard Mitt Romney, Winning Our Future, Charles R. Spies, Carl Forti, Barack Obama, Washington Post, Federal Election Commission, Steve Roche, Ruth Marcus, Make Us Great Again, Jon Huntsman, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Newt Gingrich, Priorities USA Action, Ellen L. Weintraub, Our Destiny, Sheldon Adelson, Restore Our Future

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Author and columnist Steven Rosenfeld writes that the big winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses is likely not any of the Republican presidential candidates, but the “independent” super PACs (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011) that dominated spending in that state during the primary campaign (see January 3, 2012). Rosenfeld calls super PACs “satellite political campaigns that supposedly act independently of the candidates,” but patently do not. The process has become predictable, Rosenfeld writes: the candidate’s campaign, stating the candidate’s name as “approv[ing] this message,” airs positive, uplifting ads, while the super PAC working with that candidate airs a barrage of negative ads that slam other candidates while never stating the candidate being supported. “And then the candidates hypocritically decry their mudslinging allies,” Rosenfeld writes. Some of the Republican campaign ads were critical of the super PAC attacks on their candidates. Iowa citizen Jill Jepsen told a reporter: “Oh goodness. I just don’t listen to it. I can’t listen to it. It makes me sick.” Super PACs are required by law to report their donors, but their lawyers have been successful in filing papers to push back filing deadlines until after early primaries. Rosenfeld writes, “Such intentional secrecy means the handful of big money donors behind these groups—there were 264 registered PACs as of last week, with assets of $32 million—will not be accountable to anyone other than their candidate of choice.” The super PACs have plenty of money for later primaries, according to information from the Center for Responsive Politics. Rosenfeld cites recent remarks by law school professor Kendall Thomas, who told an audience that in his opinion, super PACs are a perfect representation of “the face of American capitalism.” The Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) would, in Rosenfeld’s description of Thomas’s words, “unleash outsized and unaccountable players into the American political arena… just as globalization has ushered large corporate players into the international economic order.” Thomas said, “We need to contest the vision of politics, and the vision of politics embraced in Citizens United, which views citizenship and constitutional democracy as part of the world of commodities.” Rosenfeld concludes: “[T]he losers in the Iowa caucuses are not just the Republicans with the fewest supporters. They are that state’s voters—and voters in the primary and caucus states to follow—who will experience a political process increasingly distant from their lives.” [AlterNet, 1/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Kendall Thomas, Steven Rosenfeld, Jill Jepsen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the second Bush administration, writes that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the subsequent flood of corporate money into the political campaign continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 10, 2012) are good for American politics. [US News and World Report, 1/13/2012] According to a 2008 press report, Smith co-founded the CCP in 2006 in order to roll back campaign finance regulations, claiming that virtually any regulation is bad for politics. Smith has refused to reveal the financial sponsors that gave him the “seed money” to start the organization. Smith helped win the landmark SpeechNow case (see March 26, 2010) that allowed for the creation of “super PACs,” the organizations that are primarily responsible for flooding the campaign with corporate money. According to law professor Richard Hasen, Smith and the CCP have worked diligently to bring cases like the SpeechNow case to the Supreme Court so that the conservative-dominated Court can “knock them out of the park.” [Politico, 8/12/2008] Smith now writes: “Super PACs are not an evil tolerated under the First Amendment—they are what the First Amendment is all about. A super PAC, after all, is simply a group of citizens pooling resources to speak out about politics.” He claims that super PACs merely “leveled the playing field” after Democrats and Democratic-supporting organizations consistently outfunded Republican campaigns during elections. Super PACs have kept the presidential campaigns of candidates such as Rick Santorum (R-GA—see February 16-17, 2012) and Newt Gingrich (see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) alive. Smith predicts that Democrats will easily outspend Republicans again once the presidential primary campaign concludes (see Around October 27, 2010), November 1, 2010 and May 5, 2011), but says, “Super PACs, however, will help level the field.” Smith claims that super PACs “disclose all of their expenditures and all of their donors,” and claims that any information to the contrary is wrong, as it is “confusing super PACs with traditional nonprofits such as the NAACP or the Sierra Club.” He concludes: “Super PACs are helping to shatter the old, established order, create more competition, and break the hold of special interests lobbyists—big business actually joined the ‘reform’ community in opposing super PACs in court. Are super PACs harming politics? Of course not. How odd that anyone would think that more political speech was bad for democracy.” [US News and World Report, 1/13/2012] The Citizens United decision specifically allows for donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010).

Entity Tags: Rick Santorum, Center for Competitive Politics, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, Newt Gingrich, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), now a supporter of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), tells a reporter from the liberal news Web site Think Progress that the 2010 Citizens United decision allowing donors to contribute unlimited amounts of money to independent groups supporting individual candidates (see January 21, 2010) is “leveling the playing field” in politics. Reporters Scott Keyes and Travis Waldron call Pawlenty’s comment “a turn of phrase that would give George Orwell satisfaction.” Since the decision, a relatively small number of wealthy corporations and individuals have transformed US politics with their multi-million dollar donations (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). But Pawlenty seemingly believes that campaign finance laws are still too restrictive, and says he believes that donors should be able to make unlimited donations directly to candidates (see December 21, 2011 and January 10, 2012) instead of making those donations to third-party groups. Pawlenty refuses to say the Citizens United decision will help Romney defeat President Obama in the November general election, and instead says that the decision helps “free speech” (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). Pawlenty continues: “Every time they try to contain speech, it pops up somewhere else. This is just me talking personally, I’m not speaking for Mitt’s position on this. The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.” Keyes asks, “You’re talking completely unlimited donations?” and Pawlenty responds: “We have that now, it’s just a question of where the money gets pushed to the third party groups. This leveling the playing field to some extent because in the past, unions in particular (see June 25, 1943 and June 23, 1947) and other interest groups had an advantage in the old system. Now the playing field’s being leveled a little bit.” He clarifies: “Right now, with super PACs and third party groups, there’s essentially unlimited giving to various aligned super PACs and groups. The point is, the United States Supreme Court has spoken. They have said we’re going to have free speech as it relates to political contributions. The First Amendment should be respected and protected, but I think we should also have full disclosure.” Keyes and Waldron write that billionaire corporate owners such as the Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) have pledged staggering amounts of money to defeat Obama in the November elections, and conclude, “This massive influx of unregulated campaign spending will almost certainly be the new normal as wealthy individuals and corporations find new ways to influence elections, helped in large part by the now-two year old Citizens United decision.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Travis Waldron, Barack Obama, US Supreme Court, Scott Keyes, Willard Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The “independent” super PAC supporting the campaign of presidential aspirant Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011), releases its year-end campaign finance disclosure forms. Eighty-five percent of the 147 individual donors to ROF have also contributed the legal maximum to Romney’s official campaign committee. A large number of those donors are private equity managers, as Romney once was, or other wealthy members of the financial sector. Hedge fund investors Julian Robertson and Paul Singer contributed the maximum $2,500 to the Romney campaign, and $1 million apiece to ROF. Home builder Bob Perry and venture capitalist Steven Webster contributed the maximum $2,500 to the Romney campaign, and $50,000 apiece to ROF. Another five contributed the maximum $2,500 to the Romney campaign and $25,000 apiece to ROF. About $9 million of ROF contributions came from donors who had contributed the maximum amount to the Romney campaign. About $6 million came from venture capitalists, real estate developers, bankers, and investors. ROF has already spent some $17 million attacking Romney’s Republican primary opponents and another $800,000 on activities to support the Romney campaign, making it the most active super PAC to date. All of these contributions are legal under the Citizens United (see January 21, 2010) and SpeechNow (see March 26, 2010) court decisions. [Federal Election Commission, 1/31/2012; Think Progress, 2/1/2012]

Entity Tags: Steven Webster, Bobby Jack Perry, Julian Robertson, Willard Mitt Romney, Paul Singer, Restore Our Future

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The Obama campaign reverses its previous policy and begins asking major contributors to donate to a super PAC, Priorities USA, that supports President Obama’s re-election. Previously, the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, had been reluctant to ask for donations for the PAC. Since 2010, Democrats have been worried about the effect of the Republican super PACs on the presidential campaign as well as Congressional and even state and local races, but have been divided on how to respond to the flood of money in support of their Republican opponents (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 24, 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, Mid-November 2010, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). Obama campaign spokesman Jim Messina says that Republican-supporting super PACs are collectively expected to spend “half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the president. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.… We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back.” Messina also says that Obama is strongly against such campaign finance practices, and supports strong action “by constitutional amendment, if necessary” to once again restrict campaign donations from the wealthy. (In January 2012, Politico reported that Obama was completely opposed to the idea of super PACs, including his own—see January 18, 2012.) Joe Pounder of the Republican National Committee issues a statement harshly critical of the decision, which reads in part, “Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of ‘a threat to our democracy.’” So far, super PACs supporting Republican candidates have raised over $50 million, putting the Obama campaign at a distinct disadvantage. New York Democratic fundraiser Robert Zimmerman observes: “It’s hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012.” Campaign and White House officials will appear at fundraisers for Priorities USA, though neither the president nor the first lady will make such appearances. Super PACs, created by the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and a lower court decision in the wake of that ruling (see March 26, 2010), have come to dominate US election activities, particularly in the area of television, radio, and print advertising. Shortly after the Citizens United decision, Obama criticized it during his State of the Union address, saying: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems” (see January 27-29, 2010). However, Congress has been unable to rein in the super PACs, with the most visible effort, Congressional Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans (see July 26-27, 2010). CBS News political expert John Dickerson says the Obama campaign has no choice but to emulate the Republicans: “What the Obama camp saw is these fundraising numbers from last year. The Republicans were able to raise so much money. They also saw what Romney was able to do to Newt Gingrich in Florida, just absolutely bury him under ads, and they started to worry about what this was going to mean for the president in the general election.” Dickerson says that with the public perception of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) being so negative, the ads in support of Romney will undoubtedly be quite negative against Obama. Dickerson expects the Obama campaign to retaliate in kind, saying: “Some of the things that Romney had to do to combat those [primary] attacks, he had to get a little bit more negative, seem a little bit more unpleasant as a candidate.… That’s another reason why [Obama] had to make this decision on super PACs: that this is going to be ugly, it’s going to be on the airwaves, and they need to be able to compete.” [New York Times, 2/6/2012; CBS News, 2/7/2012] The Obama campaign’s announcement comes on the same day as news that the Romney campaign has benefited from $1.22 million in funding from oil, gas, and coal corporations (see February 6, 2012).

Entity Tags: Priorities USA Action, Barack Obama, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Jim Messina, John Dickerson, Willard Mitt Romney, Joe Pounder, Robert Zimmerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the George W. Bush administration, writes a second editorial for US News and World Report defending “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities responsible for infusing millions of dollars into the political campaign system. Smith wrote an editorial in January 2012 defending super PACs, claiming they are the direct outgrowth of First Amendment free-speech rights and are actually good for the campaign system (see January 13, 2012). However, as in his first editorial, Smith makes a number of false claims to bolster his arguments. Such organizations were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the following SpeechNow.org decision (see March 26, 2010). He notes, correctly, that until 1974 there were no federal restrictions on super PACs, apparently referring to that year’s amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (see 1974), though he fails to note that such organizations did not exist until after the SpeechNow decision. He claims that “[t]here is no evidence that super PACs have led to a greater percentage of negative ads” than in earlier presidential campaigns, though he cites no evidence to that effect. He also claims, as he did in the first editorial, that it is false to claim super PACs “spend ‘secret’ money. This is just not true. By law, super PACs are required to disclose their donors. There are groups that have never had to disclose their donors, non-profits such as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the NRA. If you want more disclosure, super PACs are a step forward.” Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision specifically allows donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). As in the first editorial, Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010). He also claims that super PACs increase competition—“level the playing field,” as he wrote in the first editorial—by allowing Republican candidates to equal the spending of their Democratic opponents. In reality, Republicans have outstripped Democrats in outside, super PAC spending since the Citizens United decision (see Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011). Smith bolsters his claim by citing direct campaign spending as offsetting “independent” super PAC spending, such as in the 2010 US House race involving incumbent Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who won re-election even after a $500,000 super PAC-driven effort on behalf of his challenger. DeFazio, Smith claims, “outspent his opponent by a sizable margin and won. Still, for the first time in years he had to campaign hard for his constituents’ support. That’s a good thing.” He cites the presidential campaigns of Republican contenders Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) and Rick Santorum (R-PA—see February 16-17, 2012), which have relied on the contributions of a very few extraordinarily wealthy contributors to keep their candidacies alive against the frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose own super PAC funding is extraordinary (see June 23, 2011). And, he writes, super PAC spending “improves voter knowledge of candidates and issues. Indeed, political ads are frequently a better source of information for voters than news coverage.” The most important benefit of the two Court decisions and the subsequent influx of corporate money into the US election continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, and January 23, 2012), he writes, “is that they get government out of the business of regulating political speech. Who would say that you can’t spend your own time and money to state your own political beliefs? Vindicating that fundamental First Amendment right is good for democracy.” [US News and World Report, 2/17/2012]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, Center for Competitive Politics, Peter DeFazio, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Willard Mitt Romney, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In response to a lengthy interview of oil billionaire David Koch conducted by the Palm Beach Post, John Nichols of the liberal magazine The Nation writes that Koch’s “bragging” about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could well be considered inappropriate and perhaps illegal coordination with a political candidate (see February 11-20, 2012). Nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidates or campaigns, but are required by law to operate independently (see March 26, 2010). Nichols writes of AFP’s “Stand with Walker” campaign: “These ads are supposedly independent expenditures by a not-for-profit organization that operates under tax rules established to benefit the work of ‘Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations.’” The law is quite clear. Nichols quotes IRS tax law, which states: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” AFP’s ads seem to violate these rules, Nichols writes. “So, while David Koch’s stated enthusiasm for Scott Walker was not surprising, his explanation of how that enthusiasm is being expressed politically was.” [Nation, 2/20/2012]

Entity Tags: John Nichols, David Koch, The Nation, Palm Beach Post, Scott Kevin Walker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
bullet Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
bullet Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
bullet Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
bullet Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. [USA Today, 2/21/2012] The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).

Entity Tags: Cal Jillson, Sheldon Adelson, Bobby Jack Perry, USA Today, Willard Mitt Romney, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., American Crossroads, Ruth Marcus, Barack Obama, Tim Pawlenty, Peter Thiel, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Harold Simmons, Endorse Liberty, Priorities USA Action, Ron Paul, John Kerry, John Rogers, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Newt Gingrich, Miriam Adelson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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

The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2012; CNN, 3/26/2012; Huffington Post, 6/16/2012]

Entity Tags: Jim Messina, Harold Simmons, Viveca Novak, Wall Street Journal, Willard Mitt Romney, CNN, Barack Obama, Thomas Mann, Think Progress (.org), US Supreme Court, Foster Friess, Newt Gingrich, John Paulson, John Dunbar, Sheldon Adelson, Ron Paul, Paul S. Ryan, Rick Santorum, Priorities USA Action, Peter Thiel

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” [Washington Post, 4/13/2012; iWatch News, 4/20/2012; Think Progress, 4/20/2012]
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” [iWatch News, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, National Right to Life Committee, Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Crossroads GPS, Washington Post, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Melanie Sloan, Campaign Law Center, Bill Allison, Jonathan Collegio, Steven Law, Harold Simmons, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy 21, Republican Jewish Coalition, Bobby Jack Perry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. [Lyle Denniston, 5/1/2012; Think Progress, 5/2/2012] The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).

Entity Tags: US Chamber of Commerce, Citizens United, Free Speech for People, Mitch McConnell, US Supreme Court, Montana Supreme Court, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jeffrey Toobin in 2007.Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Data analysis by the liberal news magazine Mother Jones for campaign fundraising in the presidential campaigns has the Republicans and their supporters outraising and outspending Democrats almost across the board. Super PACs continue to lead in money raised and spent; Republicans outraised Democrats by a 7.7:1 ratio. These third-party “independent” groups (see March 26, 2010) have raised $218 million between them. President Obama has outraised challenger Mitt Romney (R-MA) by over two to one, $217.1 million to $97.9 million. But super PACs operating on Romney’s behalf have more than closed that gap. Two ads released almost simultaneously by the Romney campaign and the super PAC American Crossroads in recent days criticize Obama on the same grounds, both criticizing federal investments in energy companies like Solyndra. A similar pattern has recently been observed when the Obama campaign and his super PAC Priorities USA recently released television ads during the same time period. Mother Jones observes, “It’s illegal for candidates and super PACs to coordinate their messages, but even if they did, the fines would likely be negligible, and the Federal Election Commission can’t even agree on what exactly defines ‘coordination.’” [Center for Responsive Politics, 2012; Mother Jones, 6/1/2012]

Entity Tags: Mother Jones, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, American Crossroads

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) writes an article for the Stanford Law Review discussing the dominance of “big money” in the nation’s elections in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), documenting his belief that the rise in small-donor contributions that put Democrats in office in 2006 and 2008 led to the Citizens United backlash, and calling for sweeping campaign finance reform. Feingold writes, “Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.” Feingold heads Progressives United, an advocacy group that pushes for the overturning of the Citizens United decision and campaign finance legislation.
Background - Feingold gives the background of campaign finance reform in America: the 1907 Tillman Act which banned corporations from spending their money in elections (see 1907), which he says was spurred by the realization that “corporate influence corrupts elections”; the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which extended the Tillman ban to labor unions (see June 23, 1947); and more recent legislation, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), which Feingold co-authored with Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections,” he writes. “But Citizens United changed everything.” The “road to corruption” in modern elections, he says, began when Democrats in the early 1990s began exploiting a loophole in finance regulation that allowed the creation of “soft money” groups (see January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, and December 10, 2003) that allowed parties to solicit unlimited amounts of donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. “This system was corrupting,” Feingold writes. “Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty.” The BCRA plugged the “soft money” loophole. Even as the BCRA began to reform campaign finance practices, Feingold writes, “the same corporate interests that fought McCain-Feingold set to work to dismantle it. In what was clearly an orchestrated effort by opponents of campaign reform (see January 25, 2010), a group called Citizens United produced a movie savaging the record of then-Senator Clinton (see January 10-16, 2008). Ostensibly intended to educate the public about conservative concerns regarding Clinton’s run for the presidency, the film was little more than a legal vehicle to challenge some of the common-sense restrictions enacted by the BCRA (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). Specifically, the creators of the film sought to challenge the BCRA’s requirement that electioneering communications—commonly known as ‘phony issue ads’ that attack a candidate in the days before the election, but don’t explicitly advocate voting for or against that candidate—be subject to the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits as other campaign ads.” The case was argued on narrow grounds about a specific provision of the BCRA, but the Court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, “manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result” (see May 14, 2012). Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority opinion, “[F]ive justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” The ruling, Feingold writes, “created a framework for corruption parallel to ‘soft money.’” Instead of “soft money” organizations, Citizens United led to the creation of the “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, January 13, 2012, and February 20, 2012). It has also called into doubt the legitimacy of US elections themselves, due to the “increasing skepticism about the campaign finance system.” Many voters now believe “that the average participant’s small contribution is irrelevant, and that the average person’s vote is grossly outweighed by the gigantic contributions now allowed.”
Internet Politics and Small-Donor Contributions - In part due to the BCRA, Feingold writes, “[f]or three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.” He cites the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean (D-VT), who went on to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as the first powerful instance of “online organizing,” using the Internet to garner millions of dollars in small donations from individual citizens. In 2008, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama (D-IL) pushed the Dean innovation even further. The Obama campaign “raised a historic amount in small-dollar contributions,” Feingold writes, and created an online platform to engage supporters. All told, the Obama campaign raised $500 million online.
An Ineffective FEC - By 2008, he writes, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was completely impotent. The agency “has been fatally flawed since the time of its creation—any administrative law professor will point out that a law enforcement commission with an even number of commissioners [six] is probably designed specifically not to enforce the law at all,” he writes. By 2008, the FEC only had two seated commissioners, and in effect was not enforcing campaign laws whatsoever. Even after eventually receiving a full complement of commissioners, he writes, the agency “remains ineffective, as even Democratic violators go unpunished as conservative commissioners remain unwilling, philosophically, to enforce any campaign finance law.”
2012: Corporations Trump Citizens - In 2012, corporate contributions far outweigh small-dollar donations by individuals. “[T]he most prominent actors in the 2012 election cycle are unnamed corporations and a small group of influential—primarily conservative—billionaires.” Seventy percent of registered voters think super PACs should be illegal, according to polls, and the favorability rating of the Court has dropped a significant amount. Overall, Feingold writes, the public is firmly against the Citizens United paradigm of campaign finance. He advocates strong legislation from Congress, fixing the “broken system of presidential public financing,” and replacing the “dysfunctional” FEC “with a true enforcement agency.” The ultimate repair of campaign finance lies with the Court, he says, noting that the Court has a chance to do some early repair with the Montana case it is now considering (see June 25, 2012). Regardless of what the Court does or does not do in the Montana case, he concludes, “[t]oday’s framework for corruption cannot stand.” [Stanford Law Review, 6/14/2012]

Entity Tags: Howard Dean, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton, Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, John McCain, John G. Roberts, Jr, Stanford Law Review, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senate Democrats try twice within a two-day period to bring the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would require the disclosure of the identities of political donors (see July 26-27, 2010), to the floor for a vote. If enacted, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would create new campaign finance disclosure requirements and make public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. The bill would also “prohibit foreign influence in federal elections [and] prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections.” Both Senate Democratic efforts are thwarted by a Republican filibuster. Democrats are unable to muster the 60 votes needed to grant “cloture,” which would break the filibuster and bring the bill to the floor to be voted up or down. The last vote supports cloture 53-45, not enough to invoke cloture; the first vote was 51-44 in favor. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is recovering from a seizure, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) do not vote. Democrats force an official recording of each senator’s vote, placing the names of senators voting for and against the bill in the public record. Democrats have tried since 2010 to pass the bill (see July 26-27, 2010). The bill, sponsored in its latest iteration by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would force unions, nonprofits, and corporate interest groups that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Whitehouse modified the original version of the bill to no longer require sponsors of “electioneering” ads to put a disclaimer at the end, and pushed the effective date of the bill to 2013, meaning it would not impact the 2012 presidential campaign. Whitehouse and 15 other senators take to the floor to press for its passage. “When somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent, a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution, they’re not doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” he tells the Senate. Democrats urge Republicans who have previously spoken out in favor of transparency and campaign finance reform to vote for the bill, targeting Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Scott Brown (R-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, none of them break ranks with their fellow Republicans. McCain, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill of 2002 (see March 27, 2002) and has spoken out against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to anonymously spend unlimited amounts on “electioneering” activities (see January 21, 2010), refuses to join Democrats in supporting the bill. He tells the Senate before the final vote, “The American people will see it for what it is—political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.” McCain asks Senate Democrats “to go back to the drawing board and bring back a bill that is truly fair, truly bipartisan, and requires true full disclosure for everyone.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the bill would “send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” and that it “amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” In his weekly press conference shortly before the floor votes, McConnell says of the bill: “This could best be described as a selective disclosure act. It has managed to generate opposition from everybody from the ACLU to [the] NRA. That’s quite an accomplishment.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says of the bill: “[I]n a post-Citizens United world, the least we should do is require groups spending millions on political attack ads to disclose their largest donors. We owe it to voters to let them judge for themselves the attacks—and the motivations behind them.” And Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation says that the Senate is “thumbing their noses at the very notion of democratic elections.” [Politico, 7/14/2012; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012] After the bill fails to pass, Reid says, “It is obvious Republicans’ priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires—billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.” [The Hill, 7/24/2012]

Entity Tags: Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Ellen Miller, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, John McCain, Mark Steven Kirk, Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, US Senate, Scott Brown, Richard Shelby, Sheldon Whitehouse

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