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Context of 'December 20, 2011: Democratic, Republican Congressmembers Propose Constitutional Amendment to Overturn ‘Citizens United,’ Reform Campaign Finance'

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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 The 1940 ban on contributions from government employees and contract workers (see 1940) is repealed, as are the 1971 limitations on media spending.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

The Supreme Court, in the case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, rules 5-4 that corporations have the First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence political processes. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell finds that under the recent Buckley ruling (see January 30, 1976), corporate political donations are protected speech. Powell’s opinion finds that a Massachusetts criminal statute prohibiting corporations from spending money for the purpose of “influencing or affecting” voters’ opinions is not legitimate. The split among the justices is unusual, with Powell, a conservative, being joined by two more conservatives, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Potter Stewart, and liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. The four dissenters are liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, and conservatives Byron White and William Rehnquist. [FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Rehnquist’s standalone dissent advocates for far stricter controls on corporate spending in elections than most of the other justices’ dissents, with Rehnquist writing that such spending could “pose special dangers in the political sphere.” [Reclaim Democracy, 4/26/1978; FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, Byron White, John Paul Stevens, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, US Supreme Court, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court, ruling in the Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission case, finds that some political advertisements can be exempted from the “electioneering communications” provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act (see March 27, 2002). The case stems from attempts by an anti-abortion advocacy group, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), to run ads asking viewers to contact their senators and urge them to oppose filibusters of judicial nominees. WRTL tried to run its ads during the 30 and 60-day “blackout” periods before the upcoming 2004 elections, but because it accepted corporate contributions and was itself incorporated, the McCain-Feingold restrictions prevented the ads from running. WRTL argued that the ads were not targeting candidates, but were strictly issue-related (see Mid-2004 and After). The case was initially dismissed, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision and remanded the case back to the lower courts. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) argued that the ads were intended to influence US Senate elections in Wisconsin, and thusly should be regulated by McCain-Feingold. A district court disagreed, ruling against the FEC and finding that the ads were “protected speech” (see January 30, 1976), though it limited its findings solely to the WRTL ads and specified that its ruling was not to apply to other cases. The FEC appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision finds that the district court’s ruling is valid. Chief Justice John Roberts writes the majority opinion, which establishes broad exemptions for advertisements that could be “reasonably” interpreted as being about legislative issues and not directed on behalf of, or against, a particular candidate. As long as “issue ads” do not contain the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy for or against a candidate, the Roberts opinion holds, and the advertisements are legal. The ads involve “core political speech” that is protected by the First Amendment, Roberts finds: “We give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship.” Justice David Souter writes the dissenting opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas write a concurring opinion that joins them with Roberts and the other two conservative justices, but in their concurrence, they say they would overturn the McCain-Feingold law in its entirety. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2007; FindLaw, 2011; National Public Radio, 2012; Oyez (.org), 7/1/2012] Roberts is careful in the language of his majority opinion, writing that “the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” He does not directly advocate for the overturning of the McCain-Feingold law, but referring to the 2003 McConnell decision that upheld the law (see December 10, 2003), he writes, “We have no occasion to revisit that determination today.” In 2012, reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write of Roberts’s use of the word “today,” “To those who know the language of the Court, the Chief Justice was all but announcing that five justices would soon declare the McCain-Feingold law unconstitutional.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin is referring to the 2010 Citizens United decision that will overturn most of the law (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, Antonin Scalia, Federal Election Commission, Wisconsin Right to Life, US Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court finds in the case of Davis v. Federal Election Commission that part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act (see March 27, 2002) is unconstitutional. Jack Davis (D-NY), a millionaire who has run repeatedly and unsuccessfully as a candidate of both parties to represent New York’s 26th District in the US House of Representatives, has complained in a lawsuit that the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” is unconstitutional. Davis wants to be able to pour his money into the race without his opponents being able to spend more money to counter his donations, as the law enables them to do. The lower courts found against Davis, and under McCain-Feingold the case was expedited directly to the Supreme Court. The Court finds 5-4 in favor of Davis, ruling that the contribution limits unduly restrict Davis’s freedom of speech. Justice Samuel Alito writes the majority opinion, joined by his fellow Court conservatives. Justice John Paul Stevens writes the dissent for the four Court liberals, though Stevens and the others do agree with some aspects of Alito’s majority opinion. Alito’s decision flows directly from an earlier Court precedent (see January 30, 1976). [Oyez (.org), 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: John (“Jack”) Davis, Federal Election Commission, Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens

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

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, 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

Democrats in Congress are contemplating using the Constitutional amendment process to overturn the controversial Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). A new poll from Public Polling Policy as commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) finds that a plurality of voters would support such an amendment. Forty-six percent of voters surveyed agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a Constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections.” Thirty-six percent disagreed, and 18 percent had no opinion. Such an amendment would likely fail in Congress, as it would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers and then ratification by three-quarters of the states. Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) wrote such an amendment, in draft form, the evening that the Citizens United decision was announced. Her proposed amendment reads: “The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.” She says that there have been times in American history that such amendments catch the public attention and move quickly into law. “The process is very rigorous, and it should be,” she says. “But there have been plenty of examples of amendments to the Constitution that have happened, actually, with fairly rapid-fire when they catch on.” She adds: “I really concluded that the Supreme Court actually put the challenge out to us, here in the Congress. They said, you know, you could make a judgment that this is not really good for the system, but the fact is that the Constitution doesn’t allow you to regulate this. Congress, you have no—the Court told us directly—Congress, you have no authority to regulate. And when the Court says that so directly, it only leaves us one choice.” Two prominent Senate Democrats, John Kerry (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT), support the amendment. A Baucus spokesperson says, “Max is always willing to work with anyone toward the common goal of making sure Montanans’ voices don’t get drowned out by out-of-control corporate campaign donations.” PCCC co-founder Adam Green says: “It’s time to stop thinking small-bore. The solution to Citizens United is not merely disclosure, it’s to overturn Citizens United—and even last November’s Republican-skewed electorate agrees.” Edwards says that Democrats should embrace the concept that the Constitution is a political ground worth fighting on. “A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution,” she says. “The right has used—has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we’re not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.” [Huffington Post, 11/23/2010]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Adam Green, Donna Edwards, Public Polling Policy, US Congress, US Supreme Court, Max Baucus

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” [Raw Story, 1/25/2011]
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” [CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011] The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” [CNN, 1/26/2011]
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. [Real Clear Politics, 12/1/2011]

Entity Tags: David E. Price, US Senate, US House of Representatives, Craig Holman, Aaron Schock, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, David Arkush, Charles Schumer, Thomas Jeffery Cole, Public Finance Action Fund, US Supreme Court, Presidential Election Campaign Fund, Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Eric Cantor, Fred Wertheimer, George W. Bush, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Lynn Woolsey, Obama administration, Meredith McGehee, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

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

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representatives John Conyers (D-MI) and Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduce legislation that, if adopted, would move to amend the Constitution to empower Congress and the states to limit corporate spending on political activities. The legislation is a direct move against the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). Conyers tells reporters: “Last year, the Supreme Court overturned decades of law and declared open season on our democracy. It is individual voters who should determine the future of this nation, not corporate money.” Edwards adds, “Since that flawed ruling was issued, campaign spending by outside groups including corporations surged more than four-fold to reach nearly $300 million in the 2010 election cycle.” Reversing the Citizens United ruling, she says, “is the only way to once and for all put the American people, and not corporations, in charge of our treasured democracy.” [The Hill, 9/20/2011]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Donna Edwards, John Conyers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Six US Senators led by Tom Udall (D-NM) introduce a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the right to regulate the federal campaign finance system. The amendment is directed towards overturning the Citizens United decision that allows almost unregulated spending by corporations, unions, and special interests in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Udall is joined in sponsoring the amendment by Michael Bennett (D-CO), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). In a press release from his office, Udall is quoted as saying: “As we head into another election year, we are about to see unprecedented amounts of money spent on efforts to influence the outcome of our elections. With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system.” In the same release, Bennett adds: “The Supreme Court’s reversal of its own direction in the Citizens United decision and other recent cases has had a major effect on our election system. State legislatures and Congress now may not be allowed to approve even small regulations to our campaign finance system. This proposal would bring some badly needed stability to an area of law that has been thrown off course by the new direction the Court has taken.” Harkin is quoted as saying: “By limiting the influence of big money in politics, elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets. We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy. This amendment goes to the heart of that effort.” And Merkley is quoted as saying: “It was President Lincoln who described the genius of American democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ We office holders work for the people. They elect us. They are in charge. Citizens United puts in motion the opposite: it moves us towards government by and for the powerful. As such, it is a dagger poised at the heart of American democracy. If we are going to preserve a government responsive to its citizens, we need commonsense reforms that give the American people a full voice. This constitutional amendment is essential for the people to be heard.” The amendment would:
bullet authorize Congress to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns and allow states to regulate such spending at their level;
bullet include the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, such as those from Super PACs, made in support of or opposition to candidates;
bullet not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges. [US Senate, 11/1/2011]
Passing a constitutional amendment is not an easy task. Two-thirds of Congress must agree to the amendment, or two-thirds of state legislatures must call for the amendment. Once proposed, three-quarters of state legislatures must vote to ratify the amendment. [Think Progress, 11/2/2011] This is not the first proposal to amend the Constitution to limit corporate spending (see September 20, 2011).

Entity Tags: Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkley, Michael Bennet, Charles Schumer, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, US Supreme Court, Tom Udall, Sheldon Whitehouse

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduces a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment that would ban corporate money in politics and end “corporate personhood.” Deutch calls his proposal the Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Amendment. The proposal reads, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons by the Constitution of the United States, prohibit corporate spending in all elections, and affirm the authority of Congress and the states to regulate corporations and to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures.” The amendment, if adopted, would overturn the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), re-establish the right of Congress and the states to regulate campaign finance laws, and effectively outlaw the ability of for-profit corporations to contribute to campaign spending. Deutch says in a statement that refers to the Occupy protesters demonstrating throughout the nation: “No matter how long protesters camp out across America, big banks will continue to pour money into shadow groups promoting candidates more likely to slash Medicaid for poor children than help families facing foreclosure. No matter how strongly Ohio families fight for basic fairness for workers, the Koch brothers will continue to pour millions into campaigns aimed at protecting the wealthiest 1 percent (see November 8, 2011). No matter how fed up seniors in South Florida are with an agenda that puts oil subsidies ahead of Social Security and Medicare, corporations will continue to fund massive publicity campaigns and malicious attack ads against the public interest. Americans of all stripes agree that for far too long, corporations have occupied Washington and drowned out the voices of the people. I introduced the OCCUPIED Amendment because the days of corporate control of our democracy. It is time to return the nation’s capital and our democracy to the people.” [US House of Representatives, 11/18/2011 pdf file; Think Progress, 11/18/2011] Three weeks ago, a group of Democratic senators introduced a similar amendment (see November 1, 2011). On December 8, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will introduce a version of the OCCUPIED Amendment in the Senate that he calls the Saving American Democracy Amendment. Deutch will say of Sanders’s action: “There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment. I am thrilled that Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the Saving American Democracy Amendment, a companion bill to H.J. Res 90, my legislation in the House. The dominance of corporations in Washington has imperiled the economic security of the American people and left our citizens profoundly disenchanted with our democracy. I look forward to working with Senator Sanders to save American democracy by banning all corporate spending in our elections and cracking down on secret front groups using anonymous corporate cash to undermine the public interest.” [Think Progress, 12/8/2011] Two House Democrats introduced similar legislation in September 2011 (see September 20, 2011).

Entity Tags: 2011 Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Amendment, Bernie Sanders, Theodore E. (“Ted”) Deutch, 2011 Saving American Democracy Amendment

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The House of Representatives votes 235-190 to eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF), which provides for voluntary public funding of presidential candidates. The legislation would also shut down the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a national clearinghouse on the mechanics of voting. Public financing of campaigns has been a target of Republicans since the Citizens United decision allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to campaigns (see January 21, 2010 and June 27, 2011). House Republicans failed in a previous attempt to eliminate the PECF (see January 26, 2011 and After). Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gives an impassioned defense of the PECF, saying that it is one of the few obstacles that remains to impede what she calls the takeover of the US political system by well-financed special interests. She asks her colleagues whether they believe the “99 percent of Americans that don’t have lobbyists” would benefit in any way by abolishing PECF. She then notes that the Republican National Committee (RNC) got 18 million dollars from this fund and suggests it give the money back, saying: “The level of spending by corporations and special interests since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United should give every American reason for concern. So do my Republican colleagues really believe that more corporate and special interest money in politics is going to benefit in any way the 99 percent of Americans who don’t have lobbyists? The current public financial [sic] system for the presidential elections has problems. Most notably, it has not kept pace with the cost of modern campaigns. So we should fix it instead of eliminating it. I would note that the Republican National Committee recently received 18 million dollars from this fund. If the Republicans think it’s such a bad idea, perhaps they should ask the RNC to return the money.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says the bill has no chance in the Senate, and is critical of House Republicans for advancing it, stating: “Instead of making it so it’s easier for people to vote, they want to do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. I don’t understand this. They want to have as few people to vote as possible.” Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS), the sponsor of the bill, says the elimination of the PECF would help reduce the deficit. “If we do not eliminate some programs, then a $15 trillion debt will be our decline into a European-style financial crisis,” he says. [Roll Call, 12/1/2011; Think Progress, 12/1/2011] The bill will not pass the Senate.

Entity Tags: US House of Representatives, Gregg Harper, Election Assistance Commission, Harry Reid, Republican National Committee, Zoe Lofgren, Presidential Election Campaign Fund, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court strikes down a Wisconsin law limiting how much a single person can donate to independent political action committees, or PACs. The ruling is made in favor of a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), which sued in August 2011 just before a round of recall elections targeting nine state senators. The courts issued a temporary injunction on the law, and the appeals court makes the repeal permanent. Before the ruling, Wisconsin law mandated that individuals could give no more than $10,000 to a PAC. The court rules that such limitations restrict free speech. WRTL’s Barbara Lyons calls the ruling a “sweeping victory” that will allow the group to “significantly contribute to the state and national dialogue on speech and elections.” But Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign disagrees, saying that the ruling renders candidates almost irrelevant as special interest groups and their money become dominant in campaigns: “I’m not sure that very many people will notice a difference because money is flowing so freely in Wisconsin politics,” he says. “There’s no shortage of channels through which special interest funds can flow.” The court cites the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited contributions to campaign organizations by corporate and union donors (see January 21, 2010), as the basis for its ruling. Judge Diane Sykes writes in the majority opinion: ”Citizens United held that independent expenditures do not pose a threat of actual or apparent quid pro quo corruption, which is the only governmental interest strong enough to justify restrictions on political speech. Accordingly, applying the $10,000 aggregate annual cap to contributions made to organizations engaged only in independent spending for political speech violates the First Amendment.” The ruling is expected to have a tremendous impact on recall elections scheduled for 2012, including the recall of Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), as groups both in support of and opposition to the recalls can spend large amounts of money on campaign advertising. [Associated Press, 12/11/2011; Think Progress, 12/13/2011] WRTL won a landmark Supreme Court case in 2007 that struck down restrictions on so-called “issue advertising” (see June 25, 2007), a ruling that directly impacted today’s court finding. Days later, the local Chippewa Herald will write an editorial criticizing the ruling. The editorial specifies the “dialogue” that WRTL’s Lyons means “a heavy rotation of television and radio ads, phone calls, and direct-mail pieces.” WRTL’s purpose in its electioneering is fairly transparent, the Herald states, but many of the special interest groups involved in such electioneering are not transparent at all. “Do we want our campaigns to be about what the candidates stand for—heard directly from them—or about issue ads where candidates are either supported or attacked through a thinly veiled message urging people to contact a particular candidate?” The Herald notes that much of the $44 million spent on the state senate recalls “came from groups not subject to the state campaign contribution limit,” and few Wisconsin citizens know who those groups are. “The courts have ruled that political contributions and campaign spending is a First Amendment right,” the Herald states. “But those contributions and spending should not be done in secret or through a maze of groups and organizations that operate like legal money launderers.” The Herald advocates “complete disclosure” to “ensure openness and a clean and healthy democracy.” [Chippewa Herald, 12/14/2011]

Entity Tags: Chippewa Herald, Wisconsin Right to Life, Barbara Lyons, Mike McCabe, Scott Kevin Walker, Diane Sykes

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

Main Street Alliance logo.Main Street Alliance logo. [Source: Alliance for a Just Society]According to a survey conducted by three business groups, two-thirds of small-business owners believe that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) is bad for small businesses. The survey of 500 small business leaders is released by the American Sustainable Business Council, the Main Street Alliance, and the Small Business Majority. Sixty-six percent of respondents say that the Citizens United decision has hurt business, while only 9 percent view it favorably. Eighty-eight percent of small business owners hold a negative view of the role money plays in politics, and 68 percent view it very negatively. David Levine of the American Sustainable Business Council says: “As we approach the two-year anniversary of the Citizens United case, the verdict is loud and clear: the ruling hurts the small businesses that we need to be strong for economic recovery. Business owners are frustrated because they have to compete with big business bank accounts to be heard, and they are fighting back. More than 1,000 business owners have joined ASBC’s Business for Democracy campaign to fight for a constitutional amendment that overturns this decision” (see November 23, 2010, November 1, 2011, November 18, 2011, and December 20, 2011). Small Business Majority founder and CEO John Arensmeyer says: “America’s entrepreneurs feel corporations have an outsized role and say in politics—to the detriment of the small business community. They’re looking for a level playing field, and as the country’s primary job creators, they should have it.” Melanie Collins, who leads the Maine Small Business Coalition and the Main Street Alliance, says: “Small business owners aren’t stupid. We know who wins when corporate heavy hitters can spend all the money they want, as secretively as they want, to influence our country’s elections—and it’s not us. The Citizens United decision stacked the deck against small businesses. We’ve got to unstack that deck.” [The Main Street Alliance, 1/18/2012 pdf file] Marie Diamond of the liberal news Web site Think Progress agrees, writing: “Small business has been hailed by legislators of both parties as the undisputed engine of economic growth. Fifty-one percent of Americans are employed by small business, and small businesses generate 70 percent of new private sector jobs. But they increasingly find their needs ignored by lawmakers who favor corporate contributors with deeper pockets.” [Think Progress, 1/18/2012]

Entity Tags: Marie Diamond, American Sustainable Business Council, David Levine, Main Street Alliance, Small Business Majority, John Arensmeyer, Melanie Collins

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A 2012 Vermont town meeting comes to order.A 2012 Vermont town meeting comes to order. [Source: Vermont Public Radio]Fifty-three Vermont towns and communities pass resolutions today urging Congress to amend the US Constitution to keep wealthy special interests from having an undue influence in politics. Today is Town Meeting Day across Vermont. Supporters want an amendment to invalidate the 2010 Citizens United decision that allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). State Senator Virginia Lyons says while the process of amending the Constitution “is a long one… if we don’t do this we stand to lose a great deal more.” New York City (see January 4, 2012), Los Angeles (see December 6, 2011), Portland, Maine (see January 18, 2012), Boulder, Colorado, Madison, Wisconsin, Corvallis, Oregon, and other towns and cities have adopted similar resolutions. [NECN News, 3/7/2012; Think Progress, 3/7/2012] Several efforts have been made to introduce such an amendment (see September 20, 2011, November 23, 2010, November 1, 2011, November 18, 2011, and December 20, 2011).

Entity Tags: Virginia Lyons

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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