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Profile: David Sentelle
David Sentelle was a participant or observer in the following events:
Matt Cooper and Judith Miller. [Source: Paul J.Richards / AFP / Getty Images (left) and New York Times (right)]An appeals court rules 3-0 that reporters Judith Miller (see August 12, 2004 and After) and Matthew Cooper (see October 13, 2004) must testify in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Both the New York Times and Time magazine will appeal the ruling to a full appeals court and eventually to the Supreme Court (see June 27, 2005). The appeals court rules that because Miller and Cooper may have witnessed a federal crime—the disclosure of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity by government officials (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003)—the First Amendment does not protect them from testifying to the possible crime. The court finds that a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, Branzburg v. Hayes, applies: in that case, a reporter was ordered to testify about witnessing the production of illegal drugs. Writing for the appeals court, Judge David Sentelle notes that the Supreme Court “stated that it could not ‘seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects the newsman’s agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof, on the theory that it is better to write about a crime than to do something about it.’” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says of the ruling: “The Times will continue to fight for the ability of journalists to provide the people of this nation with the essential information they need to evaluate issues affecting our country and the world. And we will challenge today’s decision and advocate for a federal shield law that will enable the public to continue to learn about matters that directly affect their lives.” Miller says, “I risk going to jail for a story I didn’t write, for reasons a court won’t explain.” [New York Times, 2/16/2005]
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]
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