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Profile: Fred Wertheimer

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Fred Wertheimer was a participant or observer in the following events:

President Bush vetoes the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1992, which would have provided partial public financing for Congressional candidates who voluntarily accept fundraising restrictions. The legislation would have also put restrictions on so-called “soft money” raised on behalf of presidential candidates. The bill is sponsored by Congressional Democrats, and if signed into law, would have provided public funds and other incentives for Senate and House candidates who agreed to limit election spending. Bush says in his veto message that the bill would allow “a corrupting influence of special interests” in campaign financing and give an unfair advantage to Congressional incumbents, the majority of whom are Democrats. The bill is little more than “a taxpayer-financed incumbent protection plan,” Bush says. Democrats retort that the bill would lessen, not increase, campaign finance corruption by providing public funds instead of private (largely corporate) donations, and note that Bush netted $9 million in corporate and individual donations in a single evening during a so-called “President’s Dinner” fundraising event. Democratic leaders have acknowledged that if Bush indeed vetoes the bill, they lack the numbers in the Senate to override the veto; some believe that Democrats will try to use the veto in the 1994 and perhaps 1996 election campaigns. House and Senate candidates are breaking fundraising records, raising almost 29 percent more money this cycle than in a corresponding cycle two years ago. Much of those funds come from political action committees (PACs—see 1944, February 7, 1972, and November 28, 1984). In 1989, Bush said he would like to abolish PACs entirely, and he now says, “If the Congress is serious about enacting campaign finance reform, it should pass legislation along the lines I proposed in 1989, and I would sign it immediately.” The Democratic bill would curtail the influence of PACs, but not ban them outright. [Los Angeles Times, 5/10/1992; Reuters, 5/11/1992; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file] Fred Wertheimer of Common Cause, which had pressured for passage of the bill, called the legislation “the most important government reform legislation in about 20 years.” He added, “If President Bush vetoes the reform legislation, the corrupt campaign finance system in Washington will be his system, his personal responsibility.” [New York Times, 4/3/1992] In an angry editorial in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Tom Kelly will blast Bush and the members of both parties whom he will say “are as comfortable with the present arrangement as fat cats reclining on a plush sofa.” Kelly will write that Bush’s characterization of the bill as “incumbent protection” is insulting and inaccurate. The result of the veto, he will write, is that Bush himself becomes the incumbent most protected by the current system, and “the prospects for meaningful change in a disgraceful system by which special interests manipulate public policy with the leverage of big bucks have been set back to Square One—again.” Kelly will note that at the recent “President’s Dinner” that raised $9 million in contributions, the costs were plainly delineated: ”$1,500 per plate for dinner, $15,000 to sit with a congressman, $30,000 for a senator or Cabinet member, $92,000 for a photograph with the president, and $400,000 to share head-table chitchat with Bush himself.” Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater admits that the contributors were buying “access” to the administration, access, Kelly will write, is “all too often is denied to the people who need government services most and those who have to pay the bills.” All of the $9 million raised at the dinner, and the monies raised at other such events, becomes so-called “soft money,” which Kelly will note has been labeled “sewer money” by the New York Times. While the law pretends that such monies go for voter turnout and education efforts, Kelly will write, it usually goes into buying negative television ads financed by third-party political organizations. Kelly will call Bush’s call to eliminate PACs “fraudulent,” writing, “The same power brokers could simply reorganize as ‘ideological’ lobbies and resume bribery as usual.” [Orlando Sun-Sentinel, 5/15/1992]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (41), Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1992, Fred Wertheimer, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tom Kelly (Volusia County), Marlin Fitzwater, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sam Wyly.Sam Wyly. [Source: Forbes]A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. [Salon, 3/2/2000] The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” [New York Times, 3/3/2000; New York Times, 3/4/2000; New York Times, 3/5/2000; San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald, 4/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2010] The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. [New York Times, 3/4/2000] It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. [New York Times, 3/3/2000]
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” [New York Times, 3/3/2000; San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000; New York Times, 3/29/2000; New York Times, 8/23/2010] Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. [San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000]
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” [Slate, 8/25/2000]
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. [New York Times, 4/5/2000; New York Times, 8/23/2010]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Charles Wyly, Sam Wyly, George E. Pataki, Fred Wertheimer, George W. Bush, Chris Suellentrop, Rick Davis, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., New York Times, John McCain, John Kerry, John E. Sweeney, John McCain presidential campaign 2000, Henry Bonilla, Lydia Meuret, Molly Ivins, Republicans for Clean Air

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

A number of conservative media outlets accuse President Obama of engaging in “demagoguery” in his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “The most demagogic moment (so far!) came when the president claimed, falsely, that the Supreme Court had given a green light to foreign corporations to run political ads.” [National Review, 1/27/2010] Law professor and former Federal Elections Commission member Bradley A. Smith echoes Ponnuru’s accusation, writing that Obama “engaged in demagoguery of the worst kind.… The president’s statement is false.… This is either blithering ignorance of the law or demagoguery of the worst kind.” [National Review, 1/27/2010] Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the vice-presidential candidate on the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, says on Fox News that Obama’s criticism “may not be true,” and accuses Obama of “embarrassing our Supreme Court.” She says: “This is why people are disenchanted and are becoming more and more disengaged really from what their government is doing, because when we see an issue like this—words spoken that may not be true coming from our president and embarrassing our Supreme Court and not respecting the separation of powers—we have a problem. And that’s illustrated there by that justice mouthing those words, ‘not true.’ Now, one or the other is being disingenuous here—either our president in what he just claimed, or the Supreme Court justice.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough calls Obama’s warning “just not the truth,” saying that Obama’s statements were “not based in fact [or] the law.… So the president was not served well last night; he went out and said something that just wasn’t the truth. And I’m sure that that was very difficult for the Supreme Court to sit there and have the president tell America and the world these jokers on the front row just opened up American campaigns to foreign entities when that in fact is just not the truth.” [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “It’s clear the president didn’t know what he was talking about or he was just out-and-out lying because he knows he’s not going to be fact-checked on matters like that by most in the state-controlled media.” [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] Prominent conservative blogger “Allahpundit” accuses Obama of “demagoguing the First Amendment” [HotAir (.com), 1/27/2010] , an accusation echoed by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, who responds to Allahpundit’s post by writing that Obama’s “demagoguery [will turn] into a negative for him.” [Glenn Reynolds, 1/27/2010] The next day, the Wall Street Journal will demand that Obama “get his facts straight” about the issue (see January 29, 2010). The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the Citizens United decision, as noted in the dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority decision, Stevens wrote, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.” Cornell law professor Michael Dorf agreed with Stevens, telling a reporter that “[i]t is a plausible inference from the court’s opinion that [foreign] money can’t be restricted.” Dorf’s position is echoed by campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer and the leaders of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Media Matters notes. [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] And the day after the decision was rendered, Smith, who accused Obama of either “blithering ignorance… or demagoguery,” told a reporter that though the law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing money to groups involved in election politics, “To the extent that there may be some foreign corporations that don’t fall under the category of foreign nationals [and could contribute to election organizations], that might be something Congress can deal with.” [Washington Independent, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, “Allahpundit”, John Paul Stevens, Barack Obama, Campaign Legal Center, Glenn Reynolds, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Wall Street Journal, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Media Matters, Joseph Scarborough, Ramesh Ponnuru, Michael Dorf, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an organization devoted to stricter campaign finance reform, writes an impassioned op-ed about the deleterious effects of unchecked corporate money pouring into elections as a result of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Wertheimer is also angry about the success of recent Republican efforts to block passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required some accountability for corporate and union donors (see July 26-27, 2010). Wertheimer begins by tracing how drastically the landscape of campaign finance has changed: In 2000, when Congress passed legislation restricting the ability of so-called “527” groups to affect federal elections, the laws passed with heavy bipartisan support (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000). Only six Republican senators, including current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted against the legislation. Last week, when the Senate voted down the latest iteration of the DISCLOSE Act, McConnell led the Republican efforts against the bill, and all 38 GOP senators voted against it. (The latest version of the DISCLOSE Act failed to reach the Senate floor, as Democrats were unable to break a Republican filibuster against the bill.) Wertheimer writes, “Senate Republicans went from 89 percent support for campaign finance disclosure in 2000 to 100 percent opposition to campaign finance disclosure in 2010.” Wertheimer goes on to write: “Ten years after Congress passed campaign finance disclosure for 527 groups by overwhelming bipartisan votes, the campaign finance disclosure issue hasn’t changed nor has the national consensus in the country in favor of disclosure; the votes of Senate Republicans, however, have changed. In 2000, Senator McConnell was a lonely Senate Republican voice against campaign finance disclosure. In 2010, Senator McConnell had 38 Republican Senators voting in lockstep with him to block campaign finance disclosure and to deny citizens information they have a basic right to know.” [Huffington Post, 9/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Mitch McConnell, DISCLOSE Act of 2010

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 press learns that the Obama administration is considering having President Obama (see January 27-29, 2010) issue an executive order that would force federal contractors to disclose donations over $5,000 to political organizations. Such firms seeking government contracts would be required to disclose contributions to groups that air political ads either attacking or supporting candidates. Both Republicans and Democrats say that if issued, the order would have an immediate effect. Groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce (USCOC), a large Republican donor that has made large undisclosed donations to Republican-supporting candidates and organizations (see January 21-22, 2010 and October 2010), attacks the White House over the considered executive order, saying it proves Obama is using his executive power to punish political adversaries and reward supporters. USCOC spokesperson Blair Latoff calls the proposed order “an affront to the separation of powers [and] to free speech” (see January 21, 2010) that would create a litmus test for companies wanting to work with the federal government. The order, Latoff adds, could mean “prospective contractors that fund political causes unpopular with the government or the current administration may find that they don’t get a contract award due to political discrimination.” Republican senators will raise the same concerns in a letter sent to the White House the next day. Lawyer Jan Baran, who has worked for both the USCOC and Republican interests, acknowledges that the order could curtail fundraising attempts for the 2012 elections. White House officials and Congressional Democrats say the order would prevent the 2012 elections from being taken over by wealthy anonymous donors on both sides of the political aisle. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a nonprofit group that favors stricter campaign finance rules, says, “The fact that Congressional Republicans may oppose disclosure does not mean that efforts to obtain it are, by definition, partisan.” [United Press International, 4/20/2011; Los Angeles Times, 4/21/2011; New York Times, 4/27/2011] A week later, Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the USCOC, will assail Obama and the White House over the proposed executive order, telling a reporter that the organization “is not going to tolerate” what it considers a “backdoor attempt” by the White House to silence private-sector opponents by disclosing their political spending. Josten will even indirectly compare Obama to Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi; citing the Obama administration’s efforts to hasten the deposing of al-Qadhafi, Josten will say of the order: “We will fight it through all available means. To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.” White House spokesman Jay Carney will say in response to Josten’s attack, “What the president is committed to is transparency, and he certainly thinks that the American taxpayer should know where his or her money is going.” Josten is joined by the Business Roundtable, a powerful business association made up of a number of chief executives, which will call the proposed order “yet another example of regulatory over-reach,” and will claim the order would increase paperwork and drive up costs for businesses. [Think Progress, 4/27/2011] Lee Fang, a reporter for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, will write that the executive order could have a powerful impact on the USCOC. “[T]he White House’s disclosure rule threatens the entire existence of the Chamber,” Fang will write. “This is because the Chamber only exists to hide the identity of corporations seeking to fight nasty political battles without having their name or brand exposed. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Chamber’s ‘most striking innovation has been to offer individual companies and industries the chance to use the chamber as a means of anonymously pursuing their own political ends.’ The Chamber’s members include defense contractors, bailed out banks, and other donors likely to be affected by the government contractor campaign disclosure rule.” Fang will also cite a recent plan by the USCOC to sabotage organizations that support Obama and Democratic candidates by using legally questionable tactics such as false entrapment strategies and even computer hacking (see February 10, 2011). The funding for the scheme was never made public. He also cites recent monies secured by the USCOC from foreign entities that, because of the Citizen United decision, could be flowing into US political activities without disclosure (see October 2010). [Think Progress, 4/27/2011] Republicans in Congress will move to pass legislation that would thwart the order, if it is ever issued (see May 26, 2011 and July 15, 2011).

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Fred Wertheimer, Blair Latoff, Business Roundtable, Jan Witold Baran, US Chamber of Commerce, Lee Fang, Wall Street Journal, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Obama administration, Bruce Josten

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chris Van Hollen, in an undated appearance on Fox News.Chris Van Hollen, in an undated appearance on Fox News. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and other prominent Democrats file a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that entity to force the disclosure of political campaign donor information. In 2007, after a Supreme Court ruling (see June 25, 2007), the FEC drastically rewrote its disclosure requirements, creating what Van Hollen calls a “major loophole” that many 501(c)4 entities funded by corporate or labor union donations are using to operate “under a veil of anonymity.” Van Hollen and his colleagues say they want to force wealthy corporations and individuals to disclose who they are and how much they donate to political organizations. Currently, the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) allows such donors to remain anonymous, and the organizations that receive their donations to conceal the amounts they are receiving. Van Hollen cites the 2002 Bipartisan Candidate Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002) as applying in this instance. In the brief he submits for the lawsuit, Van Hollen writes: “The US Chamber of Commerce, a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $32.9 million in electioneering communications in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors; American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $20.4 million in electioneering communications in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors; Americans for Job Security, a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $4.6 million in electioneering communication in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors.” The lawsuit comes almost simultaneously with news that the White House is considering issuing an executive order that would require federal contractors to reveal their donations (see April 20, 2011). Democrats admit that even as they push the lawsuit forward, and President Obama publicly criticizes the practice of secret donations, they, too, are raising undisclosed donations for the various 2012 campaigns. Experts note that in most cases, Democrats’ efforts to raise undisclosed donations are far smaller than efforts by Republicans, and the amounts they are receiving are, so far, much smaller. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, who is leading Van Hollen’s legal team, acknowledges that the lawsuit will not alter campaign finance policy before the 2012 elections, though he says it is possible that the lawsuit could receive a favorable decision and force disclosure while appeals are pending.
Similarities to DISCLOSE Act - Both the lawsuit and the executive order are similar to sections of the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative package drafted by Van Hollen and other Congressional Democrats that was blocked by Senate Republicans from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). USCOC spokesperson Blair Latoff says the lawsuit and the order comprise a “desperate attempt by the White House and House Democrats to resurrect the corpse of the DISCLOSE Act.” (Law professor Steven D. Schwinn will refute Latoff’s accusation, writing that Van Hollen’s lawsuit in no way seeks to force the DISCLOSE Act into law via the courts.) Like the failed legislation, the lawsuit and the proposed executive order would work to curtail the effects of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, which allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities. The lawsuit argues that the concealment of donor identities contradicts both the law and the Court’s ruling, citing the following language in the majority ruling: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable.”
Seeks Change in FEC Regulations - The lawsuit specifically challenges an FEC regulation adopted in 2007 that contravened language in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (see March 27, 2002) that required disclosure of donations of $1,000 or more if the donations were made for the purpose of furthering “electioneering communications.” Another petition filed by Van Hollen’s group asks the FEC to revise a regulation that “improperly allowed nonprofit groups to keep secret the donors” whose funds were being used to pay for so-called independent expenditures in federal elections. [van Hollen, 4/21/2011 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 4/21/2011; New York Times, 4/21/2011; Steven D. Schwinn, 4/25/2011; Think Progress, 4/27/2011]
'Sign of Weakness' - Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC commissioner and the head of the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative advocacy group, says of the lawsuit: “This is a sign of weakness by a group that’s afraid they’re going to lose, and lose big. Again and again, you see evidence that their real purpose is to try to shut down their political opposition.” Smith and other conservatives say Democrats want to “chill” free speech. [New York Times, 4/21/2011]
FEC Will Refuse to Consider Accompanying Petition - In December 2011, the FEC will refuse to consider an accompanying petition on a 3-3 vote. [Commission, 12/16/2011; Commission, 12/16/2011] The vote is along partisan lines, with the three Democrats on the commission voting to consider the petition and the three Republicans voting against. The law prohibits the FEC from having a majority of commissioners from either party. [Think Progress, 1/21/2012]
Judge Will Rule in Favor of Plaintiff - In March 2012, a district judge will rule in favor of Van Hollen in the lawsuit (see March 30, 2012).

Entity Tags: Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Americans for Job Security, Barack Obama, American Action Network, Blair Latoff, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, Steven D. Schwinn, US Chamber of Commerce, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Chris Van Hollen, Fred Wertheimer, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In response to reported discussions by the Obama administration on the possible issuance of an executive order forcing government contractors to disclose their political contributions (see April 20, 2011), Republicans in the House and Senate introduce legislation that would block such an order. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) already successfully added a rider to a defense authorization bill that would block the order. Cole says he hopes that the White House will rethink the proposed executive order in light of the opposition from Congressional Republicans. “I am hoping they’re having second thoughts,” he tells a reporter. “This is the executive branch trying to legislate and use a very powerful weapon to do it. And not just legislate, but it is the executive branch trying to intimidate, in my opinion.” In the House, Representatives Cole, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Sam Graves (R-MO) are sponsoring legislation against the order, while in the Senate, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are introducing similar legislation. The bills prohibit federal agencies from collecting political information from government contractors as a condition for receiving a government contract. Cole says though his amendment is in the defense bill, he wants to ensure that government contractors are able to keep their political expenditures out of the public eye. “This is one of those things you attack from as many angles and avenues as you possibly can, because it is so important,” he says. “This will get less scrutiny in that process, and it’s a lot easier for Democrats in the Senate to avoid or to kill. A bill is a big statement.” Senate Democrats are likely to vote down the bills. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an advocacy group that stands for stricter campaign finance laws, says the Republican bills are “continuation[s] of abandonment of campaign finance disclosure by House Republicans, which began last year.” Wertheimer is referring to the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would have forced outside political groups to disclose their donors, but was blocked by Republicans from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Conservative donor organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see January 21-22, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, November 1, 2010, and February 10, 2011) support the Republican legislation. The Republican-led House Administration Committee has scheduled a hearing on the draft order. [The Hill, 5/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Darrell E. Issa, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Fred Wertheimer, Mitch McConnell, US Senate, US Chamber of Commerce, Robert Jones (“Rob”) Portman, Sam Graves, US House of Representatives, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Thomas Jeffery Cole

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US District Judge James Cacheris throws out one count of the indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors to Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns. In the ruling, Cacheris holds that the campaign finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional. Cacheris rules that under the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (see January 21, 2010), corporations have the same right as people to contribute to campaigns. No one has attempted to extend the Citizens United ruling to apply directly to campaign contributions by corporations. Previously, the law has been interpreted to apply only to independent corporate expenditures. In his ruling, Cacheris notes that only one other court has addressed the issue, with a Minnesota federal judge ruling that a state ban on corporate contributions is legal. Cacheris writes: “[F]or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the law’s] limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.… That logic is inescapable here.” In court filings, prosecutors defending campaign finance law in the Virginia case said that overturning the ban on corporate contributions would ignore a century of legal precedent. Prosecutor Mark Lytle wrote: “Defendants would have the court throw out a century of jurisprudence upholding the ban on corporate political contributions, by equating expenditures—which the Court struck down in Citizens United—with contributions. This is, however, equating apples and oranges.” The case, United States v. Danielczyk, concerns accusations that William P. Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene R. Biagi helped funnel a corporate contribution to Clinton’s presidential campaign. The two men allegedly reimbursed $30,200 to eight contributors who gave to Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign, and reimbursed $156,400 to 35 contributors to her 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton is not named as a defendant in the case. [Associated Press, 5/27/2011; New York Times, 5/27/2011]
Strongly Mixed Reactions - Biaigi’s lawyer Todd Richman says after the ruling: “Corporate political speech can now be regulated, only to the same extent as the speech of individuals or other speakers. That is because Citizens United establishes that there can be no distinction between corporate and other speakers in the regulation of political speech.” Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group opposing campaign-finance regulations, says, “This was definitely something that is almost incidental in terms of the case it was decided in.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group supporting stricter campaign finance laws, says Cacheris went beyond his purview as a federal judge and ignored laws and Supreme Court rulings before the Citizens United decision that were not impacted (see February 7, 1972, April 26, 1978, and March 27, 2002). Had the Supreme Court wanted to overturn the ban on direct corporate campaign contributions, Wertheimer says, it could have done so in the Citizens United decision. Wertheimer says Cacheris’s ruling should be appealed and overturned. Law professor Daniel Ortiz says the ruling “pushes the outer limits of the Citizens United logic,” and will probably be overturned in a higher court. The Citizens United case differentiates between independent expenditures by corporations that are not coordinating with a candidate’s campaign, and direct campaign contributions. [Associated Press, 5/27/2011; New York Times, 5/27/2011] Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “If today’s decision is upheld on appeal, it could be the end of any meaningful restrictions on campaign finance—including limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals and corporations can give to a candidate. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. Thus, under Cacheris’s decision, a cap on overall contributions becomes meaningless, because corporate donors can simply create a series of shell corporations for the purpose of evading such caps.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2011] Conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh writes on his blog that he believes the Cacheris decision is in error. He believes the ban on corporate contributions to be legal and appropriate, though unlike Millhiser, he also supports the Citizens United decision. He cites the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) as limiting the means by which corporations can donate to political campaigns. He echoes Millhiser’s concerns about “shell corporations,” writing: “[T]he problem with corporate contributions is that they provide an avenue for evading individual contribution limits; if I want to donate $25,000 to a candidate instead of the $2,500 limit, I could set up nine corporations, and then donate myself and also have those corporations make similar donations. Few people would do that, but some people who want to be big political players might. Nor can this easily be dismissed as a supposed ‘sham’ and be thus distinguished from ‘legitimate’ corporate contributions.” The ban on direct corporate contributions does not stop individuals from donating directly to campaigns, Volokh writes, and thusly does not encroach on freedom of speech. [Eugene Volokh, 5/27/2011] Law professor Richard Hasen also believes the decision will be overturned or reconsidered, citing the Supreme Court’s ban on direct corporate spending in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont (see June 16, 2003), a ruling that other courts have held was not overturned by the Citizens United decision. Neither the prosecution nor the defense referred to the Beaumont decision in their arguments. [Rick Hasen, 5/31/2011] “If this case stood, it would mean the end of campaign contribution limits for everyone, because it would be so easy to get around the law through a straw or sham corporation,” Hasen says. [New York Times, 5/27/2011]
Reconsideration - Four days later, Cacheris will ask for briefs from both sides in the case about the issues raised in his decision, indicating that he may well find that the Beaumont decision means that the ban on direct corporate contributions will remain in effect. [Rick Hasen, 5/31/2011] Cacheris will not reconsider his decision. [New York Times, 6/7/2011; Think Progress, 6/8/2011]
Appeals Court Overturns Decision - A day after Cacheris refuses to reconsider his decision, an appeals court will overrule his decision. [Think Progress, 6/9/2011; United States Court Of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 6/9/2011 pdf file] In June 2012, a federal appeals court will find that the Citizens United ban does not apply to direct corporate contributions. Appellate Judge Royce Gregory will write, “Leaping to this conclusion ignores the well-established principle that independent expenditures and direct contributions are subject to different government interests.” [Thomson Reuters, 6/28/2012]

Entity Tags: Eugene R. Biagi, Eugene Volokh, Fred Wertheimer, Daniel Ortiz, William P. Danielczyk, Jr, Ian Millhiser, Sean Parnell, James Cacheris, Todd Richman, Richard L. Hasen, Mark Lytle, Royce Gregory, Hillary Clinton

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

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

The progressive campaign watchdog organization Democracy 21 releases a report that questions the legality of the “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, and January 4, 2012) currently dominating the US elections process. The report predicts “that unless candidate-specific super PACs are stopped, the country is headed back to the system of legalized bribery that existed in the pre-Watergate era.” Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer says of the report: “The leading presidential candidate-specific super PACs are serving as vehicles for candidates and donors to massively evade and circumvent candidate contribution restrictions. These restrictions have been enacted over a period covering more than a century to prevent the corruption of federal officeholders and government decisions—in other words to prevent the corruption of our democracy. Each presidential candidate-specific super PAC is raising unlimited contributions from individuals and/or from corporations and unions for the explicit purpose of being spent by the super PAC to directly support its favored presidential candidate. Such contributions would be illegal if given directly to the presidential candidate, so they are instead being given to super PACs controlled by close political and personal associates of the presidential candidate and which are directly serving the campaign interests of the presidential candidate. In essence, the unlimited contributions are being given by the wealthy supporters of each presidential candidate to a super PAC dedicated to supporting that candidate. The donors know that their contributions will be spent to directly support that presidential candidate. The super PAC is spending the contributions only to directly support the associated presidential candidate. The presidential candidate knows (or will know) the identity of the donors who are providing huge contributions to the super PAC supporting the candidate’s campaign. For all practical purposes, these unlimited, corrupting contributions are being given to the presidential candidates. As such, candidate-specific super PACS are eviscerating candidate contribution limits and restoring the system of legalized bribery that existed in our country in the pre-Watergate era.” Democracy 21 finds: “Candidate-specific super PACs are the most dangerous vehicles for corruption in American politics today. They are a monstrosity and the logical extension of the Citizens United decision given to the nation by five Supreme Court justices who have done enormous damage to our democracy. Unless stopped, candidate-specific super PACs will continue to eviscerate the contribution restrictions enacted by Congress, signed into law by presidents, and repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional because they are necessary to prevent corruption. And these super PACs will engulf not just our presidential elections but also our elections for Congress to which they will spread like wildfire.” [Democracy 21, 1/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accuses President Obama and Congressional Democrats of subverting the constitutional guarantees of free speech by trying to restrict political campaign contributions, and says Democrats are using “mob” tactics against their critics. McConnell, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, says that the White House has shown “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” political speech of groups with which it disagrees. “It is critically important for all conservatives—and indeed all Americans—to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so,” he says. McConnell is referring to Democrats’ push for the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would force disclosure of the identities of campaign donors that was defeated by a Republican filibuster in 2010 (see July 26-27, 2010) and is being brought up again. The DISCLOSE Act would affect both corporations and unions. Corporate spending in elections tends to favor Republicans, while union spending tends to favor Democrats. McConnell says the act would require “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grass-roots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies.… The courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech. So the president himself will seek to go around it by attempting to change the First Amendment.” McConnell cites the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as one government agency “persecuting” Republican-allied groups, saying, “Earlier this year, dozens of tea party-affiliated groups across the country learned what it was like to draw the attention of the speech police when they received a lengthy questionnaire from the IRS demanding attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information.” The IRS has denied targeting groups based on their political views. IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman says the information requirements stemmed from the tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, which triggered automatic IRS review procedures. “There’s many safeguards built in so this has nothing to do with election cycles and politics,” Shulman said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “This notion that we’re targeting anyone is off.” McConnell says of Obama, “Not only did his campaign publish a list of eight private citizens it regards as enemies—an actual old-school enemies list—it recently doubled down on the effort when some began to call these thuggish tactics into question.” McConnell is referring to an Obama campaign “truth team” document that publicized information about eight wealthy Republican donors. “The tactics I’m describing extend well beyond the campaign headquarters in Chicago. To an extent not seen since the Nixon administration, they extend deep into the administration itself.” McConnell cites the example of Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot, the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, who was “smeared” as being “a bitter opponent” of gay rights by the Obama campaign. [Bloomberg, 6/15/2012; New York Times, 6/15/2012] VanderSloot is an outspoken opponent of gay rights, though he has hotly denied advocating such positions and often threatens lawsuits against those reporting his positions (see February 17-21, 2012). [Salon, 2/17/2012; KIFI Local News 8, 3/1/2012] The New York Times calls McConnell’s remarks “incendiary.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a campaign-finance reform advocacy group, says McConnell “doesn’t have a constitutional or policy leg to stand on.” Democrats note that McConnell has failed to criticize organized efforts by the Romney campaign to heckle and disrupt campaign press conferences, nor has he criticized tea party efforts to disrupt and shout down Democrats during town hall meetings around the country. Wertheimer says McConnell is using his fiery rhetoric to, in the Times’s phrasing, “run interference for the secret donors pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the US Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads.” Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt says, “Senator McConnell has been running a cover-up operation for the special interest donors attempting to buy the election for the GOP in order to promote their agendas over the national interest.” [Bloomberg, 6/15/2012; New York Times, 6/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Ben LaBolt, Douglas H. Shulman, Internal Revenue Service, Frank VanderSloot, US Congress, Fred Wertheimer, Mitch McConnell, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Black Rock Group logo.Black Rock Group logo. [Source: Black Rock Group]The 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) requires third-party groups working on behalf of candidates or parties not to coordinate their efforts with those candidates or parties—to remain “independent.” Many political observers have suspected that some of these groups are coordinating their efforts with the campaigns and/or with one another. Two of the groups under suspicion are American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads GPS. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, the two have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads (see April 13-20, 2012). In early June, Crossroads GPS spent $70,000 in advertisements attacking Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), half of its $140,000 spent on that race. Shortly before that run of advertisements began, Heitkamp’s Republican challenger, Rick Berg (R-ND), paid the Black Rock Group, a Republican consulting firm in Virginia, thousands of dollars for “communications consulting.” Black Rock is also contracted to perform “advocacy and communications consulting” for American Crossroads. Black Rock’s founding partner, Carl Forti, is American Crossroads’s political director and formerly served as Crossroads GPS’s advocacy director. (Forti also helped start Restore Our Future, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC—see June 23, 2011). Black Rock partner Michael Dubke is the founder of Crossroads Media, which buys ads for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Crossroads Media and Black Rock share offices. It would be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult or coordinate with Crossroads GPS on advertisement strategies. It would not be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult with Black Rock, and then for Black Rock to consult with Crossroads GPS. “The real scandal is what’s legal,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center. The Citizens United ruling said that groups would disclose their donors and activists, and groups would not coordinate with one another. Yet both provisions are either being ignored or dodged. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 says: “The statu[t]e and the Supreme Court have been very strong on preventing coordination. But the FEC regulations have basically gutted the laws and given us very weak laws to prevent coordination between outside spenders and candidates… despite the fact that the Court’s entire decision in Citizens United is based on the notion that the expenditures are going to be entirely independent from the campaign.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation says, “[T]he FEC [Federal Election Commission] has a very narrow definition of what coordination actually is.” As long as a campaign and an outside group do not directly communicate, their use of a “common vendor” such as Black Rock is perfectly legal as long as several specific criteria are avoided. “It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s what the FEC has defined and there’s nothing illegal about it.” Ryan says: “It makes the coordination rules pretty meaningless. We have all of this special interest money that we feared might be in the system, and none of the meaningful restraints on coordination, and very limited disclosure.” Allison gives a hypothetical example: “If they’re using the same people to buy ads, and the campaign is telling the ad buyer, ‘We want you to buy ads in such and such and such,’ and the ad buyer does that, the super PAC can then say, ‘Well, run ads where they’re not running ads, or double their ads,’ or whatever. These guys are professionals and they know how to do this. That’s still not coordination.” There is no evidence that Black Rock is ferrying communications between Crossroads GPS and the Berg campaign; according to Black Rock spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, “Black Rock has had firewalls in place since last year which allows the firm to legally engage in federal campaign and independent expenditure or issue advocacy campaigns.” Crossroads GPS is not legally bound to disclose much of its information to the FEC, and it is impossible to know precisely what Crossroads GPS is paying Black Rock to do for it. The Berg campaign denies any coordination, saying in a statement: “While we do work with Black Rock, there is no coordination between our campaign and outside groups and we have no knowledge of what their plans are. We cannot control what outside groups will do.” Allison says that even if Berg’s campaign is being truthful, there are many ways campaigns and outside groups can legally coordinate, using a common advisor such as Black Rock or even individual consultants. “There can be coordination at the level of consultants, even if they’re not at same company,” he says, noting that many consultants know one another socially or have worked together in previous campaigns. It is also possible, and legal, for super PACs to find out where campaigns they are supporting are buying ads by contacting the campaigns of the opposing candidates, which keep track of such information. Forti, the CEO of Black Rock, is in a unique position to facilitate what reporter Alex Seitz-Wald calls “GOP non-coordination coordination,” as he “sits in the middle of a powerful nexus of outside spending groups and GOP political firms all run out of the same office suite in Alexandria, Virginia.” Charles Spies, the treasure of Romney’s Restore Our Future, says of Forti, “I don’t know of anybody who’s got as important of a role with the major outside organizations, both in 2010 and in 2012.” [Salon, 6/19/2012]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Bill Allison, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, Alex Seitz-Wald, Carl Forti, Rick Berg, Steven Law, Paul S. Ryan, Chelsea Wilson, Crossroads Media, Fred Wertheimer, Black Rock Group, Michael Dubke, Restore Our Future, Heidi Heitkamp

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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