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The decision of the Montana Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate donations to political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After), which directly contradicts the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), is being appealed to the US Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, American Tradition Partnership (ATP) and the other two corporate entities that joined ATP in the original lawsuit, ask Justice Anthony Kennedy to issue a stay on the Montana high court verdict while the Supreme Court considers the appeal. In their application for a stay, the plaintiffs write: “The Montana Supreme Court held the ban constitutional despite the holding in [the Citizens United decision] that ‘[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.’ Immediate relief is needed to prevent irreparable harm to the corporations’ First Amendment free-speech right. Montana’s primary elections are on June 5, making it vital that planning begin now for independent expenditures before the election.” The application also asks Kennedy to refer the matter to the Court, have it treated as a petition for review, and then summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court. James Bopp, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, writes, “The lower court’s refusal to follow Citizens United is such an obvious, blatant disregard of its duty to follow this Court’s decisions that summary reversal is proper.” In a statement, Bopp adds: “Unequivocally, Citizens United means that corporate independent expenditure bans are invalid under the United States Constitution. The Montana Supreme Court has shirked its responsibility to follow that decisions and the United States Supreme Court should reverse their ruling.” The other two parties involved as plaintiffs are the Montana Shooting Sports Association and Champion Painting Inc. At least five justices vote to issue the stay, though an official decision to accept the case on appeal is still pending, and the Court has not spoken on the subject of summary reversal. Two justices who dissented from the Citizens United case, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, agree that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision should be reviewed, but in a statement attached to the stay order, add: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however, I vote to grant the stay.” The stay allows Montana corporations to donate without restriction to super PACs operated on behalf of electoral candidates. [Legal Times, 2/10/2012; SCOTUSBlog, 2/17/2012; US Supreme Court, 2/17/2012 ] The US Supreme Court will strike down the Montana ruling (see June 25, 2012).
Billionaire oil magnate David Koch, who with his brother Charles Koch has become one of the driving financial forces behind the US conservative political movement (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), gives an interview to the Palm Beach Post’s Stacey Singer. Koch, who rarely gives interviews, chose to meet with Singer because of her background as a health and science writer, according to Koch spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas. The interview focuses in part on the cancer research underway at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Koch is being treated for prostate cancer. However, the interview also touches on the Koch brothers’ political participation. Singer begins her report of the interview by informing her readers of the media portrayal of the “secretive” brothers and their construction of what she calls “a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators—even US Supreme Court justices.” She writes that Koch seems “baffled” by that perception, saying: “They make me sound like a bully. Do I look like a bully?” According to Singer, Koch wants to improve his media image. The Koch brothers have given, Singer reports, “many millions to far-right organizations dedicated to spreading an Ayn Rand-infused ideology, one in which a benevolent business class flourishes, unfettered by taxes and regulations. Some have called it free-market fundamentalism.” Nicholas says Koch wants to be remembered more for his philanthropy than his political involvement. “That’s what his legacy will hopefully be: finding a cure for cancer,” she writes. “That is his goal in life right now and it far exceeds any political views he has. Which are strong.” Koch is proud of his political activism, admitting without restraint his organizations’ involvement in protecting Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled. “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.” The “we” in his statement is primarily Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization that is spending some $700,000 on a single advertisement buy in Wisconsin on Walker’s behalf, an ad that makes statements many union members and public workers say is filled with false and misleading praise for Walker’s policies. In a now-famous prank phone call, a blogger posing as Koch got Walker to say that his goal was to “crush” Wisconsin’s unions, a goal Koch may share, though he is more circumspect in his language. “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important,” Koch says after an expansive dinner featuring salmon and white wine. “He’s an impressive guy and he’s very courageous. If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Nicholas later “clarifies” Koch’s remarks, saying: “Koch companies support voluntary associations, and where they so choose, we recognize employees’ rights to be represented and bargain collectively. We think the best workplace relationships are fostered when the employer works directly with its employees. It is a mischaracterization of our principles to say this means we oppose unions or want to dismantle all unions.” Singer writes that Koch’s usage of the term “union power” seems as biting as one might have said “Bolshevik” in an earlier time—“a new red scare for a new century,” she writes. Besides funding such organizations as AFP, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (where, Singer writes, “copycat conservative legislation is passed among conservative state politicos”), and others, the Koch brothers are one of the most powerful and influential financial forces behind the “tea party” movement, largely through AFP. Singer conducts the interview on February 11; the Palm Beach Post publishes the report based on the interview on February 20. [Palm Beach Post, 2/20/2012; Nation, 2/20/2012] Koch’s public admission of support for Walker could constitute a violation of the laws administering such “nonprofit” organizations as AFP, according to one journalist (see February 20, 2012).
Entity Tags: Cristyne Nicholas, Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council, Charles Koch, Stacey Singer, Palm Beach Post, Republican Governors Association, Heritage Foundation, David Koch, Cato Institute, Scott Kevin Walker, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the George W. Bush administration, writes a second editorial for US News and World Report defending “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities responsible for infusing millions of dollars into the political campaign system. Smith wrote an editorial in January 2012 defending super PACs, claiming they are the direct outgrowth of First Amendment free-speech rights and are actually good for the campaign system (see January 13, 2012). However, as in his first editorial, Smith makes a number of false claims to bolster his arguments. Such organizations were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the following SpeechNow.org decision (see March 26, 2010). He notes, correctly, that until 1974 there were no federal restrictions on super PACs, apparently referring to that year’s amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (see 1974), though he fails to note that such organizations did not exist until after the SpeechNow decision. He claims that “[t]here is no evidence that super PACs have led to a greater percentage of negative ads” than in earlier presidential campaigns, though he cites no evidence to that effect. He also claims, as he did in the first editorial, that it is false to claim super PACs “spend ‘secret’ money. This is just not true. By law, super PACs are required to disclose their donors. There are groups that have never had to disclose their donors, non-profits such as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the NRA. If you want more disclosure, super PACs are a step forward.” Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision specifically allows donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). As in the first editorial, Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010). He also claims that super PACs increase competition—“level the playing field,” as he wrote in the first editorial—by allowing Republican candidates to equal the spending of their Democratic opponents. In reality, Republicans have outstripped Democrats in outside, super PAC spending since the Citizens United decision (see Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011). Smith bolsters his claim by citing direct campaign spending as offsetting “independent” super PAC spending, such as in the 2010 US House race involving incumbent Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who won re-election even after a $500,000 super PAC-driven effort on behalf of his challenger. DeFazio, Smith claims, “outspent his opponent by a sizable margin and won. Still, for the first time in years he had to campaign hard for his constituents’ support. That’s a good thing.” He cites the presidential campaigns of Republican contenders Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) and Rick Santorum (R-PA—see February 16-17, 2012), which have relied on the contributions of a very few extraordinarily wealthy contributors to keep their candidacies alive against the frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose own super PAC funding is extraordinary (see June 23, 2011). And, he writes, super PAC spending “improves voter knowledge of candidates and issues. Indeed, political ads are frequently a better source of information for voters than news coverage.” The most important benefit of the two Court decisions and the subsequent influx of corporate money into the US election continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, and January 23, 2012), he writes, “is that they get government out of the business of regulating political speech. Who would say that you can’t spend your own time and money to state your own political beliefs? Vindicating that fundamental First Amendment right is good for democracy.” [US News and World Report, 2/17/2012]
Graphic of Frank VanderSloot, appearing on Fox News. [Source: Fox News Insider]Salon’s Glenn Greenwald reports that Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. and a prominent donor for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), apparently objects to media reports about his financial and corporate practices, issuing threats against those who report on him and his company. VanderSloot is the national finance co-chair of the Romney campaign and a longtime Republican donor. Like Romney, he is a devout Mormon and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Accusations of Wrongdoing - VanderSloot and Melaleuca have donated at least $1 million to the “independent” super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011). Melaleuca, which manufactures and distributes dietary supplements and cleaning products, was described by Forbes magazine in 2004 as “a pyramid selling organization” comparable to Amway and Herbalife. Melaleuca has been sanctioned by Michigan regulatory agencies, and agreed to refrain from “engag[ing] in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid” in that state. It entered into a separate agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office after that office found that some Melaleuca executives had broken Idaho law. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accused Melaleuca of deceiving customers about its supplements.
Threats of Lawsuits - VanderSloot counters media reports of Melaleuca’s alleged wrongdoing with what Greenwald calls “chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics—magazines, journalists, and bloggers—that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention.” His threats have forced Forbes, Mother Jones, and a gay blogger in Idaho to remove material that was critical of his political and business practices, though Mother Jones reposted its article after revisions were made. Greenwald reports: “He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for ‘copyright infringement’ after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers, and demanded the public outing of some bloggers’ identities). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.” Greenwald reports that VanderSloot’s tactics have had a chilling effect on Idaho journalists and bloggers, who routinely refuse to write critically about VanderSloot’s fundraising for conservative causes. And now that VanderSloot is a senior official in the Romney campaign, Greenwald writes, he is expanding his tactics beyond Idaho. “To allow this scheme to continue—whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them—is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny,” he writes. “It’s almost impossible to imagine any more thuggish attempts to intimidate people from speaking out and criticizing VanderSloot,” he adds. “The effect, if not the intent, of these frivolous threats, pure and simple, is to intimidate those who cannot afford to defend themselves from criticizing the very public, politicized acts of Frank VanderSloot and his company. That’s why one no longer can even read most of the criticisms that prompted these warnings.”
Anti-Gay Activism - Greenwald writes that VanderSloot has a history of anti-gay activism, citing his funding of a billboard campaign that condemned Idaho Public Television for showing a documentary that reported on the effects of addressing lesbian and gay issues inside elementary classrooms. Though the documentary reported that working with such issues in an age-appropriate fashion was generally positive, VanderSloot accused IPT of promoting a threat to children, saying, “[I]f this isn’t stopped… little lives are going to be damaged permanently.” His wife Belinda donated $100,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in 2008. And when the Idaho Falls Post Register reported on a pedophile preying on local Boy Scouts, a Mormon bishop’s alleged complicity in the matter, and the network of pedophiles that was behind the original allegations, VanderSloot attacked the newspaper and the principal reporter, Peter Zuckerman. (The six-part series won the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.) VanderSloot bought full-page ads in the Post Register attacking the story and outing Zuckerman as “a homosexual,” a fact that Zuckerman had not advertised since moving to Idaho years before. VanderSloot’s ads asked if Zuckerman’s sexual orientation made him hostile to the Boy Scouts and the Mormon Church. The damage to Zuckerman’s professional and personal life was severe, including physical threats and his longtime partner being fired from his job. [Salon, 2/17/2012]
Response - VanderSloot responds in a subsequent interview with local Idaho reporter Marissa Bodnar. After the Greenwald report, MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow devotes a segment to VanderSloot based largely on Greenwald’s article. According to VanderSloot, Greenwald “quotes what others have wrongfully said about us and then taunts us to do something about the fact that he repeats it.” Idaho independent journalist and blogger Jody May-Chang, who has also been threatened with lawsuits by VanderSloot’s lawyers, says in response: “Mr. VanderSloot is a public political figure. They’re fair game… especially when you’re talking about behaviors and actions and things done in public light that are well known.” VanderSloot denies harboring an anti-gay agenda, saying, “I have never spoken out against gays or against gay rights,” though Bodnar notes, “[S]ome said money speaks louder than words.” VanderSloot admitted to contributing money to a group that challenged a pro-gay marriage documentary aired on Idaho public television in 1999; May-Chang says, “I’m not sure how anyone else could not characterize those as anti-gay.” For his part, VanderSloot says, “I believe that gay people should have the same freedoms and rights as any other individual.” His main objection to the Idaho Public Television program about addressing gay issues in schools, he says, was that it was being aired during prime time, “when it would attract the most children,” and the use of tax dollars to fund the program. He contends that his status as a “billionaire” is “greatly exaggerated,” and though he owns a controlling interest in Melaleuca, he is not “cash-rich.” He defends his attacks on the Idaho Falls Post Register, saying that he deplores the pedophiles who were preying on children but found the story to be “unfair” in its coverage. He was merely defending people who had been unfairly portrayed as being involved in the affair, he says, and notes that he “would use a much different approach were this to happen again.” He denies outing Zuckerman as a gay man, claiming that Zuckerman’s sexual orientation was public knowledge, and saying that contrary to Greenwald’s reporting, he defended Zuckerman in the Post Register advertisements. He denies that Melaleuca’s business model is anything like those used by Amway or Herbalife, and says Melaleuca does not employ a “pyramid scheme” to make its profits. VanderSloot says Melaleuca “will continue to use whatever legal means are available to us to defend the truth and to request corrections where false allegations have been made.” He is strongly critical of Greenwald’s article, and accuses Greenwald of deliberately repeating “the original false allegations” against him and Melaleuca. He concludes: “We can disagree on issues and argue those issues in honest and open debate. You can count on us to not smear or attack the messenger. We will defend their right to disagree. But we do ask even those who disagree with us to tell the truth about who we are and what we do. We will continue to ask that of people. That is not going to change.” [KIFI Local News 8, 3/1/2012]
Entity Tags: Idaho Public Television, Idaho Falls Post Register, Frank VanderSloot, Forbes magazine, Food and Drug Administration, Willard Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, Rachel Maddow, Peter Zuckerman, Melaleuca, Inc., Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Marissa Bodnar, Jody May-Chang, Mother Jones, Glenn Greenwald
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the co-author of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) that was dramatically curtailed by the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), criticizes the decision on the Sunday morning talk show This Week. Asked by ABC reporter Jake Tapper about the state of the presidential campaign, McCain lambasts the Supreme Court for handing down the decision, saying: “I’ve been in very tough campaigns. I don’t think I’ve seen one that was as personal and as characterized by so many attacks as these are. And, quite frankly, one of the reasons is the super PACs. And why do we have the super PACs? Because of the ignorance and naivete of the United States Supreme Court in the Citizens United campaign.” [Mediaite, 2/19/2012] McCain, along with former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), issued a formal statement on the two-year anniversary of the decision that was highly critical of it (see January 20, 2012).
Thomas Tolbert and Buddy. [Source: Andelino (.com)]The husband of a staff member working for Senate candidate Heather Wilson (R-NM) is responsible for a voter registration stunt involving the illegal registration of a dog. On February 20, Thomas Tolbert approaches a voter registrar at the University of New Mexico and asks to register to vote. According to a later interview Tolbert gives to KOB-TV reporter Danielle Todesco, he gives a false Social Security number and date of birth, and uses his dog’s name “Buddy” to complete the registration form. (He fills out the form as “Buddy Tolbert.”) He then signs the form, which reads, “I swear or affirm… that all information I have provided is correct.” An investigation shows that Tolbert is married to Heather Wade, a senior staff member for Wilson’s campaign for reelection. Tolbert and Wade share the Albuquerque home whose address is on the registration card, which Tolbert mails in to secure the registration. Tolbert (whose identity is concealed by Todesco for broadcast; Tolbert soon identifies himself to the press) tells Todesco that he has received the registration card. Falsifying a voter registration form, as Tolbert admittedly does, is a felony in New Mexico. The organization ProgressNow New Mexico asks for a police investigation into the apparent voter registration fraud. Group spokesperson Pat Davis says: “This new information raises the stakes significantly. Heather Wilson’s team is undermining the integrity of our voting system from their kitchen tables. And they are using her payroll to do it.” Wilson’s campaign manager Bryce Dustman attempts to distance the campaign from the stunt, saying: “This was very poor judgement by a family member of an employee. He has apologized and this matter is between him and the county clerk.” Tolbert himself issues a statement saying that neither his wife nor Wilson were aware of his actions. “I made a mistake and I want to apologize to Bernalillo County Clerk, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, my wife, who was not aware of my actions, and the public,” he states. “I will take full responsibility for my actions.” Todesco says she has not been contacted by the police, and says Tolbert did not inform her that his wife worked for Wilson. “I do however find it odd that his wife would allow him to do a news story while being employed by a such a high-profile person,” she says. “But that’s just my opinion. It’s completely up to them how they handle that.” Wilson won national attention in 2006 by pushing for the firing of then-US Attorney David Iglesias for Iglesias’s alleged lack of enthusiasm in pursuing alleged cases of voter fraud. Tolbert later denies ever asking Todesco for anonymity, in conflict with Todesco’s own statements, and says he carried out the stunt to show how simple it is to commit voter fraud. He denies his action had anything to do with the Wilson campaign. He says he had “suspicions about the consequences, but never truly researched them” before registering his dog to vote. “I thought the county would be more concerned about fixing the problem rather than trying to prosecute me,” he adds. “Once again no voter fraud actions were taken. I outed myself to show the problem.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/1/2012; ProgressNow New Mexico, 3/1/2012] In the interview with Todesco, he says: “They should verify. Somebody should have verified this information and somebody should have come out and took a look at exactly who it was. But I made up a birth date, and I made up a social security number and I had a voter registration card in my hand for Buddy two weeks later.” Tolbert registers his dog as a Democrat. [TPM Muckraker, 3/1/2012]
In response to a lengthy interview of oil billionaire David Koch conducted by the Palm Beach Post, John Nichols of the liberal magazine The Nation writes that Koch’s “bragging” about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker could well be considered inappropriate and perhaps illegal coordination with a political candidate (see February 11-20, 2012). Nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidates or campaigns, but are required by law to operate independently (see March 26, 2010). Nichols writes of AFP’s “Stand with Walker” campaign: “These ads are supposedly independent expenditures by a not-for-profit organization that operates under tax rules established to benefit the work of ‘Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations.’” The law is quite clear. Nichols quotes IRS tax law, which states: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” AFP’s ads seem to violate these rules, Nichols writes. “So, while David Koch’s stated enthusiasm for Scott Walker was not surprising, his explanation of how that enthusiasm is being expressed politically was.” [Nation, 2/20/2012]
After the third day of being vilified on the national airwaves by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke says she is considering filing a defamation lawsuit against him (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Fluke tells a reporter, “I’ve certainly been told I might have a case, but it’s not something I’ve made any decisions about at this point.” One person supportive of such a lawsuit is US Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who indicates she will either join Fluke in a lawsuit or file on her behalf. Maloney says: “[W]e will be filing a slander suit against Rush Limbaugh. What he’s really trying to do is silence a young woman. It’s unfair, it’s un-American.” Maloney says she considers women’s rights attorney Sybil Shainwald an excellent counsel for such a lawsuit. [Daily Beast, 3/2/2012]
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).
Author and political science professor Richard Hasen provides data showing that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) is directly responsible for a huge rise in corporate “outside” spending on behalf of political campaigns. Recent arguments in defense of the decision have said that “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities that take corporate, labor union, and individual donations for the purpose of making television ads in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate or party (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, and February 20, 2012) were not created by the Court’s decision, and therefore Citizens United cannot be held responsible for the enormous surge in spending since the decision was rendered. The arguments equate older “527” organizations (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000) and the enormous donations made on their behalf (see January - November 2004) with the activities of super PACs after the Citizens United decision. “The purpose of the drumbeat appears to be to insulate the Supreme Court from further criticism of the Frankenstein’s monster they’ve created,” Hasen writes. He shows that the two types of organizations—527s and super PACs—are quite different. “It is true that before Citizens United people could spend unlimited sums on independent advertising directly supporting or opposing candidates,” Hasen explains. “But that money had to be spent by the individual directly. It could not be given to a political action committee, which had an individual contribution cap of $5,000 and could not take corporate or union funding. In many cases, wealthy individuals did not want to spend their own money on advertising, which would say, ‘Paid for by Sheldon Adelson’ or ‘Paid for by George Soros,’ so fewer of these ads were made. The only way to avoid having your name plastered across every ad was to give to the 527s, which claimed they could take unlimited money from individuals (including, sometimes, corporate and labor union money) on grounds that they were not PACs under the FEC’s definition of PACs. These organizations were somewhat successful, but a legal cloud always hung over them.” After Citizens United, courts and the Federal Election Commission ruled that super PACs could collect unlimited sums from corporations, unions, and individuals for unlimited independent spending. Hasen writes: “The theory was that, per Citizens United, if independent spending cannot corrupt, then contributions to fund independent spending cannot corrupt either. (I am quite critical of this theory about corruption, but that’s besides the point here.) So what was once of questionable legality before the court’s decision was fully blessed after Citizens United.” Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics and its OpenSecrets (.org) Web site, Hasen compares spending during presidential election years.
1992: Wealthy individuals, organizations, and corporations are allowed to spend unlimited sums (see January 30, 1976). Outside spending in that campaign, up through early March 1992, was about $1.5 million.
2000: The law remains essentially unchanged. By March 2000, outside spending was around $2.6 million.
2004: With the advent of “527” groups, by March 2004, outside spending rose to $14 million.
2008: Under similar conditions as 2004, by March 2008, outside spending rose to $37.5 million.
2012: In the first presidential campaign year after the Citizens United decision, spending as of early March 2012 is over $88 million.
2012 outside spending is at 234 percent of 2008 spending, and 628 percent of 2004 outside spending. Hasen writes, “If this was not caused by Citizens United, we have a mighty big coincidence on our hands.” Hasen expects outside spending to rise dramatically once the Republican primary is concluded and the presumptive Republican nominee begins campaigning against President Obama. “Wait until the super PACs and other organizations start raising their unlimited sums for the general election,” Hasen warns. “Further, lots of groups are now using 501(c) organizations rather than super PACs for their campaign spending, in an effort to hide their donors.” Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that during the 2010 midterm elections, spending from groups that used the law to hide their donors rose from 1 percent in 2006 to 47 percent. Moreover, “501(c) non-profit spending increased from 0 percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.” And 72 percent “of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.” The record-breaking spending in the 2008 presidential election—$301 million—was eclipsed in the first post-Citizens United election, the 2010 midterms, when corporate and other outside spending topped out at $304.6 million. Hasen writes: “It was an incredible number for a midterm election season. Why did that happen? Citizens United was decided early in 2010.” [Slate, 3/9/2012]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the co-author of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), criticizes the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that gutted the BCRA and allows corporations and labor unions to make unlimited contributions to election and campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). In a panel discussion, McCain calls the ruling “a combination of arrogance, naivete, and stupidity, the likes of which I have never seen.” He goes on to predict scandals as a result of the ruling enabling unlimited corporate contributions and a lack of disclosure surrounding those contributions (see October 2010, June 23, 2011, October 30, 2011, and December 19, 2011), saying: “I promise you this. I promise you there will be huge scandals… because there’s too much money washing around, too much of it… we don’t know who, who contributed it, and there is too much corruption associated with that kind of money. There will be major scandals.” Asked if he intends to give up on passing campaign reform legislation, he answers: “No. But I’ve got to wait until we think that can pass legislation. And I’m not sure right now, frankly, that we could get it passed.” The next day, Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that McCain is somewhat responsible for the inability of Congress to pass meaningful campaign finance legislation. He refused to vote for the Democratically-sponsored DISCLOSE Act (see July 26-27, 2010), decrying it as “a bailout for the unions.” Had McCain voted with Senate Democrats to end the Senate Republican filibuster against the DISCLOSE Act, the bill could have been brought to the floor for an up or down vote. Israel calls McCain’s “grumbling” about campaign finance regulation “little more than grandstanding.” [Think Progress, 3/28/2012]
A federal court rules that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has exceeded its authority by requiring only corporations and labor unions, and not all contributors, to report contributions made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications as defined in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in Washington, DC, issues the ruling in the case of Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission, filed by US Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD—see April 21, 2011 and After). Under the BCRA, corporations or labor unions who do not segregate their funds for campaign purposes as opposed to more general purposes must report all contributions of $1,000 or more. (The Citizens United decision of 2010 rendered such segregation of funds optional—see January 21, 2010.) Those contributions include money donated by anyone who gives to a corporation or labor union. In December 2007, the FEC revamped its disclosure regulation in the wake of the Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission ruling (the so-called “WRTL ruling”—see June 25, 2007) to create a loophole allowing corporations to evade disclosure requirements. 501(c)4 groups such as Crossroads GPS have avoided disclosure of their donors by using this loophole. Jackson agrees with Van Hollen, ruling that the FEC’s revision violates the plain language and legislative purpose of the BCRA. Jackson writes: “Congress spoke plainly, that Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking, and that a change in the reach of the statute brought about by a Supreme Court ruling did not render plain language, which is broad enough to cover the new circumstances, to be ambiguous. The agency cannot unilaterally decide to take on a quintessentially legislative function; if sound policy suggests that the statute needs tailoring in the wake of WRTL or Citizens United, it is up to Congress to do it.” She rejected arguments that broader reporting requirements would place an undue burden on corporations and unions, and thusly would violate their First Amendment freedoms, ruling that the Citizens United decision already invalidated those arguments by upholding BCRA reporting requirements. If Jackson’s ruling survives an appeal, the FEC will have to go back and revamp its regulatory language to require disclosure of all contributors, no matter what the purpose, for any corporation or labor union that uses general, unsegregated funds for campaign purposes. Or, corporations and unions may choose to create segregated funds for campaign purposes in order to avoid reporting their contributors. Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes that even if the FEC chooses to rewrite its rules to comply with Jackson’s ruling, “countless loopholes remain” to allow corporations and unions to shield the identities of their donors. For instance, donors and companies could more-or-less launder donations through middle-man groups, shielding their own identities. “Even if we somehow achieved full disclosure… for all political spending,” Israel writes, “any meaningful reforms to the campaign finance system will require the high court to reverse the 5-4 Citizens United ruling.” [Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C., 9/2002; National Archives and Records Administration, 2012; Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission: Memorandum Opinion, 3/30/2012; Constitutional Law Prof Blog, 4/3/2012; Think Progress, 4/9/2012] On May 14, an appeals court will refuse a stay of the decision, filed by an organization identified in the court order as the Center for Individual Freedom. [US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court, 5/14/2012 ]
The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” [Washington Post, 4/13/2012; iWatch News, 4/20/2012; Think Progress, 4/20/2012]
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” [iWatch News, 4/20/2012]
Entity Tags: American Crossroads, National Right to Life Committee, Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Crossroads GPS, Washington Post, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Melanie Sloan, Campaign Law Center, Bill Allison, Jonathan Collegio, Steven Law, Harold Simmons, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy 21, Republican Jewish Coalition, Bobby Jack Perry
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. [Lyle Denniston, 5/1/2012; Think Progress, 5/2/2012] The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).
In an interview with reporter/pundit Sam Seder, former US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that he feels Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is embarrassed by the “almost lawless decision” rendered by the Court in its 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). That ruling allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in political campaigns, and is widely credited with the enormous influx of corporate money in the 2012 presidential elections. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Feingold says: “This is a guy who is usually a careful justice. He just started making these sweeping assertions about what corruption was, what companies do, like he was talking at a bar with somebody over a beer rather than anything that was a legal decision. It was really reckless. I am guess[ing] he might even be a little bit embarrassed at this point about what a sloppy opinion it was, and how it just asserted things that aren’t proven.” Feingold, who co-authored the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), says the current campaign finance system is nothing less than “legalized extortion.” He adds: “It’s not like corporate CEOs sit around their office and go, ‘You know, I’d like to throw some money around in the political process.’ It works the other way. The politicians call up and ask for the money.” [Raw Story, 5/7/2012]
Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Law professors Thomas Goldstein, the publisher of the well-regarded Supreme Court blog “SCOTUSBlog,” and Jonathan Adler, a contributor to the renowned “Volokh Conspiracy” legal blog, write of their reactions to the article published by Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker alleging that Chief Justice John Roberts managed the Citizens United case into becoming a vehicle for rewriting and gutting the nation’s campaign finance laws (see May 14, 2012). Goldstein describes himself as “naturally inclined towards that reading of the history” and an opponent of the Citizens United decision, but takes issue with some of Toobin’s claims. Adler is less inclined to accept Toobin’s interpretations.
Doubt that Roberts Orchestrated Decision - Both Goldstein and Adler write that Toobin’s facts do not lead to his conclusion that Roberts orchestrated the process to allow the Court to overturn the bulk of the nation’s campaign finance legal structure (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003); Adler goes one step further and says Toobin’s article “contains plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) spin in service of Toobin’s broader narrative of an out-of-control conservative court.” Had Roberts orchestrated the outcome from the beginning, Goldstein writes, it does not follow that Roberts would have written an original opinion much more narrowly focused than the final, transformative opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (see March 15, 2009). Adler echoes this conclusion. Adler also notes that even from the outset, none of the liberal Justices were willing to rule directly against the Citizens United claim, “in no small part because the statutory argument was so weak.” Goldstein does not make this claim. Goldstein also believes that at the outset, the Court’s five conservatives—Kennedy, Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—may not have been as solid in their support for Kennedy’s more sweeping opinion as Toobin claims.
Doubts about 'Censorship' Claim - Adler notes that Toobin’s interpretation of the “censorship” argument as stumbled into by the government’s lead legal counsel during the first argument is incorrect, saying that the government’s claim that books and magazines could be censored under a strict interpretation of the McCain-Feingold legislation is accurate. He acknowledges that during the second round of arguments, the government backed away from the claim, but not convincingly and not completely. Adler gives more credence to that legal argument than does either Toobin or Goldstein.
Doubts that Roberts Alone Decided to Reargue Case - Both authors claim that Toobin erred in claiming Roberts alone decided that the Citizens United case should be reargued (see June 29, 2009); Goldstein writes, “even if he did, that decision does not seem like an effort to decide Citizens United as broadly as possible as quickly as possible.” Goldstein says that Roberts’s decision to assign the final opinion to Kennedy was not as clever a tactical move as Toobin writes: “Kennedy had already written an opinion deciding the case on that basis that had the support of several members of the majority. It would have been fairly insulting for Roberts to take the assignment away.” He also notes that in June 2010, the Court refused to hear a lawsuit by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that would, if accepted, terminated Congressional restrictions on corporate donations to political parties. Only three of the five conservatives—Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas—voted to hear argument. “If the Chief Justice were actually leading the charge for revisiting campaign finance law, he presumably would not have voted to affirm,” Goldstein writes.
Some Agreement that Majority Erred - Goldstein agrees with Toobin that the conservative majority may have erred in deciding Citizens United on First Amendment grounds (Adler supports the decision), but he does not agree with Toobin’s choice to single Roberts out for special attention: “[T]hat is a criticism that is just as applicable to the entire majority, as opposed to an indication of maneuvering by him. It also ignores that the alternative may have been no clear holding whatsoever—with dueling members of the majority articulating inconsistent rationales that left the law in flux.” Adler disagrees entirely with Toobin’s characterization of the Citizens United case as “judicial activism,” a characterization that Goldstein does not entirely accept, either.
Speculation about Sources - Adler speculates on Toobin’s sources, musing that to have such detail on the decision-making process would almost certainly indicate that Toobin’s sources are sitting Justices, clerks for said Justices, or others inside the Court itself, and writes: “We don’t know the identities of Toobin’s sources, and some of his claims are difficult to check. His story may reflect how some justices or clerks saw the case, but there may well be another side, and we won’t know until such time as the relevant court documents are released. I also cannot help but wonder whether some of Toobin’s sources, such as former Supreme Court clerks, may have violated their own ethical obligations in disclosing portions of the Court’s internal deliberations. Even if Toobin’s sources were sitting or former [J]ustices, there is something unseemly about the selective disclosure of what went on inside the Court on such a recent case.”
Conclusions - Goldstein concludes by writing that in the future, with a liberal perhaps replacing Kennedy on the Court, if an opportunity occurs for the Court’s new liberal majority to overturn Citizens United in its entirety, “[w]ill progressives really contend that the new and more liberal majority should leave that decision standing? I don’t think so. They will want the Court to get the decision ‘right’.” Regardless of his criticisms, he writes, Toobin’s book is a “must read,” as is the article. Adler is more measured in his praise, writing: “In any event, the article is still worth reading—as I am sure Toobin’s book will be as well. Some portions will just go down better with a healthy dose of salt.” [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012; Jonathan H. Adler, 5/14/2012]
Entity Tags: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Jonathan Adler, Anthony Kennedy, Republican National Committee, John G. Roberts, Jr, Samuel Alito, Thomas Goldstein, US Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Writing for the Atlantic Wire, John Hudson notes the angry draft dissent penned by retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter in the process of the Citizens United decision that accused Chief Justice John Roberts “of engineering the outcome of the” case, as revealed in a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin (see May 14, 2012). Hudson says that while many people would be interested in Souter’s unpublished dissent, they will not be able to read it any time soon. Souter has donated all of his Court documents to the New Hampshire Historical Society, where they will remain closed for 50 years. Law professor Richard Hasen makes a similar observation on his Election Law Blog. He also notes that Toobin’s account verifies much of his previous speculation as to why the Court chose to re-argue the case rather than issue an opinion after the first set of arguments (see March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009)—Roberts and the other conservatives wanted to establish a clear guideline in the arguments for overturning campaign finance law. Hasen writes, “Perhaps one day in my lifetime some justice’s papers (but not Justice Souter’s) will reveal Justice Souter’s draft dissent.” [Atlantic Wire, 5/14/2012; Rick Hasen, 5/14/2012] Two days later, Hasen writes a column urging Souter, or another justice such as the also-retired John Paul Stevens, to release Souter’s draft dissent, even as he concedes such an event is unlikely to happen. Hasen says that Souter’s dissent may cast light on the pending Supreme Court decision over the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to “thumb… its nose at Citizens United by holding that Montana could bar corporate money from elections, given the state’s history of corruption” (see April 30, 2012). Hasen says although it is all but certain the Court will reverse the Montana high court’s decision, “Justice Souter was one of the Court’s most passionate and articulate thinkers about campaign finance, and his dissent in Citizens United likely makes a top-notch argument for the constitutionality of corporate spending limits—an argument that’s directly relevant to the Montana case. Airing his dissent could help arguments against Citizens United we already have, in the published dissent of Justice Stevens, which is somewhat meandering and ineffective—not one of his best. Souter’s retirement is no reason for him to keep quiet.… Justice Souter cares deeply about campaign finance—why not make this his continuing cause?” Hasen continues: “The Souter opinion also might reveal just how far the conservative justices on the Supreme Court were willing to go to reach out and grab Citizens United. The Court is decidedly not a place in which justice-umpires simply call balls and strikes, and Souter could remind us of that in the run-up to June’s rulings on health care reform and Arizona’s immigration law. Better to have a clear understanding of how ideology plays into some of the Court’s decisions than to preserve an illusion of pure lawyerly analysis.” Hasen concludes that releasing the dissent “isn’t about airing the Court’s dirty laundry. It’s about telling the truth about how the Court handed down Citizens United and making the best argument for why it should be overturned—and that would be a real public service.” [Slate, 5/16/2012]
Ed Whelan of the conservative National Review is highly critical of a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Elements of Toobin’s narrative have already been questioned by law professors Thomas Goldstein and Jonathan Adler (see May 14, 2012), though both professors are generally supportive of the article and recommend it for reading. In his first article, Whelan writes that the evidence “doesn’t support his thesis,” and promises a followup article that addresses “some of Toobin’s wild distortions about” the decision, including what he calls Toobin’s “baseless libel” against Chief Justice John Roberts, referencing Toobin’s implication that Roberts engineered the sweeping campaign finance reform of the decision in order to aid Republican candidates. Whelan interprets Toobin’s evidence to say that it shows Justice Anthony Kennedy, not Roberts, enlarged the scope of the Citizens United decision; however, Whelan believes neither interpretation. Some of Toobin’s interpretation of events hinges on a draft dissent penned by Justice David Souter that was withdrawn after Roberts agreed to let the case be re-argued (see June 29, 2009 and September 9, 2009). Whelan implies that he doubts the existence of such a dissent, an implication that cannot be disproven, as Souter sealed his Court records after his retirement (see May 14-16, 2012). If the dissent does exist, Whelan doubts that Toobin has read it. He concludes by casting aspersions on Toobin’s assertion that Roberts engineered the results of the decision “without leaving his own fingerprints.” Roberts cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 split, Whelan notes, and adds that Roberts did not entirely escape criticism for the ruling after it was issued. [National Review, 5/15/2012]
Part Two - The next day, Whelan publishes the second part of the article, and condemns Toobin for asserting that Roberts crafted the decision with the intention of helping Republican candidates in upcoming elections. He calls the assertion “scurrilous,” and says Toobin presents “not an iota of evidence” for the claim. Whelan then writes that no evidence exists to show that the decision has helped Republican candidates more than Democrats (see November 1, 2010 and January 21, 2012), apparently ignoring two years’ worth of evidence showing that in the wake of decisions, outside funding of Republican candidates has swamped Democrats’ efforts to retain parity (see August 2, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, October 30, 2010, Mid-November 2010, January 26, 2011 and After, March 2011, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 8, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 6, 2012, February 9, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 9, 2012, March 26, 2012, Late March 2012, April 13-20, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012). He cites an article by Weekly Standard contributor Andrew Ferguson that denies the “rich and powerful” donate more to Republicans than Democrats, where the only “evidence” Ferguson cited was his assertion that “Democrats are the party of what Democrats used to call the superrich. Only Democrats seem not to realize this.” [National Review, 5/16/2012]
Final Thoughts - Whelan’s final article on the subject approvingly cites an equally negative critique of the Toobin article from Weekly Standard writer Adam White (see May 17, 2012), and insults law professor Richard Hasen’s perspective on the matter (see May 14-16, 2012); after noting that Hasen is a “[l]aw professor and election-law expert,” Whelan advises Hasen to read White’s column more closely. He also derides the idea that the Souter dissent is “secret,” noting that it would have been circulated among the other eight justices, and Justice John Paul Stevens would have had it available to him for his own published dissent. He then quotes Hasen’s critique of Stevens’s “somewhat meandering and ineffective” dissent, turns the phrasing around to insult Souter’s writing style, and says that Souter’s dissent may “reflect… too much of Souter’s draft dissent.” In attacking Hasen’s request for Souter to release the dissent, he contradicts himself by noting that the dissent is “confidential case information” that should remain out of public view. [National Review, 5/17/2012]
Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Anthony Kennedy, Andrew Ferguson, Adam White, David Souter, Jeffrey Toobin, Richard L. Hasen, Thomas Goldstein, John Paul Stevens, Jonathan Adler, Ed Whelan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Entity Tags: Chris Hedges, US Department of Defense, Carl Mayer, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, White House, Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, US Congress, Alexa O’Brien, Barack Obama, Noam Chomsky, US Department of Justice, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Eric Cantor, Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Nancy Pelosi, Leon Panetta, John Boehner, Katherine B. Forrest, John McCain, Bruce Afran, Kai Wargalla
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Columnist Adam White, writing for the conservative Weekly Standard, lambasts a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Most publications describe the decision as allowing corporations and labor unions to spend money freely in campaigns, but White defines it differently, calling it an affirmation of “a corporation’s First Amendment right to spend money on independent speech on political issues, even when that speech criticizes candidates for office” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Law professors Tom Goldstein and Jonathan Adler have found some “spin” in Toobin’s account of events (see May 14, 2012), and law professor Richard Hasen has asked that a draft dissent highly critical of the decision and its methodology be made public to shed light on Toobin’s narrative (see May 14-16, 2012). However, White goes significantly further than any of the professors in tarring Toobin’s article, and in some instances Toobin himself. White writes flatly that everyone outside of “Toobin’s base,” presumably meaning liberals who comprise “Chief Justice [John] Roberts’s critics,” is “skeptical” of the article, and cites Goldstein and National Review columnist Ed Whelan (see May 15-17, 2012) as examples of those presumed skeptics who have “poured cold water” on the story. According to White, Toobin “front-load[ed] his story with easily disprovable mischaracterizations of the case” that [e]ven a cursory review of the case’s briefs, and contemporary news coverage, disproves Toobin’s thesis” of Roberts using a narrowly drawn case to revamp and invalidate most of US campaign finance law. White writes that Toobin’s characterization of the narrow focus of the case is wrong: “The First Amendment stakes were well known, and much discussed, in the run-up to oral argument.” He cites the New York Times editorial published at the time of the first arguments, in March 2009 (see March 23, 2009), warning that if the Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, “it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” He also notes that respected court reporter Lyle Denniston warned before the oral arguments that the Citizens United case threatened to deliver “a sweeping rejection of Congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations.” Toobin himself made some of the same arguments on CNN the day of the arguments, White notes. He calls Toobin’s version of events in the article a “clumsy fictionalization of the case” designed to vilify Roberts. He also questions Toobin’s characterization of the first arguments from Citizens United (CU) lawyer Theodore Olson, going considerably further than either Goldstein or Adler in accusing Toobin of fundamentally misrepresenting Olson’s original, narrowly focused case. According to White, Olson’s opening argument claimed that the restriction being challenged by CU was “unconstitutional as applied to the distribution of Citizens United’s documentary film through video on demand… [it] plainly exceeds Congress’s sharply limited authority to abridge the freedom of speech.” White claims that Olson cited First Amendment grounds in a portion of the arguments not reported by Toobin, and quotes from Olson’s argument; that quote describes Olson’s citation of the 2007 case Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL—see Mid-2004 and After and June 25, 2007), which indeed used First Amendment grounds for its successful positioning, and quotes Olson as saying the WRTL decision “errs on the side of permitting the speech, not prohibiting the speech.” White accuses Toobin of deliberately misrepresenting Olson’s argument to “advanc[e] his own anti-Roberts narrative.” White is unable to check the accuracy of Toobin’s behind-the-scenes narrative, as Toobin’s sources are not revealed in the article, but White is “skeptical,” writing, “Given Toobin’s inability of accurately handling straightforward, easily confirmable facts, why should anyone take at face value Toobin’s description of the justices’ private discussions, and their draft opinions—especially when Toobin only describes, never quotes, those deliberations or draft opinions?” Like Adler, Toobin questions the ethics of the person or persons at the Court who “leaked” the story to Toobin. [Weekly Standard, 5/17/2012]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Ed Whelan, Adam White, Jeffrey Toobin, Lyle Denniston, John G. Roberts, Jr, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Jonathan Adler, Richard L. Hasen, Thomas Goldstein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia join a brief filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking the US Supreme Court to reaffirm Montana’s ban on corporate spending. The brief is in response to an upcoming Court hearing on the Montana Supreme Court’s upholding of the Montana ban, which contradicts the 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010, December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012). The brief is signed by Schneiderman, a Democrat, and 22 other attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans. In the brief, Schneiderman writes, “The Montana law at issue here, like many other state laws regulating corporate campaign expenditures in state and local elections, is sharply different from the federal law struck down in Citizens United, and the Court need not revise its ruling in Citizens United in order to sustain the challenged Montana law.” Referring to briefs asking the Court to reverse the Montana high court ruling without a review, Schneiderman writes, “Even if the challenged Montana law were identical to the federal statute struck down in Citizens United—and, as shown below, it is far from identical—disposing of this case on the merits would require a fully considered analysis that takes these constitutional distinctions into account.” The states with Democratic attorneys general include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. States with Republican attorneys general include Idaho, Utah, and Washington. [International Business Times, 5/21/2012; Think Progress, 5/21/2012]
The press reports that Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of oil firm Continental Resources, gave $985,000 to the “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011), three days after he became a Romney campaign advisor. The information comes from financial disclosure forms filed today with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Hamm gave the Romney campaign the maximum allowed donation of $2,500 in October 2011. He has also contributed $61,600 to the Republican National Committee (RNC). On April 1, 2012, Hamm became the Romney campaign’s top advisor, and made the huge donation to ROF on April 3. NBC reporter Michael Isikoff writes that Hamm’s donation “is a new example of how big super PAC donors can make their policy views heard by the campaigns they are supporting.” Hamm’s contribution was the second largest donation garnered by ROF during April. Hamm’s company is the largest leaseholder of the Bakken, the large shale formation in North Dakota; as a result, Hamm is a strong proponent of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project and a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s energy policies, particularly the administration’s decision to postpone the Keystone project and its efforts to curb tax breaks for oil exploration. Hamm chairs the Romney campaign’s “Energy Policy Advisory Group,” tasked with creating a new “pro-jobs, pro-market, pro-American” energy agenda, as the campaign has described it. The day Hamm was announced as the advisor for the Romney campaign, he said he was backing Romney in part because he was “acutely aware” of “how outrageously [Obama] has attacked energy producers in particular.” Isikoff writes that Hamm’s donations to ROF “could potentially raise questions about the connections between his donations and his role in shaping campaign policies that might benefit his company.” Neither Romney’s campaign nor Continental Resources will reveal the names of the other members of the Energy Policy Advisory Group, or answer questions about Hamm’s role in the campaign. [MSNBC, 5/21/2012] Two days after the filing, Rebecca Leber of the liberal news Web site Think Progress will write, “Campaigns and super PACs are not legally allowed to coordinate, but in reality many of Romney’s donors have turned to super PACs to escape contribution ceilings” (see January 31, 2012). [Think Progress, 5/23/2012]
Entity Tags: Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Energy Policy Advisory Group, Continental Resources, Federal Election Commission, Michael Isikoff, Republican National Committee, Harold Hamm, Rebecca Leber, Restore Our Future, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tells a reporter that the Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in part because none of its members have ever been elected officials and thusly they have no personal experience with the corruption that comes with unregulated money being allowed into political campaigns. The Court’s majority opinion found that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Whitehouse says in part: “Unfortunately you had the five right-wing judges, none of whom have ever run for any office ever and have zero political experience between the five of them, offering opinions about what money can do in elections.… So clearly the finding of fact in Citizens United that unlimited corporate spending cannot either increase the risk of corruption or increase the appearance to the public that there’s corruption is ludicrous.… The president asked me who I thought, you know, what were the characteristics of somebody that should be appointed to the Court, and I said I think it should be somebody who has some actual political experience out there so that they are not operating in this political arena with absolutely no knowledge. Even if they wanted to come to the result that Citizens United came to, I think those judges would have had a hard time getting there if they’d had actual practical political experience because they would have known what a preposterous finding they were making.” Legal scholar Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “The current Supreme Court includes eight former US Court of Appeals judges and one former law school dean. Four of the five current justices responsible for Citizens United served as political appointees in Republican administrations. The justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education (see May 17, 1954), by contrast, included one former governor, three former US senators, and one former state lawmaker.” [Think Progress, 5/23/2012]
Joaquin Serrapio posing with one of his pellet guns. [Source: NBCMiami (.com)]College student Joaquin Amador Serrapio pleads guilty to threatening to assassinate President Obama. Serrapio, a student at Miami-Dade College in Miami, Florida, was arrested by Secret Service agents in February after posting two threats on Facebook. On February 21, he posted in reference to an Obama appearance at the University of Miami, “Who wants to help me assassinate Obummer while hes at UM this week?” Two days later, the same day Obama was scheduled to appear at the school, Serrapio posted: “If anyones going to UM to see Obama today, get ur phones out and record. Cause at any moment im gonna put a bullet through his head and u don’t wanna miss that! Youtube!” He also characterized the Obama administration as “communist” on his Facebook account. Local police found evidence in his home that he posted the threats (under the pseudonym “Jay Valor”), but no weapons aside from two pellet guns. Police found an iPad with one of the Facebook postings on it and a cell phone with a text message from a friend warning Serrapio, “LOL you can get in trouble for sayin’ that.” Serrapio texted back that he intended to “challeng[e]” the Secret Service, and said that if any Secret Service agents came to arrest him, “I wanna kill at least two of them when they get here.” Prosecutors dropped a charge of threatening Secret Service agents, and have said that Obama was never in any real danger. Serrapio has claimed that he never intended to follow up on his assassination threats, and his intention was merely “to rile up Obama supporters.” Defense lawyer Alan Ross says that Serrapio accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors that required his guilty plea. “He was really stupid, really stupid,” Ross says. Serrapio faces up to 10 months in jail, though Ross notes that US District Judge Marcia Cooke could sentence him to probation. [Associated Press, 2/28/2012; Associated Press, 5/23/2012; Reuters, 5/23/2012; Global Post, 5/23/2012]
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). [Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order, 5/25/2012]
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
Entity Tags: Noam Chomsky, US Congress, White House, US Department of Justice, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, US Department of Defense, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Katherine B. Forrest, Carl Mayer, Bruce Afran, Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, Barack Obama, Alexa O’Brien, Chris Hedges, Leon Panetta, Kai Wargalla, Daniel Ellsberg, John McCain, John Boehner, Jennifer Bolen, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jay Townsend. [Source: Gawker (.com)]A campaign spokesman for Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY) advocates “hurl[ing] acid” at female Democratic senators. Jay Townsend, the spokesman for Hayworth, makes the statement during a discussion on a Facebook page entitled “NY19 US House of Representatives Discussion Center.” The page, according to its owner, encourages “civil multi-partisan discussion about issues impacting citizens of New York’s US House District represented by Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth.” The particular thread is about falling gas prices, and contains comments from some posters critical of Hayworth. In response to one poster, Tom Conroy, Townsend writes the following: “Listen to Tom. What a little bee he has in his bonnet. Buzz Buzz. My question today… when is Tommy boy going to weigh in on all the Lilly Ledbetter hypocrites who claim to be fighting the War on Women? Let’s hurl some acid at those female democratic Senators who won’t abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector.” Townsend then links to an article illustrated with a photograph of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The page moderator responds: “[A]s an official and paid employee of the Hayworth Re-Election Campaign, please refrain from calling our members names. If you keep that up, I will have to remove you from the page. Also, I can’t believe Representative Hayworth would want you posting such un-referenced nonsense to this page. Does she know you are doing this or have you gone rogue?” Townsend responds by accusing the other posters of name-calling, and then says (referencing Memorial Day), “In the interest of this sacred holiday I am celebrating the sacrifce [sic] made so that might might [sic] have the freedom to express our views.”
Opponent Objects to 'Acid Hurling' Comment - One of Hayworth’s Democratic challengers, Richard Becker, objects to Townsend’s comment via a post in the New York Observer by Becker’s own spokesman, Barry Caro. On the Observer’s “Politicker” blog, Caro writes: “I’d be fired—immediately and with cause—if I said stuff like this. Which begs the question: why is Jay Townsend still Nan Hayworth’s spokesman?” Caro also addresses other other comments made by Townsend in the Facebook discussion: “Does she agree that ‘bin Laden is dead in spite of Obama?’ Does she agree that we should ‘hurl some acid’ at politicians her campaign disagrees with? These comments are simply unprofessional and should never cross the lips of a congressional spokesman.… This isn’t some obscure supporter or no-name right wing provocateur, and we’re not playing ‘six degrees of condemnation.’ This is Nan Hayworth’s official campaign spokesman saying some truly disturbing things on her behalf. The people of this district deserve to know whether Nan thinks what her spokesman is saying is OK—and if not, what she’s going to do about it.” Hayworth’s office refuses to comment on Townsend’s comments, or Caro’s rejoinder. [Talking Points Memo, 5/31/2012; Rich Becker for Congress, 5/31/2012; Wonkette, 5/31/2012; Times Herald-Record (Middletown NY), 6/3/2012]
Acid Attacks Common in Islamic Fundamentalist societies - Journalist Eric Dolan notes that acid attacks “against women who violate social traditions” are frequently used by Islamic fundamentalists “in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries.” That fact apparently prompts some Facebook posters to ask Townsend if he believes he lives in Afghanistan, or if he wants to impose a Taliban-like fundamentalism in America. [Raw Story, 5/31/2012; Talking Points Memo, 5/31/2012]
Comments Removed - Townsend later removes the comments. On his Web site, he describes himself as an “adept wordsmith” who has worked on over 300 campaigns in 25 states. In 2010, he ran for the US Senate against Charles Schumer (D-NY), a race he lost by 18 points. [ABC News, 6/1/2012] Huffington Post columnist Melissa Jeltsen describes the comments as a “vicious… taunting… online rant.” She observes: “In an ironic twist, Townsend also maintains a Facebook page called ‘How to Run for Public Office’ offering free ‘campaign and communications tips.’ It’s safe to say he could use a refresher.” [Huffington Post, 5/31/2012]
Opponent Advises Representative to Fire Official - Becker later issues a statement advising Hayworth to fire Townsend. He will note that Townsend may have violated Federal law by issuing a threat to “assault, kidnap, or murder, a United States official… with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official.” Case law holds that violating this law does not require that an actual intent to carry out such a threat “be present.” Becker will continue: “Does Nan Hayworth want Jay Townsend to be the public face of her campaign? Because to me, this is clear cut: Jay’s rhetoric is indefensible. It’s just mind boggling that a Congressional spokesman would use this kind of incendiary and downright offensive language and equally shocking that his boss would not instantly fire him for doing so. The specific choice of words here is also particularly sickening. Acid attacks on women have a disturbing and disgusting history—they’re used almost exclusively to silence and punish women across the globe who’ve bravely spoken out on behalf of their human rights.… With every minute ‘No Comment’ Nan refuses to take a stand, she takes on responsibility for Jay’s hateful and hurtful remarks.… Refusing to take a stand now and fire Townsend would permanently mark Nan as unfit to hold public office and unworthy of the public’s trust.… Threats to physically harm elected officials for disagreeing with you are specifically banned by federal law for a very good reason; they’re just never acceptable, and are particularly corrosive in a democracy. The fact that these comments are likely illegal only highlights how far out of bounds they were—and how absurd it is that Jay Townsend is, as of this moment, still Nan Hayworth’s official spokesman. Words have power, words this symbolic especially so. Last January, the US Congress saw some of the ugly and real—even if unintended—consequences of calls for political violence [referring to the assassination attempt against Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona]. I would have hoped Nan Hayworth learned the same lessons from that tragedy that the rest of us did.” [NY Alt News, 6/1/2012]
Attempt to Shift Blame onto Opponent - The campaign will attempt to shift the blame for the controversy onto Becker (see June 1, 2012), but will soon fire Townsend (see June 4, 2012).
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens lambasts the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), in which he strongly dissented (see May 14, 2012). Stevens has criticized the decision in earlier statements. He continues that trend in a speech given to the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. He agrees with President Obama’s warning that “foreign entities” could bankroll US elections (see January 27-29, 2010 and October 2010), and challenges the Court to prove that such concerns are “not true,” as Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed during Obama’s speech at the time by reconciling the Court’s finding that the First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity” with its subsequent decision to uphold a ban on campaign spending by non-citizens in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission (see August 8, 2011). Alito’s reaction to Obama’s warning “persuade[s] me that that in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” Stevens says. In doing so, “it will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.” Stevens is referring to corporations and labor unions as “non-voters,” as is the Canadian citizen who filed the Bluman lawsuit. The Bluman case, Stevens says, “unquestionably provided the Court with an appropriate opportunity to explain why the president had misinterpreted the Court’s opinion in Citizens United. [T]he Court instead took the surprising action of simply affirming the district court without comment and without dissent.” Stevens says the two cases pose a legal conundrum—“notwithstanding the broad language used by the majority in Citizens United, it is now settled, albeit unexplained, that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” At some point, Stevens says, the Court will have to grapple with the effects of the decision. “I think it is likely that when the Court begins to spell out which categories of non-voters should receive the same protections as the not-for-profit Citizens United advocacy group, it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by non-citizens, and possibly even those in which non-citizens have a substantial interest. Where that line will actually be drawn will depend on an exercise of judgment by the majority of members of the Court, rather than on any proposition of law identified in the Citizens United majority opinion.” Stevens does not explicitly reference the upcoming Court case where it will have to rule on Montana’s ban on corporate spending (see December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012), but he says the Court was wrong to overturn a precedent that allows states to bar corporate spending from outside their borders. For states such as Montana with those laws in effect, “those corporate non-voters were comparable to the non-voting foreign corporations that concerned President Obama when he criticized the Citizens United majority opinion.” He says, “If the First Amendment does not protect the right of a graduate of Harvard Law School to spend his own money to support the candidate of his choice simply because his Canadian citizenship deprives him of the right to participate in our elections, the fact that corporations may be owned or controlled by Canadians—indeed, in my judgment, the fact that corporations have no right to vote—should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process.” [Huffington Post, 5/30/2012; University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, 5/30/2012 ]
The campaign of Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY) refuses to apologize for recent comments by campaign communications director Jay Townsend, who advised readers to “hurl some acid at female Democratic senators” who disagree with Hayworth’s views (see May 27-31, 2012). Hayworth campaign manager Bruce Harvie blames Hayworth’s opponent, Richard Becker (D-NY), for “manufactur[ing]” a “controversy” about Townsend’s comments. Harvie writes: “This is a manufactured controversy by a campaign operation that has, for months, hurled offensive rhetoric and imagery at Nan Hayworth on various Facebook pages, including the one mentioned today. It is a matter of public record that the moderator of the page in question, while purporting to represent an objective point of view, is on the payroll of the Becker campaign. And in behalf of the Becker campaign, the moderator has tolerated extremely hostile and explicit comments against Dr. Hayworth. Only now have the media chosen to pay attention to this particular battlefield in the war against a woman who has the temerity to be a Republican member of Congress.” Harvie then distances the campaign from Townsend’s remarks, but continues to blame Hayworth’s opponent, and also the media, for the controversy, writing: “The comment receiving the attention was not made on behalf of the congresswoman or her campaign and was clearly not meant to be taken literally.… [T]he Becker campaign is doing all it can to distract attention from the real issue.… It’s not too much to insist that the media responsibly analyze context and perspective rather than simply broadcast hysterical and irresponsible attacks from a campaign that is purely seeking to score political points against a representative who has a consistently strong and positive record as an advocate for every citizen she serves.”
Popular Right-Wing Blog Denounces Hayworth - The influential blog RedState writes that the Hayworth campaign’s response to the controversy, in addition to Hayworth’s vote in favor of “the ‘right’ to kill unborn children who have the temerity to be the wrong gender,” has “lost NY-19 for us.” RedState notes the difficulty of defending such an incendiary statement as Townsend’s, stating: “If she was trying to fly under the radar and cruise to re-election, she can forget about that now. As I wrote on her Facebook page, I’d rather NY-19 was held by a D, that way I wouldn’t feel betrayed. She rode the tea party wave to election in 2010, but she’s just another New York RINO [Republican in name only]. I will not miss her.”
Becker Condemns Remarks and Hayworth's Response - Becker releases a statement saying: “This is a very simple issue: It is emphatically not ok for a Congressional spokesman to say we should ‘hurl some acid at those female democratic senators’ his boss disagrees with. That kind of unprofessional and hateful language should never be used by our political representatives and is unworthy of our great state and the Hudson Valley. Period. It’s unfortunate that Nan Hayworth apparently disagrees.… There’s a reason so many people were disgusted by such a flippant reference to a barbaric practice that is almost exclusively used to silence courageous women. This is offensive language, pure and simple, and Nan Hayworth should condemn it and fire her spokesman for using it. That she’s defending him instead is extremely depressing and absolutely unbelievable.” [Politicker, 6/1/2012]
Criticism Scrubbed from Hayworth Facebook Page - Since Townsend’s comment appeared on Facebook, the campaign has removed hundreds of posts on Hayworth’s Facebook campaign page, mostly posts criticizing Hayworth and Townsend over the acid-hurling comment. Hayworth’s readers have noticed, with one posting: “If Nan is so blameless why is she running away from comments made by her own constituents and wiping out the posts of concerned citizens? Innocent people don’t run away and hide. If you have nothing to be ashamed of Ms. Hayworth why are you scrubbing your FB pages?” Another writes: “It says a lot that you only keep comments from the ones who praise you. Says a lot about character.” [Huffington Post, 6/3/2012]
Data analysis by the liberal news magazine Mother Jones for campaign fundraising in the presidential campaigns has the Republicans and their supporters outraising and outspending Democrats almost across the board. Super PACs continue to lead in money raised and spent; Republicans outraised Democrats by a 7.7:1 ratio. These third-party “independent” groups (see March 26, 2010) have raised $218 million between them. President Obama has outraised challenger Mitt Romney (R-MA) by over two to one, $217.1 million to $97.9 million. But super PACs operating on Romney’s behalf have more than closed that gap. Two ads released almost simultaneously by the Romney campaign and the super PAC American Crossroads in recent days criticize Obama on the same grounds, both criticizing federal investments in energy companies like Solyndra. A similar pattern has recently been observed when the Obama campaign and his super PAC Priorities USA recently released television ads during the same time period. Mother Jones observes, “It’s illegal for candidates and super PACs to coordinate their messages, but even if they did, the fines would likely be negligible, and the Federal Election Commission can’t even agree on what exactly defines ‘coordination.’” [Center for Responsive Politics, 2012; Mother Jones, 6/1/2012]
Jay Townsend, the campaign communications director for Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY), posts an apology of sorts for a recent Facebook comment advising his readers to “hurl some acid” at female Democratic senators (see May 27-31, 2012). On his own Facebook page, Townsend writes: “On May 26, I posted a stupid, thoughtless, and insensitive comment on a Facebook page. It was stupid because my words were easily misconstrued; thoughtless because my choice of words obscured a point I was trying to make, and insensitive because some have interpreted the comment as advocating a violent act. To friends, associates, and clients I have offered my apology for the embarrassment I have caused, and do hereby offer it to the many who rightly found fault with my incendiary choice of words. The mistake was mine, and mine only and the post in no way was intended to represent the views of anyone for whom I have worked or represented.” [Huffington Post, 6/3/2012] Two days ago, the Hayworth campaign refused to apologize for Townsend’s comment, and blamed her Democratic opponent for “manufactur[ing a] controversy” (see June 1, 2012).
The Times Herald-Record of Middletown, New York, advises Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY) to fire campaign communications director Jay Townsend after he advised his readers to “hurl some acid at those female Democratic senators” who disagree with Hayworth’s politics (see May 27-31, 2012). The Herald-Record is the largest newspaper in Hayworth’s Congressional district. In an editorial, the newspaper writes that if Hayworth “decides to keep Jay Townsend anywhere near her campaign after his outburst on Facebook this week, she will be sending the unmistakable message that she agrees with his stand—If you don’t like the politics of your opponent, react with violence.” The editorial then notes, “With people bringing guns to protest rallies, and with the memory of the fatal shootings in Arizona that almost took the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords still very fresh, it is hard to believe that Townsend—with his broad and deep experience in politics—could make such a callous remark without understanding the consequences.” It concludes with a call for Hayworth to fire Townsend. [Times Herald-Record (Middletown NY), 6/3/2012]
Jay Townsend, the campaign communications director for Representative Nan Hayworth (R-NY), resigns after weathering a week of controversy over his Facebook recommendation that his readers should “hurl some acid at those female democratic Senators who won’t abide the mandates they want to impose on the private sector” (see May 27-31, 2012). Four days before his resignation, Hayworth’s campaign refused to apologize, and instead blamed Hayworth’s Democratic opponent Richard Becker for “manufactur[ing a] controversy” (see June 1, 2012). Two days ago, Townsend wrote an apology (see June 3, 2012), which liberal columnist Greg Mitchell calls “the usual no-apology apology [that claimed] his words were simply taken the wrong way.” Following Townend’s resignation, Hayworth issues a brief statement, saying: “Jay Townsend has offered, and I have accepted, his resignation from his position with my campaign. Now let’s return to talking about issues that really matter to families: job creation, spending restraint, and economic development.” Becker takes credit for the resignation, saying: “The timing of this announcement, coming one hour after we completed a press conference outside of Hayworth’s office calling on her to take exactly this step, was not coincidental. Our campaign broke this story, and for five days we’ve been leading the charge to hold Mr. Townsend and Rep. Hayworth accountable for the horrendous comments made on her behalf. This kind of language is unbecoming of a Congressional spokesman and unworthy of the Hudson Valley, and we’re pleased Nan Hayworth [belatedly] realized what most of us saw last week.” [Huffington Post, 6/3/2012; Politico, 6/4/2012; Nation, 6/5/2012] Hayworth’s campaign spokesperson Tim Murtough says of Townsend’s comments: “Certain rhetoric is not acceptable. [Hayworth] was not very pleased about what he had said.” [YNN, 6/4/2012] Mitchell expects Townsend to become a successful speaker on the right-wing circuit, noting that one of Townsend’s blog posts is entitled “Are Middle-Class Whites Fleeing Obama’s Plantation?” [Nation, 6/5/2012]
A federal judge denies the US government’s request (see May 25, 2012) to reconsider her order (see May 16, 2012) blocking enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of anyone, including US citizens arrested in the United States, accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States. Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA—see December 15, 2011) is under review in the case of Hedges v. Obama (see January 13, 2012) and Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the US District Court, New York Southern Division had issued a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the law after finding it unconstitutional.
Controversy over Scope of Detention Authority - The US government had also stated in its request for reconsideration that it was interpreting Forrest’s order as applying only to the plaintiffs in the case. Forrest clarifies in her subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by enjoining enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons the law can be applied to are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.” This definition of covered persons is the same as the one given in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress following the September 11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001). The Supreme Court has only ruled on a narrow range of relevant detention issues; one oft-cited case is Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004). Lower courts have produced a variety of opinions, some upholding an expansive view of detention authorities, others challenging it. In § 1021 of the NDAA, Congress asserted that it “affirms” detention authority granted under the AUMF, and does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF].” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), during a debate on the NDAA, explained the language in this way: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill” (see December 15, 2011). Congress included a separate, broader definition of covered persons in § 1021(b)(2) that potentially covered anyone alleged by the government to have supported groups hostile to the US, including US citizens arrested in the United States. This section is what prompted Hedges to sue, alleging these provisions violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights (see January 13, 2012). Forrest found the bill’s broad and vague provisions for indefinite military detention to be unconstitutional, and Congress’s statement that it was only affirming established law to be “contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning” (see May 16, 2012). [MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: Hedges et al v. Obama 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) affirming preliminary injunction and scope, 6/6/2012]
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee block a proposal that would force television stations to make records about political advertisement buys public on the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had approved the proposal in April 2012. It would require television stations affiliated with the four top networks in the 50 largest markets to post political ad sales online; stations are already required to make the records available on request, but most stations keep the records on paper, making it difficult to compile and track the information as it is recorded. The data includes the rates charged for political spots, the dates the spots aired, and the class of time purchased. Broadcasters had argued against the proposal, claiming that it would cost them money and would force them to reveal information that would make them less competitive. Broadcasters are expected to make as much as $3 billion this year from political advertisement sales. Committee chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) argued that “television station fiscal matters are private and should be kept private.” But Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center says Rogers’s argument is “contrary to existing laws that have been on the books for decades,” because the information is already available to the public. She calls the idea that switching from paper would be a burden for stations “ridiculous.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/8/2012]
Without comment, the US Supreme Court refuses to consider an appeal challenging President Obama’s US citizenship and his eligibility to serve as commander in chief. The appeal was filed as part of an ongoing lawsuit by Alan Keyes (see November 12, 2008 and After), Wiley Drake, and Markham Robinson. By refusing to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court affirms a decision by the 9th US Circuit Court that found Keyes, Drake, and Robinson lacked the legal standing to file such a claim. The three allege that Obama was born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After, Around November 26, 2008, Around November 26, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), and therefore is not a natural-born US citizen. They also allege that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008 and April 27, 2011) is a forgery (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, August 21, 2008, July 1, 2009, January 18, 2011, April 20, 2011, and April 27, 2011), despite repeated verifications by Hawaiian officials (see October 30, 2008, July 28, 2009, December 24, 2010, and April 11, 2011). Keyes and Drake ran against Obama in 2008 on the far-right American Independent Party ticket. Robinson is the party’s chairman. [Associated Press, 6/11/2012]
Rolling Stone magazine reports that despite no evidence of voter fraud except in extremely isolated incidents, Republicans in over a dozen states are passing laws that disenfranchise voters under the guise of “protecting the vote” (see August 30, 2011). The voters most affected by these laws, the magazine reports, are more likely to vote Democratic in national and state elections. Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), who is fighting the Justice Department to allow him to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the state electoral rolls, has said: “We need to have fair elections. When you go out to vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote.” However, a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law shows that almost every allegation of voter fraud is false. The chance of a vote being fraudulent, according to the study, is 0.0004 percent (see 2007).
Double Voting - Many claim that “double voting,” or a single voter casting a vote twice or more, is a rampant issue. In reality, it almost never occurs. The allegations that are made almost always result from different people with similar or even identical names casting separate votes, or simple clerical errors, such as voters being counted as having cast their ballots when in reality they did not. In Missouri in 2000 and again in 2002, hundreds of “double votes” were alleged to have been cast, with some allegations saying that the same voter cast their votes in Kansas and Missouri. When reporters and other investigators looked into the claims, only four cases were shown to have been actual double voting, for a documented fraud rate of 0.0003 percent.
Dead Voters - These are allegations that living people cast ballots using the names of dead voters. Almost every allegation of this nature has proven to stem from flawed matches of death records and voter rolls. In the 2000 Georgia elections, allegations of 5,412 “dead voter” votes were made over the last 20 years. All but one of those allegations turned out to be an incorrect match between death records and voter rolls. One example: “Alan J. Mandel,” who died in 1997, apparently cast a vote in 1998. In reality, voter Alan J. Mandell—two Ls—cast a legitimate vote. Election workers checked the wrong name off their list.
Voting with Fraudulent Addresses - The allegation is that people use fraudulent addresses to register to vote. Such allegations usually stem from mail coming back from the given address marked undeliverable. In almost every instance, the person in question has moved, the individual piece of mail was misdelivered or misaddressed, or the address is recorded incorrectly. In one instance, New Hampshire election officials became concerned when 88 voters had registered to vote using similar addresses from property belonging to Daniel Webster College. The addressees were legitimate: all 88 voters were students at that school who lived on college property.
Voting by Convicted Felons - This is a favorite allegation: that convicted felons stripped of their right to vote have voted anyway. It happens more often than some other forms of alleged voter fraud, but in almost every case, the felon in question was unaware that his or her right to vote had been taken away, a misapprehension often reinforced by misinformed election officials. Even then, almost every instance of “felon voters” turns out to be a case of clerical error: someone was convicted of a crime that does not result in their right to vote being removed, typographical errors, voters with names similar to that of convicted felons, and so forth. In the 2000 Florida elections, the state claimed that 5,643 ineligible felons had cast illegal votes. The list provided by the state was almost completely populated by eligible voters who were misidentified as ineligible felons.
Voting by Noncitizens - Allegations that US elections are being “thrown” by huge numbers of illegal immigrants casting their votes are widespread. In reality, there is not one case of an illegal immigrant intentionally casting an illicit vote. For example, Washington state officials investigated the citizenship of 1,668 registered voters in 2005, after allegations that they were illegal aliens were raised based on their “foreign-sounding names.” Every one of the voters on the list was legitimate.
Registration Fraud - On occasion, fraudulent registration forms do get submitted. However, the number of cases where a person submitted a form in someone else’s name in order to impersonate that person is extremely small. Some people fill out the forms with deliberately ridiculous information (such as claiming their name to be “Mickey Mouse”), while others make honest mistakes filling out the forms. In a few cases, voter registration workers working on commission have committed fraud in order to make more money. The Brennan Center report found: “Most reports of registration fraud do not actually claim that the fraud happens so that ineligible people can vote at the polls. Indeed, we are aware of no recent substantiated case in which registration fraud has resulted in fraudulent votes being cast.”
Voting by Dogs - The Brennan Center found nine instances of people registering their dogs to vote. Six of those were from people trying to prove a point: that they could register their dogs to vote. (The penalty for registering a dog to vote is up to 30 years in federal prison.) The Brennan report documented two cases of someone casting a vote in the name of a dog. One was submitted in Venice, California, with the word “VOID” and a paw print drawn on the ballot, and another, also cast in Venice, California, was submitted under the name of “Raku Bowman.”
Vote Buying - Rolling Stone notes that this does happen on rare occasions, with campaign officials or others convincing voters to vote for a particular candidate in return for money, food, or cigarettes. But, the magazine notes, this is vote buying, not voter fraud. It, too, is illegal, and will not be curbed by voter ID laws and the like.
Fraud by Election Officials - Like vote buying, this happens on rare occasions, but is not voter fraud per se. Rolling Stone writes, “If election officials are willing to break the law, rules designed to restrict voting won’t stop them.” [Rolling Stone, 6/12/2012]
Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have given $10 million to the super PAC supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and a source close to Adelson says the billionaire’s further donations will be “limitless.” Adelson owns a global network of casinos, including the Las Vegas Sands and a consortium of casinos on the Chinese island of Macau. Adelson, one of the world’s 15 richest people, once supported Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, donating over $21 million to Gingrich’s failed candidacy, and said he was willing to give up to $100 million to keep Gingrich’s candidacy viable. Forbes reporter Steven Bertoni says that Adelson may be willing to give hundreds of millions to the Romney election effort (see March 26, 2012). “[N]o price is too high” to defeat President Obama’s re-election, says the source close to Adelson. Obama is presiding over what Adelson calls the “socialization” of America, and the source says Adelson considers this the most important election of his lifetime. Because of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), Adelson faces no restrictions whatsoever on the amount of money he can donate to super PACs supporting Romney. The current recipient of Adelson’s largesse is Romney’s campaign super PAC, Restore Our Future. (To give context, Bertoni writes, “The $10 million donation he just made to Romney is equivalent to $40 for an American family with a net worth of $100,000.” He also notes that Adelson has seen his personal and business profits soar during the Obama administration.) Adelson says: “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like [billionaire George] Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money (see January - November 2004). I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it.” Adelson’s primary cause is the security of Israel and its right-wing government. Adelson is also firmly against the Obama administration’s economic policies, telling Bertoni: “What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years. That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives. What scares me is the lack of accountability that people would prefer to experience, just let the government take care of everything and I’ll go fish or I won’t work, etc. US domestic politics is very important to me because I see that the things that made this country great are now being relegated into duplicating that which is making other countries less great.… I’m afraid of the trend where more and more people have the tendency to want to be given instead of wanting to give. People are less willing to share. There are fewer philanthropists being grown and there are greater expectations of the government. I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current administration’s quest to socialize this country. It won’t be a socialist democracy because it won’t be a democracy.” [Forbes, 6/13/2012; Huffington Post, 6/16/2012]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) lambasts the campaign finance system being used by presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA). McCain has been quite visible in supporting Romney, but he is not a supporter of Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future. McCain points out that one of Romney’s most prominent and generous supporters, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson (see June 13, 2012 and Mid-June, 2012), makes much of his money from a casino in Macau, and thusly may be using foreign money to help Romney. McCain says to PBS reporter Judy Woodruff: “Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign (see January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and May 2, 2012) and much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau. [That says] obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.… [T]hat is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit on the flow of money and that corporations are not people (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). That’s why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations are people (see August 11, 2011), again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions that we have made—that have been made in the past.” Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes, “Though it is illegal for non-citizens to spend any money to influence US elections directly, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) left the door wide open for the American employees of American subsidiaries of foreign owned corporations—and even sovereign wealth funds—to spend millions or billions from their corporate treasuries on ‘independent’ expenditures.” [Think Progress, 6/15/2012]
Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) writes an article for the Stanford Law Review discussing the dominance of “big money” in the nation’s elections in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), documenting his belief that the rise in small-donor contributions that put Democrats in office in 2006 and 2008 led to the Citizens United backlash, and calling for sweeping campaign finance reform. Feingold writes, “Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.” Feingold heads Progressives United, an advocacy group that pushes for the overturning of the Citizens United decision and campaign finance legislation.
Background - Feingold gives the background of campaign finance reform in America: the 1907 Tillman Act which banned corporations from spending their money in elections (see 1907), which he says was spurred by the realization that “corporate influence corrupts elections”; the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which extended the Tillman ban to labor unions (see June 23, 1947); and more recent legislation, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), which Feingold co-authored with Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections,” he writes. “But Citizens United changed everything.” The “road to corruption” in modern elections, he says, began when Democrats in the early 1990s began exploiting a loophole in finance regulation that allowed the creation of “soft money” groups (see January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, and December 10, 2003) that allowed parties to solicit unlimited amounts of donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. “This system was corrupting,” Feingold writes. “Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty.” The BCRA plugged the “soft money” loophole. Even as the BCRA began to reform campaign finance practices, Feingold writes, “the same corporate interests that fought McCain-Feingold set to work to dismantle it. In what was clearly an orchestrated effort by opponents of campaign reform (see January 25, 2010), a group called Citizens United produced a movie savaging the record of then-Senator Clinton (see January 10-16, 2008). Ostensibly intended to educate the public about conservative concerns regarding Clinton’s run for the presidency, the film was little more than a legal vehicle to challenge some of the common-sense restrictions enacted by the BCRA (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). Specifically, the creators of the film sought to challenge the BCRA’s requirement that electioneering communications—commonly known as ‘phony issue ads’ that attack a candidate in the days before the election, but don’t explicitly advocate voting for or against that candidate—be subject to the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits as other campaign ads.” The case was argued on narrow grounds about a specific provision of the BCRA, but the Court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, “manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result” (see May 14, 2012). Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority opinion, “[F]ive justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” The ruling, Feingold writes, “created a framework for corruption parallel to ‘soft money.’” Instead of “soft money” organizations, Citizens United led to the creation of the “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, January 13, 2012, and February 20, 2012). It has also called into doubt the legitimacy of US elections themselves, due to the “increasing skepticism about the campaign finance system.” Many voters now believe “that the average participant’s small contribution is irrelevant, and that the average person’s vote is grossly outweighed by the gigantic contributions now allowed.”
Internet Politics and Small-Donor Contributions - In part due to the BCRA, Feingold writes, “[f]or three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.” He cites the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean (D-VT), who went on to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as the first powerful instance of “online organizing,” using the Internet to garner millions of dollars in small donations from individual citizens. In 2008, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama (D-IL) pushed the Dean innovation even further. The Obama campaign “raised a historic amount in small-dollar contributions,” Feingold writes, and created an online platform to engage supporters. All told, the Obama campaign raised $500 million online.
An Ineffective FEC - By 2008, he writes, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was completely impotent. The agency “has been fatally flawed since the time of its creation—any administrative law professor will point out that a law enforcement commission with an even number of commissioners [six] is probably designed specifically not to enforce the law at all,” he writes. By 2008, the FEC only had two seated commissioners, and in effect was not enforcing campaign laws whatsoever. Even after eventually receiving a full complement of commissioners, he writes, the agency “remains ineffective, as even Democratic violators go unpunished as conservative commissioners remain unwilling, philosophically, to enforce any campaign finance law.”
2012: Corporations Trump Citizens - In 2012, corporate contributions far outweigh small-dollar donations by individuals. “[T]he most prominent actors in the 2012 election cycle are unnamed corporations and a small group of influential—primarily conservative—billionaires.” Seventy percent of registered voters think super PACs should be illegal, according to polls, and the favorability rating of the Court has dropped a significant amount. Overall, Feingold writes, the public is firmly against the Citizens United paradigm of campaign finance. He advocates strong legislation from Congress, fixing the “broken system of presidential public financing,” and replacing the “dysfunctional” FEC “with a true enforcement agency.” The ultimate repair of campaign finance lies with the Court, he says, noting that the Court has a chance to do some early repair with the Montana case it is now considering (see June 25, 2012). Regardless of what the Court does or does not do in the Montana case, he concludes, “[t]oday’s framework for corruption cannot stand.” [Stanford Law Review, 6/14/2012]
Entity Tags: Howard Dean, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton, Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, John McCain, John G. Roberts, Jr, Stanford Law Review, John Paul Stevens
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Senate 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]
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
Mike Turzai. [Source: Wikipedia / Flickr]Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), the majority leader of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, says in a speech to Pennsylvania’s Republican committee that newly passed voter identification laws would help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney win the state (see August 30, 2011 and June 12, 2012). “We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” he says, and begins ticking off a list of what he considers accomplishments: “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation—abortion facility regulations—in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Critics immediately take Turzai’s remarks as evidence that voter ID laws such as those passed by Pennsylvania are intended to disenfranchise minority voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. Turzai and Republicans who support voter ID laws insist that such laws are intended to stop voter fraud. Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre says: “Instead of working to create jobs and get our economy back on track, Mike Turzai and the Republicans in Harrisburg have been laser focused on a partisan agenda that simply helps their donors and political allies.… Mike Turzai’s admission that Voter ID only serves the partisan interests of his party should be shocking, but unfortunately it isn’t. Democrats are focused on protecting Pennsylvanians’ rights to vote, and we are working hard to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote this fall.” Turzai spokesman Stephen Miskin says that voter fraud is a nationwide problem, though no evidence of such a claim has ever been advanced, and anyone who believes Turzai was saying anything untoward “has their own agenda.” Pennsylvania Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montco) disagrees, saying: “This is making clear to everyone what Voter ID was all about. This is about one thing: disenfranchising Democratic voters and rigging elections for Republicans. When they get behind closed doors, they admit it. And that’s exactly what Turzai did.” Pennsylvania has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1988. Political blogger and reporter Kelly Cernetich writes that in 2004, President Bush lost Pennsylvania by 144,248 votes: “That’s at least 144,000 higher than the number of voter fraud convictions in PA since 1988.” [The Grio, 6/25/2012; PoliticsPA, 6/26/2012] Political blogger and reporter Mychal Denzel Smith writes: “The Republican strategy for winning the youth vote, black vote, and low-income vote has been to ensure that no one belonging to any of those three groups is able to vote. The GOP has aggressively pursued some of the most stringent voter ID laws, and since 2010, 16 states have enacted the most restrictive barriers to voting since poll taxes and literacy tests. With the exception of one state, all of these laws have been voted on party lines, with Republican officials voting in favor. Up until now, the party line has been they are ‘protecting the integrity of the vote’ by protecting the American public from the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. In reality, all they have done is made it harder for those constituencies (youth, blacks, low-income) who do not traditionally lean Republican to get into the voting booth.… Turzai just committed a gaffe that will likely garner little public attention but reveals the true motives of the GOP efforts to curb voter fraud.” He notes that a Brennan Center study found that voter fraud occurs in 0.0004 percent of the votes cast throughout the nation (see June 12, 2012). [The Grio, 6/27/2012]
The First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, a two-day, invitation-only conference in Park City, Utah, features a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and financiers gathered to coordinate strategy for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA). The Washington Post describes the event as three days of “strategizing and fraternizing.” One donor and member of Romney’s national finance team told a reporter before the event that a “well organized, committed team” is expected who are “subordinating individual ego for the greater goal.” Perhaps the most controversial figure attending is Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political advisor who now helps run American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012). The two groups have been heavily involved in running advertisements and other activities on behalf of the Romney campaign, but the law says the groups must conduct themselves independently of the Romney campaign. The Post reports, “Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle says that Rove’s appearance “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.” Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees with Boyle, but says Rove’s participation in the event is probably legal. “[T]he coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the super PACs that support those candidates,” she says. “It’s not by any means an airtight barrier between those two.” To break the law, Romney campaign officials would have to have a “substantial discussion” with Rove about advertising strategies. Malloy says, “The scandal in Washington is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” Other attendees include former Secretary of State James A. Baker; former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the founder of the American Action Network (AAN), another influential “independent” super PAC (see Mid-October 2010); Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH), a possible vice-presidential contender for Romney; former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (who will lead Romney’s transition team if Romney wins the presidential election); Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), another possible vice-presidential choice; former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), also on the vice-presidential “short list”; former Governor John Sununu (R-NH); and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the assemblage, as does former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a possible vice-presidential pick, moderates a panel discussion on “Innovation in America,” joined by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, billionaire donor Ken Langone, and two other possible vice-presidential choices, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD). Rove takes part in a panel discussion called “Media Insight,” along with Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg, Kristol and his Weekly Standard colleague Fred Barnes, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin. A “Women for Romney Victory Tea” features Romney’s wife Anne and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Possible vice-presidential choices Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) do not attend the conference. Nor does Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), a popular Republican who is not known to be on the vice-presidential list. Many Wall Street and private equity donors are also in attendance, welcomed by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the co-chair of Romney’s national finance team. One finance team member predicts the three-day event will raise as much as $700 million for Romney’s campaign. [ABC News, 6/20/2012; Washington Post, 6/20/2012; Think Progress, 6/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Bob McDonnell, Susana Martinez, Robert Jones (“Rob”) Portman, Paul Ryan, Norm Coleman, Bob Corker, Tara Malloy, Tim Pawlenty, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, Anne Romney, Woody Johnson, William Kristol, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Mike Leavitt, Nikki Haley, Ben Ginsberg, Fred Barnes, Dorothy Hamill, Condoleezza Rice, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Bobby Jindal, Meg Whitman, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James A. Baker, John Sununu, Ken Langone, Marco Rubio, Mary Boyle, Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Mary Matalin, Karl C. Rove, John Thune
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al, 6/25/2012 ; SCOTUSBlog, 6/25/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2012]
Judge Robert Hinkle. [Source: Eddie Curran]US District Judge Robert Hinkle rejects an attempt by the US Department of Justice to block Florida’s attempted purge of what it calls non-citizens, in part because Florida has temporarily suspended the purge. Hinkle says that federal law prohibiting the systematic removal of voters in the months before an election does not apply to non-citizens. Hinkle also accepts Florida’s assurance that it has ended its purge efforts. The Justice Department argued that the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), which makes it illegal to perform what the law calls a systematic removal of voters before a federal election. Florida’s primary will be held on August 14. In 2011, Florida’s state motor vehicle agency created a database of some 2,600 people whose citizenship was determined to be “questionable,” but county election supervisors stopped using the database to remove voters from their rolls after concluding the list was unreliable and contained the names of many eligible voters. Justice Department lawyer John Bert Ross called Florida’s effort to purge “non-citizens” a “dragnet” that illegally forces US citizens to prove their legitimacy, though Ross was unable to cite an instance of a legitimate voter being removed from the voting rolls. Ross asked Hinkle to restore the voting rights of everyone purged from the voting rolls, a request that Hinkle rejected, saying: “Leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution. Non-citizens should not be voting. People need to know we are running an honest election.” The Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, is suing for access to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database to “better ascertain the citizenship status of voters,” according to Detzner’s attorney Michael Carvin. DHS has so far refused the request. Carvin says that if Detzner receives the data, “I do expect the state to proceed [with the purge] and protect the integrity of the voter rolls.” Hinkle accepts the state’s arguments that it is carrying out its duty to make sure non-citizens do not “dilute” the votes of actual citizens. Hinkle showed some concern that over half of the people on Florida’s “purge list” are Hispanic, saying: “That’s discriminatory, at least in effect. I don’t suggest that that was the purpose of this.” Hinkle also chided Collier County for sending letters to “potential non-citizens” challenging whether people born in Puerto Rico are legitimate US citizens. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens by law. Collier County elections staffer Tim Durham says the county never sent such a letter. Hinkle says that with the elections approaching, “[t]he federal government and the state government ought to be working together to try to minimize the mistakes” instead of trying to settle the problem in court. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) praises the ruling, saying, “The court made a commonsense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote.” Democrats say Scott is trying to suppress legitimate votes in Florida; liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org calls the purge “racist” because of its focus on Hispanics. [Miami Herald, 6/27/2012]
Entity Tags: National Voter Registration Act, John Bert Ross, County of Collier (Florida), Ken Detzner, MoveOn (.org), Robert Hinkle, Michael Carvin, US Department of Justice, Tim Durham, US Department of Homeland Security, Rick Scott
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that the US Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of a Montana Supreme Court decision to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate political spending (see June 25, 2012) proves that the US Supreme Court is actively working to dismantle representative democracy. Referring to the 2010 Citizens United case that formed the basis for the Court’s recent decision (see January 21, 2010), Feingold says: “This court had one fig leaf left after this one awful decision two years ago.” The justices could claim “they were politically naive or didn’t know what would happen when they overturned 100 years of law on corporate contributions.” But after the American Tradition Partnership decision that reversed the Montana high court, he says, “They have shown themselves wantonly willing to undo our democracy.” Feingold continues: “This is one of the great turning points, not only in campaign finance but also in our country’s history. I believe we’re in a constitutional crisis.” Feingold heads an anti-Citizens United group called Progressives United, which works to raise awareness about the effects of the decisions and to persuade Congress to overturn the decision via legislation. He says the Supreme Court has “clearly become… a partisan arm of corporate America. This is a real serious problem for our democracy. It’s essentially a court that rules in one direction.… [T]his court is no longer perceived as the independent arbiter of the law that the people expect them to be.” A recent study by the Constitutional Accountability Center shows that during the tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts, the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobbying organization (see January 21-22, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, and February 10, 2011), which filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against the Montana high court (see April 30, 2012), has seen victory in 68 percent of the cases in which it has filed briefs, a much higher success record than in earlier years. Feingold wrote an article for the Stanford Law Review claiming that the 2006-2008 rise in small donor contributions spurred corporations and the Supreme Court to create the Citizens United decision (see June 14, 2012). Feingold says: “The corporate interest in America saw the face of democracy, and so what they did was engineer this decision. They used it as an excuse to stop citizen democracy in this country.” Nevertheless, Feingold is confident that grassroots organizations such as Progressives United and efforts in other venues, including Congress and the Obama administration, will eventually see Citizens United overturned. For now, he quotes his campaign finance reform partner, Senator John McCain, who recently said, “I promise you there will be huge scandals” (see March 27, 2012). Feingold says, “There already is a scandal.” [Huffington Post, 6/27/2012]
A Fourth Circuit federal appeals court rules that while the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) allows corporations to make independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates for public office, corporations cannot make direct contributions to candidates. The court’s ruling strikes down an earlier judge’s finding that corporations have exactly the same political speech rights as individuals (see May 26, 2011 and After). [OMB Watch, 7/10/2012]
The Minnesota branch of the nonpartisan voting rights organization Common Cause files a complaint against the conservative voting activist group Minnesota Majority, claiming that the nonprofit group broke state law by not registering itself as a lobbying organization. Minnesota Majority is working to implement restrictive voter ID laws in Minnesota. In 2010, the group falsely claimed that felons voting illegally gave Al Franken (D-MN) the victory in the state’s hotly contested 2008 US Senate race (see July 12-14, 2010). Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota says: “Minnesota Majority has been caught red-handed in an effort to circumvent Minnesota lobbyist laws. It is time for the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to more effectively enforce Minnesota’s rules for lobbyists.” The complaint states that Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath should have registered himself as a lobbyist. In recent court filings, McGrath said he started working with legislators “to construct and promote” a photo ID bill for voters in November 2010. The legislature passed the bill in 2012, which places a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would require Minnesotans to show photo ID before voting. McGrath says the complaint is ridiculous, and says he merely offered “expert advice” to legislators on the subject of voter ID. “I’m not a lobbyist,” he says. “A lobbyist would be somebody paid by a corporation to twist arms at the Legislature.” According to state law, a lobbyist is someone who is paid more than $3,000 to lobby, or who spends more than $250 on lobbying or more than 50 hours a month on lobbying. Common Cause says McGrath and Minnesota Majority have spent “significant time and money lobbying in support of the voter ID amendment.” State law prohibits the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, the entity that is charged with investigating such complaints, from commenting on them until it has ruled. The board’s executive director, Gary Goldsmith, says that there are executive directors of nonprofits who appear at the Capitol to speak about legislation but do not meet the definition of a lobbyist. “It’s fairly easy to separate the pros from the ordinary Joes” when it comes to lobbying, he says. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 7/4/2012]
Joseph Farah claims his house was “buzzed” by a spy drone similar to this US Predator drone flown in Afghanistan. It is not clear if the drone Farah claims to have seen was armed with wing-mounted missiles, as this one is. [Source: Slow33 (.com)]WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah claims that a “spy drone” buzzed his home, and says he fears the Obama administration intends to have him and other conservative journalists murdered. The “spy drone” “surveillance” is, Farah claims, part of a larger “war” being waged by the Obama administration against its political enemies. Farah makes the claim in an interview published on the Web site InfoWars (.com). Farah tells InfoWars reporter Paul Joseph Watson, “I’m taking my dog for a walk and guess what I see right over the tree line right above my head is a drone.” He says the drone was low in the sky and sounded like a lawnmower. Farah says that the object he saw could only have been a drone, and could only have been spying on him. “I don’t live in the city, I don’t live in a populated area, I live in one of the most rural places you could possibly live in Northern Virginia and there could only be one thing that this drone was spying on and that would be me, that would be my property because there’s just nothing else around except woods and deer.” Farah jokes to Watson that the drone was stalking him because he is a terrorist, referring to recent findings by the Department of Homeland Security that some far-right political figures are aligned with right-wing domestic terrorists. “The liberty lovers out there really have to stick together,” he says, “or we’re going to hang together as our founders said.” As reported by Watson, Farah adds that “patriots” who “resist the increasing levels of control being asserted over their lives by big government would be ‘hunted down’ by a re-elected Obama administration.” Farah says, “Look—this is the first term—if he’s re-elected it’s going to be war—they will be at war—we will be hunted down like dogs, keep that in mind, that’s what the stakes are.” Farah says he was also persecuted by Clinton administration officials. Watson notes that drones are being used by police departments and federal authorities in the US, and claims that drones are being used to spy on farmers. [InfoWars (.com), 7/6/2012] Farah’s comments are ignored by the mainstream media, but get a significant amount of attention online after the right-wing news aggregator Drudge Report links to it. Some progressive sites and conservative watchdogs call attention to Farah’s claims, portraying them as ridiculous and/or paranoid. [Think Progress, 7/6/2012; RT.com, 7/6/2012; Southern Poverty Law Center, 7/9/2012; Atlantic Monthly, 7/10/2012]
Senate Democrats try twice within a two-day period to bring the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would require the disclosure of the identities of political donors (see July 26-27, 2010), to the floor for a vote. If enacted, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would create new campaign finance disclosure requirements and make public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. The bill would also “prohibit foreign influence in federal elections [and] prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections.” Both Senate Democratic efforts are thwarted by a Republican filibuster. Democrats are unable to muster the 60 votes needed to grant “cloture,” which would break the filibuster and bring the bill to the floor to be voted up or down. The last vote supports cloture 53-45, not enough to invoke cloture; the first vote was 51-44 in favor. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is recovering from a seizure, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) do not vote. Democrats force an official recording of each senator’s vote, placing the names of senators voting for and against the bill in the public record. Democrats have tried since 2010 to pass the bill (see July 26-27, 2010). The bill, sponsored in its latest iteration by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would force unions, nonprofits, and corporate interest groups that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Whitehouse modified the original version of the bill to no longer require sponsors of “electioneering” ads to put a disclaimer at the end, and pushed the effective date of the bill to 2013, meaning it would not impact the 2012 presidential campaign. Whitehouse and 15 other senators take to the floor to press for its passage. “When somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent, a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution, they’re not doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” he tells the Senate. Democrats urge Republicans who have previously spoken out in favor of transparency and campaign finance reform to vote for the bill, targeting Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Scott Brown (R-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, none of them break ranks with their fellow Republicans. McCain, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill of 2002 (see March 27, 2002) and has spoken out against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to anonymously spend unlimited amounts on “electioneering” activities (see January 21, 2010), refuses to join Democrats in supporting the bill. He tells the Senate before the final vote, “The American people will see it for what it is—political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.” McCain asks Senate Democrats “to go back to the drawing board and bring back a bill that is truly fair, truly bipartisan, and requires true full disclosure for everyone.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the bill would “send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” and that it “amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” In his weekly press conference shortly before the floor votes, McConnell says of the bill: “This could best be described as a selective disclosure act. It has managed to generate opposition from everybody from the ACLU to [the] NRA. That’s quite an accomplishment.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says of the bill: “[I]n a post-Citizens United world, the least we should do is require groups spending millions on political attack ads to disclose their largest donors. We owe it to voters to let them judge for themselves the attacks—and the motivations behind them.” And Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation says that the Senate is “thumbing their noses at the very notion of democratic elections.” [Politico, 7/14/2012; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012] After the bill fails to pass, Reid says, “It is obvious Republicans’ priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires—billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.” [The Hill, 7/24/2012]
Entity Tags: Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Ellen Miller, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, John McCain, Mark Steven Kirk, Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, US Senate, Scott Brown, Richard Shelby, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Accused Aurora gunman James Holmes looks on during a recent court hearing regarding his alleged crimes. At some point, Holmes dyed his hair, allegedly to more closely resemble ‘The Joker,’ a villain in the Batman movies. [Source: Reason (.com)]The New American, the official publication of the right-wing John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961, November 1963, April 13, 2009, December 11, 2009, April 26, 2010, and December 2011), promotes a theory from an Internet publication that the recent massacre by a lone gunman in a Colorado movie theater was orchestrated by the Obama administration or its surrogates as a way to impose gun control laws. Writer Bob Adelmann admits the conspiracy theory is merely “conjecture.” The theory comes from the Natural News Network (NNN), which describes itself as a “non-profit collection of public education Web sites.” NNN is incorporated by Truth Publishing International, a Taiwan corporation. The article is titled “Colorado Batman shooting shows obvious signs of being staged,” referencing the film being shown in the theater, The Dark Knight Rises, the third in the “Batman trilogy” by Christopher Nolan. Adelmann introduces the NNN conspiracy theory by reporting that a Forbes magazine article says the US may ratify a United Nations arms treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. Adelmann says the UN treaty poses “a formidable threat” to gun ownership in the US. He then introduces the NNN theory as posited by NNN writer Mike Adams. [Forbes, 6/7/2011; New American, 7/23/2012; Samuel Warde, 7/30/2012]
Brainwashed Obama Operative? - The shooter, James Eagan Holmes, fired multiple bursts of gunfire in the Aurora, Colorado, theater, but then surrendered to the police without offering any resistance. Adams says his peaceful surrender was inconsistent with Holmes’s apparent desire to “kill everyone.” Adams also finds it curious that Holmes told police his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives. Someone truly wishing to kill many people would not have told police about the bombs. “It doesn’t add up,” Adams says. Holmes’s character as reported by neighbors and friends—quiet, shy, obsessed with video games—does not correlate with the picture of a maddened gunman, he continues. Moreover, Holmes must have had help from somewhere—he was living on unemployment insurance, Adams contends, yet owned thousands of dollars’ worth of weaponry, ammunition, explosives, and SWAT gear. “Where did that come from?” Adams’s answer: Obama administration operatives or someone else doing the administration’s bidding by launching a “false flag” attack. In fact, Adams writes: “There is already conjecture that James Holmes may have been involved in mind-altering neuroscience research and ended up becoming involved at a depth he never anticipated. His actions clearly show a strange detachment from reality, indicating he was not in his right mind. That can only typically be accomplished through drugs, hypnosis, or trauma (and sometimes all three).” Adams continues: “Someone else taught this guy these skills and funded the acquisition of the equipment.… This is somebody who was selected for a mission, given equipment to carry it out, then somehow brainwashed into getting it done. This is not your run-of-the-mill crime of passion. It was a carefully planned, heavily funded, and technically advanced attack.” Adams concludes that Holmes completed his “mission” and then surrendered, “admitting everything” to police. “The mission, as we are now learning, was to cause as much terror and mayhem as possible, then to have that multiplied by the national media at exactly the right time leading up the UN vote next week on a global small arms treaty that could result in gun confiscation across America.” The FBI has carried out “numerous” missions such as this one, Adams contends, though its history until now is to stop the attacks before they reach the point of violence. Adams also compares the Holmes massacre to the “Fast and Furious” operation conducted by Arizona police officers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), which has become a popular topic of discussion on the right as another Obama conspiracy theory. Adams concludes: “In other words, this has all the signs of Fast & Furious, Episode II. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover someone in Washington was behind it all. After all, there’s no quicker way to disarm a nation and take total control over the population than to stage violence, blame it on firearms, then call for leaders to ‘do something!’ Such calls inevitably end up resulting in gun confiscation, and it’s never too long after that before government genocide really kicks in like we saw with Hitler (see March 13, 2008 and November 11, 2008), Stalin (see October 13, 2009), Pol Pot (see December 17, 2009 and April 27, 2011), Mao (see January 2009), and other tyrants.” [Natural News Network, 7/20/2012]
JBS: Attack's Timing with UN Treaty Signing More than Coincidental - Adelmann admits the theory is “strictly conjectural at this point,” but observes that “the timing of the shootings coinciding with the final details of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) being polished up in New York by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” The timing must be more than coincidental, Adelmann writes. According to Adelmann, if the US signs the arms treaty, it would have to abide by strict licensing requirements; confiscate untold numbers of citizen-owned weaponry; ban the trade, sale, and private ownership of all weapons; create an international gun registry (which would, Adelmann warns, open the door “for full-scale gun confiscation”); and finally, “[o]verride our national sovereignty, and in the process, provide license for the federal government to assert preemptive powers over state regulatory powers guaranteed by the Ten Amendments in addition to our Second Amendment rights.” The UN treaty would not apply to US citizens, experts note, but Adelmann and others do not believe that assertion. John Bolton, the former UN ambassador and chief political advisor to the Romney presidential campaign, is one of those: he says that while the UN “is trying to act as though this is just a treaty about international arms trade among nation states, but there is no doubt that the real agenda here is domestic firearms control.” Adelmann says the UN treaty is the next step in the Obama administration’s creation of an “authoritarian dictatorship” and ultimate plans for domestic genocide, or what he calls “democide.” He concludes: “That is the nightmare that faces American citizens if in their haste to rid the world of shooters such as Holmes they allow the United Nations to do the job for them. The end result will be immeasurably, horrifyingly, worse.” [Forbes, 6/7/2011; New American, 7/23/2012]
More Coverage - Other right-wing outlets also pick up Adams’s conspiracy theory, including Gun Owners of America (GOA), whose president Larry Pratt issues a press release promoting the theory and offering himself for interviews about the theory and about the Obama administration’s purported intent to ban gun ownership in America. [Special Guests, 7/2012; Samuel Warde, 7/30/2012]
Treaty Not Passed - The media later reports that the US is refusing to go along with the treaty as it is currently written. [CBS News, 7/30/2012]
Entity Tags: Bob Adelmann, John R. Bolton, Gun Owners of America, John Birch Society, Hillary Clinton, James Eagan Holmes, United Nations, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Larry Pratt, Mike Adams, Natural News Network, Obama administration, Truth Publishing International
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
House Democrats try yet again to bring the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporate and union donors to publicly disclose their campaign contributions, to the chamber for a vote. They are joined by a lone Republican, Walter Jones (R-NC). Democrats so far have 167 signers on the motion to move the bill to the floor for a vote; they need 218. Most observers agree that House Democrats will not get the 218 signatures they need. Recently, Democrats were blocked by Senate Republicans from bringing the bill to a vote (see July 14-17, 2012). [The Hill, 7/24/2012]
A bar graph issued by the Center for Responsive Politics shows, in the words of the liberal news Web site Think Progress, why Republicans are so strongly in favor of the January 2010 Citizens United decision that lifted restrictions on corporate donations for election and campaign purposes (see January 21, 2010). In 2010, the first election cycle that the decision was in effect, conservative outside groups outpaced liberal/progressive outside groups in spending for the first time since 1996. The data, compiled by the Center, is as follows:
1990 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $3.2 million to $2.4 million.
1992 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $9.4 million to $7.1 million.
1994 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $6.3 million to $2.6 million.
1996 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $9.9 million to $6.5 million.
1998 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $7.5 million to $5.2 million.
2000 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $29 million to $17 million.
2002 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $17.9 million to $4.6 million (see March 27, 2002).
2004 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $121.3 million to $68.5 million (see January - November 2004).
2006 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $38.7 million to $19.6 million.
2008 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $159 million to $120.3 million.
2010 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $183.3 million to $98.9 million (see January 21, 2010).
2012 (to date) - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $166 million to $46.9 million.
The chart shows that outside spending was on the rise well before the Citizens United decision, but, as Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser wrote in May 2012: “[A]nother trend is also clear. Prior to Citizens United, which was decided in 2010, left-leaning groups held a moderate-to-significant advantage in election spending. After Citizens United, conservatives absolutely dominated the field.” Millhiser acknowledged that Republican primary spending in the first few months of 2012 played a significant role in the $119.1 million disparity. “Nevertheless, the last two election cycles suggest that conservatives will continue to benefit from Citizens United even once the general election kicks into full gear,” he wrote. ”Citizens United gave such a boost to Republican candidates that outside spending by conservatives grew by more than $70 million from 2008 to 2010, even though 2008 was a presidential election year and outside spending has historically been much higher in these cycles than in off-year [midterm] elections.” [Think Progress, 5/2/2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 8/2012]
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R-OH) suspends the two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections after they refuse to give ground in a conflict over extended in-person early voting hours for the November 2012 election. The elections boards in each Ohio county are made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie Sr. must appear at a hearing in Columbus that will determine whether Husted will remove them from office. Husted’s action is announced in a letter delivered to each of the two, which reads in part, “You leave me no choice but to begin the process necessary to remove you as members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.” Early voting for Ohio citizens begins on October 2. The debate over in-person absentee voting, often called early voting, has been rancorous in some counties. In counties with strong Republican majorities, both Republicans and Democrats have voted to extend early voting hours for those counties’ residents. But in counties with strong Democratic majorities, Republicans have voted against extending those same voting hours. By law, Husted must cast the tie-breaking votes for those counties, and he has always voted against the voting hour extensions. Democrats in Ohio and other states were furious, saying that Husted was conspiring to dilute the Democratic vote in Ohio; Husted’s explanations have been that his votes saved Ohio money and that voters in those counties had “sufficient time already” for voting. Husted eventually agreed on uniform early voting hours for all 88 of Ohio’s counties, but the uniform hours fail to include weekend hours. Today, before his suspension, Lieberman proposed that Montgomery County continue to offer weekend voting hours, saying that Husted’s directive on the issue did not specifically forbid it. After a heated discussion, the Montgomery elections board voted 2-2 on the issue, sending the matter to Husted. Within hours, Husted replied with a sharply worded letter to the board forbidding the weekend voting hours, ordering the board to meet again that afternoon and rescind the motion, and threatened board members opposing his directive with firing. In the afternoon meeting, Lieberman refuses to rescind his motion. He is joined by Ritchie. Both are suspended later in the afternoon. Lieberman says during the discussion: “I believe that this is so critical to our freedom in America, and to individual rights to vote, that I am doing what I think is right, and I cannot vote to rescind this motion. In 10 years, I’ve never received a threat that if I don’t do what they want me to do, I could be fired. I find this reprehensible.” Republican board member Greg Gantt says during the Friday meeting that he has no intention of challenging Husted on this issue. When Lieberman compares Gantt’s position to that taken at the 1947 Nuremberg trials by Nazi war criminals, Gantt becomes irate, saying: “That’s not called for. Rescind the motion or not and let’s get out of here. I’m not going to sit here and listen to comments like that.… I am so disappointed that we’ve had such a great rapport on this board for the past decade, but it’s all [gone].” Lieberman retorts that Gantt has mocked Democrats’ concerns about being disenfranchised in previous discussions, saying, “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you Greg, but when you refer to our arguments as ‘hypothetical crap,’ I think you should expect some push back, and you got it.” Dozens of county residents attend the meeting, and their comments generally mirror the discussion among board members. Resident Elaine Herrick downplays any hardship caused by the restricted early hours, while Reverend Marty McMichael of a local Methodist Church says the refusal will deny some citizens the opportunity to vote, and predicts: “Whatever happens here today, the community will be strengthened by it. Because either the right thing will happen or the wrong thing will happen, and then we will make our voices known.” After he and Lieberman are suspended, Ritchie says that neither of the Republicans on the board moved to rescind his motion either, and he asks why they, too, were not suspended. “I intend to fight this,” he says. “I already have been in contact with legal counsel, and I’ll be prepared [at the hearing] to answer [Husted’s] allegations.” Ritchie calls the elimination of weekend voting “a continued attempt to suppress Americans from exercising their right to vote.” It is a tradition in many African-American churches for their congregations to go en masse to vote on the Sunday before the scheduled election—sometimes nicknamed “Souls to the Polls”—a tradition that will not be observed this election if Husted’s ruling stands. After suspending Lieberman and Ritchie, Husted announces that he has broken the Montgomery County tie, rejecting the weekend voting, and threatens other board members with suspension and possible firing if they cast their votes for weekend voting times. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2012; Buzzfeed, 8/17/2012]
A campaign button for Gary Johnson, who bills himself as ‘The People’s President.’ [Source: Marsh Enterprises / CafePress (.com)]The third-party presidential campaign of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson (L-NM) accuses the Pennsylvania Republican Party of breaking the law in trying to keep Johnson off the ballot in that state. Johnson is running on the Libertarian ticket after failing to secure the Republican presidential nomination. Attorney Alicia Dearn writes a letter to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office asking it to investigate allegations of attempted bribery and false impersonation of an FBI agent by Pennsylvania Republican Party operatives. Dearn writes in part, “Based on what I have been told by witnesses, it is my opinion that the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee has engaged in Watergate-style dirty tricks, in an attempt to keep Gov. Johnson off the ballot.” The allegations center around a private investigator, Reynold Selvaggio, allegedly hired by the Pennsylvania GOP to try to invalidate signatures submitted by the Johnson campaign. The Johnson campaign says that it submitted enough citizen signatures to obtain a place on the state ballot, a claim the Pennsylvania GOP is disputing. Dearn writes that Selvaggio either passed himself off as an FBI agent or implied that he was one (he is a retired FBI agent), and offered $2,000 to Johnson campaign volunteers in return for their testimony that they falsified signatures. Dearn also claims that Selvaggio threatened the volunteers with prosecution when they declined to cooperate. The state Republican Party calls Dearn’s allegations “baseless,” and, according to party spokesperson Valerie Caras, “This is simply a distraction from their own questionable activities.” They allege that Johnson has been working with Pennsylvania Democrats to gain signatures. Selvaggio tells a reporter: “That’s a lie. That’s completely a lie.” Dearn says she has heard similar stories from six different campaign volunteers, and writes, “Should these witness accounts indeed be true, it appears that, in order to bolster their challenge to the Johnson campaign’s candidacy, the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee or its agents sought to obtain witness testimony by unlawful means.” Johnson is on the ballot in 47 states plus the District of Columbia. Republicans in Pennsylvania have succeeded in getting tens of thousands of Johnson signatures invalidated. [Daily Caller, 10/5/2012; New York Times, 10/14/2012] Johnson will succeed in remaining on the Pennsylvania ballot, where state Republicans fear he will drain much-needed votes from the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney (R-MA), even though Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus calls Johnson a “non-factor” in the election. The chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP, Robert Gleason, is more worried, comparing Johnson’s impact on the race to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, when Nader drew just enough votes in Florida to mar Democrat Al Gore’s chance for victory. “This election will be close—if you remember, [former President George W.] Bush lost by only something like 143,000 votes in 2004,” he says. “So we play the game hard here.” Some pundits believe Johnson will hurt President Obama’s chances in Colorado. Republicans say that Conservative Party candidate Virgil Goode, on the ballot in Virginia and 28 other states, may also draw key votes from Romney in several states. Democrats say Johnson may draw key votes from Romney in Nevada, where polls show Romney and Obama essentially tied. [New York Times, 10/14/2012]
San Antonio electric utility CPS Energy says it intends to cut the amount it pays for solar power generated from residential customers by about half, claiming that some of the city’s power users are not paying their fair share for the utility’s transmission infrastructure. Clean energy activists and system installers say the cuts are intended to cripple the region’s solar industry. Lanny Sinkin of Solar San Antonio says: “There was zero consultation with the solar industry in the development of this proposal. They’re going to kill the solar industry.” CPS, a municipally owned utility that in theory is owned by the ratepayers, wants to end the current system of “net metering,” which allows residential customers with solar panels to use each kilowatt-hour of energy they generate to cancel each kilowatt-hour they draw from the utility’s electric grid—in essence, the residence owners cancel a kilowatt-hour they pay for to CPS (at retail rates) by generating a kilowatt-hour of solar energy. Instead, CPS proposes a system it calls “SunCredit,” which would assign a fixed value to the price of the solar power produced and credit that amount against their accounts. The SunCredit program would give only a little over half of what a kilowatt-hour of solar power is worth under net metering, by crediting residential consumers with solar-produced kilowatt-hours at CPS’s wholesale rate. CPS spokesperson Lisa Lewis says of the existing practice: “I think that it’s not unimportant to recognize that solar customers use poles and wires and the grid. If we move to a situation where more and more customers have solar systems, they leave that infrastructure cost… stranded, and the people who can least afford to pay it are the ones paying for it” (see January 2013). Existing solar power producers would be granted the existing rates until 2023, while new solar producers would begin receiving the new, lower rate immediately.
Decision Already Made? - Although Lewis says the utility is still soliciting feedback on the program and will consider making changes, Sinkin says the utility has already made its decision. Recently, the utility informed the public of its decision during a contentious meeting, when solar installers said the new program would make it impossible for them to sell systems to the public. CPS Energy instituted cuts in its solar subsidies in 2012 when it reduced the size of the rebate it offers to help customers cover the cost of installing their solar power systems at their homes.
Expert Explains Issue - Solar expert David Roberts of Grist explains the issue, writing: “Under net metering, if a rooftop solar customer generates as much electricity as she consumes, she pays nothing. If she generates more than she consumes, the utility pays her. In either case, her portion of the utility’s fixed costs is transferred onto other, non-solar ratepayers. As more and more people opt for solar, fixed costs are paid by a smaller and smaller group of customers, which drives rates up, which drives more and more of them to solar, in a vicious cycle. The utility’s fixed assets are ‘stranded’—it is unable to recover those investment costs because of the shrinking pool of customers. (It’s also worth noting that the first customers to go solar tend to be well-off, which leaves the less well-off paying more, so there’s an economic-justice angle here too.)” Roberts notes that CPS is being ingenuous in its contentions that solar consumers are costing the utility money, as rooftop solar arrays save the utility money in terms of avoided transmission and equipment costs. Moreover, solar power benefits the region in reduced air pollution and carbon emissions. He also notes that CPS did not hesitate to offer its employees $16.4 million in bonuses in 2012 (most of which went to the firm’s top executives), the same year it cut its solar subsidies. Roberts concludes: “The dilemma… is how to align CPS’s incentives so that it can drive rapid solar adoption and reliably recover costs from its fixed assets and protect its lower-income ratepayers from being unfairly burdened. If we can’t figure out a solution to that dilemma, more and more utilities will do what CPS is doing and the spread of rooftop solar in the US, which has barely gotten underway, will slow to a crawl. That isn’t what we want, is it?” [San Antonio Express-News, 6/21/2012; San Antonio Express-News, 4/9/2013; Grist Magazine, 4/12/2013]
Idea that Solar Power Consumers Pay Unfairly Low Share Challenged - Many solar advocates have successfully challenged the idea that solar power consumers cost their area’s utilities revenue (see April 5, 2013).
Utility Agrees to Postpone Implementation - Following the announcement, CPS will agree to postpone implementation of the new policy for a year and to work with solar advocates to craft changes to the policy. [CPS Energy, 5/9/2013; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Several of the nation’s largest solar installers, including SolarCity, Sungevity, SunRun, and Verengo, form a lobbying organization, the Alliance for Solar Choice (ASC), to fight back against conventional utilities’ efforts to curtail or cancel programs that support renewable energy in 43 states. The ASC will begin by working to preserve “net metering” policies that require utilities to purchase surplus electricity at retail rates from customers with rooftop solar systems. ASC president Bryan Miller, a SunRun executive, says the group is responding to “the coordinated utility attack on net metering throughout the country.” Many utilities “have opposed net energy metering since its inception.” Utilities argue that as more people install solar arrays and generate power for themselves, non-solar customers are forced to pay higher rates to subsidize utility costs for grid maintenance and the like. (That argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) [Bloomberg, 5/10/2013]
Grist columnist and distributed energy expert David Roberts attempts to explain the viewpoints of the solar and the conventional utility industries over utility regulations as they pertain to solar power generation. He calls the issue “unavoidably wonky” but “a pivotal issue” that is “long overdue” for public understanding. The problem between the two has two components: short-term and long-term. The short-term argument between the two camps involves how electricity rates are structured and how utilities compensate, or do not compensate, customers who generate some of their own power with rooftop solar PV panels. The long-term issue revolves around the creation of “an entirely new business model for utilities, one that aligns their financial interests with the spread of distributed energy.” Battling over the short-term issues delays resolution of the long-term issue, Roberts writes.
Utilities' Perspective - About 70 percent of Americans are served by investor-owned utilities (IOUs), the traditional, for-profit, regulated-monopoly utilities that have what Roberts calls “a captive customer base and profits guaranteed by law.” IOUs are leading the pushback against distributed solar energy. IOUs make their profits by:
estimating how much power their customers will need;
estimating the investments they will need to make in power plants, fuel, transmission lines, and so forth in order to meet that demand;
estimating how much they need to charge customers to cover their investments and offer a reasonable rate of return to their investors;
convincing their state’s public utility commission (PUC) that their rates are warranted and fair; and
charging that rate until they can convince the PUC to let them raise their rates.
Residential customers pay the PUC-approved “retail rate” for their electricity. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Net Metering - NC State’s Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) defines net metering as “a popular and administratively simple policy option [that] allows electric customers who generate their own electricity using solar or other forms of renewable energy to bank excess electricity on the grid, usually in the form of kilowatt-hour (kWh) credits.… In effect, the customer uses excess generation credits to offset electricity that the customer otherwise would have to purchase at the utility’s retail rate. Traditionally, net metering has been accomplished through the use of a single, conventional, bi-directional meter.” In its most simple terms, customers who participate in net metering programs get rebates or subsidies from their IOUs based on how much solar energy they generate for themselves: if they generate 10 hours of solar power a week, they receive 10 kilowatt-hours (at the retail rate) of credit on their electric bills. The policies are in force in some 40 states, though the details of their implementation vary widely from state to state. The utilities say that net metering is inherently unfair, since a consumer who lowers or even zeroes out their utility bill through solar power generation does not pay enough for fixed costs such as power plant construction, transmission line installation and maintenance, etc., even though these consumers still make use of these services. The utilities argue that the complexity of managing these distributed energy producing consumers increases their costs; net metering, they say, makes customers who cannot afford solar arrays subsidize those who can. (This argument has been strongly challenged—see April 5, 2013.) Utilities in many states are trying to end or dramatically cut back on net metering rebates (see April 9-12, 2013). As noted in a January 2013 report that predicted utilities will be forced into near-bankruptcy by increasing use of solar-generated power (see January 2013), many IOUs are attempting to add “customer service charges” to subsidize their fixed costs, and to lower the subsidies paid to rooftop solar producers. David Rubin of Pacific Gas and Electric has said, “We need to set the stage for continued growth in solar in what we believe will be a sustainable way which is to not have solar customers that are being subsidized by the rest of our customers and producing unsustainable rates for those customers.” [DSIRE Solar, 2013; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Solar Perspective - The solar community is not convinced, Roberts writes, and is actively, and sometimes angrily, pushing back against the utilities’ stance. Recently, some of the nation’s largest solar installers formed an organization called the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013). Their argument boils down to the contention that utilities raise their rates regardless of who produces solar or wind power for themselves. In fact, they charge, utilities raise their rates far more than is warranted to cover what they argue are higher costs due to solar generation. Because of their monopolistic structure, they are able to make extraordinarily high profits even while bemoaning their costs. PUCs guarantee them hefty profit margins (rates of return on their investments) regardless of whether the investments were necessary. They essentially have a captive customer base, Roberts writes, and are used to charging heavily padded retail rates on the power they sell their customers. Utilities have no interest in innovation or competition, he writes, and as a result their customers “are getting shafted all over the country. Utilities overestimate demand, underestimate efficiency, and contract for gigantic central-generation power plants that customers pay for whether or not they need the power.” Roberts cites the examples of Southern California Edison customers, who are paying $68 million a month to subsidize a nuclear plant in San Onofre that has not produced a watt of energy in over a year. Mississippi customers are paying huge amounts to subsidize a coal-fired plant in Kemper County. We Energies in Wisconsin is trying to force its customers to pay for its Oak Creek coal plant, a hugely expensive facility that has been plagued with outages and breakdowns. Roberts says that utilities are not worried about increasing customers’ rates, but do not like the loss in revenue due to solar consumption. “It’s competition they don’t like,” he writes, “the potential loss of their captive customers.” Homes that are essentially “unplugged” from the grid do not impose costs on the utility, and actually save the utility money on transmission and distribution costs and in other areas. Utilities rely on consumers to pay exorbitant rates for their poorly envisioned and constructed power plants, transmission facilities, and the like, Roberts argues, instead of absorbing the losses themselves. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/27/2012; Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013]
Conclusion - While the solar advocates have a stronger case, Roberts says, some of them have become a bit extreme in their view that all utilities are automatically the enemy. “Some utilities, at least, seem to be grappling with this issue in good faith,” he says. But even these utilities, he says, “are struggling with the question of how to appropriately compensate for distributed solar. The fact is, as long as utilities operate under their current business model, rooftop solar really does hurt them.” Roberts says the best solution is to revamp the business model, particularly the IOU. [Grist Magazine, 5/15/2013] The regulatory contract that most IOUs operate under—existing as corporations legally protected from competition, charging rates as approved by state governments, and receiving guaranteed returns—is almost completely the opposite of the free market concept. “It is the most Soviet of economic sectors,” Roberts writes. Moreover, utilities make most of their profits not from selling electricity, but from making investments and receiving returns on them. The more power lines and plants they build, the more money they earn. In the ideal free market, companies profit by competing, cutting costs, and innovating. None of this applies to the typical American utility. As long as they can make their local PUC happy, utilities are free to generate revenue merely by building more facilities, whether those facilities are needed or even useful. Now, though, the paradigm is not as profitable. Utilities’ profits have peaked, and in coming years they will continue to drop, in large part because of the increase in the usage of renewable energy in place of utility-generated energy. Meanwhile, utilities are locked into paying for facilities and improvements for the next 20 years or so, and want to charge customers as much as possible to help them pay off the debts they have incurred and keep their profit margins in place. Roberts says that while society as a whole needs distributed, renewable energy platforms, the utilities do not want them: “As a society, we need energy efficiency and demand response. We need distributed renewable energy. We need to cancel out future power plants and transmission lines. All those things are to the good, economically and ecologically. Yet utilities have every incentive to oppose them, as they are direct threats to their familiar, comfortable business model, which has survived nearly a century unchanged.… We need a ground-up rethink of how utilities work, how they are structured, and how they can be reformed in a way that enables and accelerates long-overdue innovation in the electricity space.” [Grist Magazine, 5/21/2013]
Keally DeWitt, an executive with solar provider SunRun, writes an opinion column lambasting a proposal by the Arizona Public Service (APS) utility company that would drastically overhaul Arizona’s net metering policy, favoring the utilities and damaging the ability of solar installers like SunRun to function in Arizona. DeWitt says the proposal, if approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), would doom the solar industry in that state. APS has proposed two options to replace the current policy. One is to charge solar homeowners $50 to $100 a month for accessing the electrical grid, no matter how little they may actually use electricity generated by the utilities (see July 16, 2013). The second option is to change the net metering practice from paying solar power consumers a credit for solar consumption at the retail rate to the much lower wholesale rate. APS has stated, “The plan is built around two options, either of which would ensure that APS customers who choose rooftop solar in the future will be compensated fairly for the electricity they generate and pay a fair price for their use of the electricity grid.” DeWitt writes that APS is “ignoring the fact that clean, local energy is worth more than fossil fuel-generated energy being transported hundreds of miles.… Both options would eliminate any financial benefits for homeowners, especially those in the working or middle classes, who want to control costs with rooftop solar.” DeWitt says that APS has created “astroturf,” or fake grassroots, groups such as 60 Plus and Prosper HQ, and used those groups to air advertisements attacking solar users. One ad compares Arizona’s solar industry to the bankrupt, much-reviled solar corporation Solyndra, and claims, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” DeWitt writes, “Using outdated scare tactics and financial figures that have been publicly denounced, the groups appear to be blatantly lying to the public (and driving people crazy through overplaying their ads on YouTube).” Bryan Miller, an executive for SunRun and the head of the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013), called the ad a “disgusting attack against their own Arizona solar customers,” and said APS is responsible for the video. APS spokesperson Jenna Shaver retorted, “APS had nothing to do with the making of or the content of the video, but we were aware 60 Plus was going to engage in the discussion and we welcome their support.” Shaver said the ad merely counters attack ads aired by the Arizona solar industry. A solar advocacy group, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), headed by Republican Barry Goldwater Jr., has countered with its own ad featuring rooftop solar customers and a rooftop solar worker, all APS ratepayers, who are against the changes. TUSK’s Jason Rose recently said: “The proposal allows the ACC to create a backdoor tax on solar owners that will either severely curtail or kill solar in Arizona.… Solar is a disruptive technology and APS can’t compete. They are trying to maintain their profits and protect their shareholders’ stock price. We have spent a lot of time talking with them and they fear for their future.” One homeowner told DeWitt: “I had a solar system installed over a year ago and it has been a great benefit to me. APS, even more, benefits from the electricity that I produce. It does not cost them anything to produce the electricity; I even pay for the repairs that are needed. Why should I be penalized from going solar? This will only deter people from purchasing solar and eliminate jobs in the growing solar market in Arizona.” Rose recently told a reporter, “After conservative states like Idaho and Louisiana rejected proposals to change net metering, it would be a travesty for Arizona, the sunniest state in the union, to do it.” Miller said flatly, “The fight for net metering in Arizona is the most significant fight for solar in the country.” [Greentech Media, 7/3/2013; Greentech Media, 7/12/2013; Renewable Energy World, 8/14/2013]
Entity Tags: Jenna Shaver, Arizona Public Service, Arizona Corporation Commission, 60 Plus, Barry Goldwater Jr., Jason Rose, Prosper HQ, SunRun, Keally DeWitt, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, Bryan Miller
Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry
An artist’s rendition of Adel Abdel Bary tearing up in court. [Source: Reuters]Adel Abdel Bary is sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to several terror-related counts, including making bomb threats and conspiring to kill American citizens overseas. Bary is the father of Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a suspected Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) militant, originally one of three people thought to be the infamous “Jihadi John” who beheaded journalist James Foley in August 2014. (Authorities will later determine “Jihadi John” to be Briton Mohammed Emwazi.) Adel Abdel Bary admits to being an al-Qaeda spokesman following the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Anas al-Liby and Khalid al-Fawwaz, also accused of being al-Qaeda operatives, were set to appear alongside Adel Abdel Bary in New York in two months’ time. Al-Liby and Fawwaz have pleaded not guilty to their terror charges. [Independent, 9/20/2014; US Department of Justice, 2/6/2015; Washington Post, 2/26/2015]
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