A parallel public financing system

Barack Obama’s recent comments that his campaign has created a "parallel public financing system" by tapping into small donors via the internet has produced mixed reactions from supporters of the taxpayer-funded system. 

"It certainly is a clear sign that the explosion of small donors will require us to take a fresh look at the structures of campaign finance law," wrote Huffington Post’s Laura MacCleery.

The "fresh look" described by MacCleery and others, appears to focus on "enhancing" the donations of small donors by either, "coupling a substantial grant of public funds with the opportunity to raise contributions of $100 per person" (interpreted, this appears to mean $100 contribution limits with a taxpayer grant as a sweetener), or directly subsidizing small contributions with taxpayer dollars.

We will save a discussion of the merits of subsidizing small donors for another day, but one should not miss an inference in Obama’s comments that make the case against any system modeled after the presidential general election system – or programs in states like Arizona and Maine.

Obama said: "We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it."

Now, shouldn’t the natural inverse be that if the American people decide they DO NOT want to support a campaign they should not be forced to do so?

Systems like those in Arizona and Maine, and the presidential public-financing system, give the people no choice.

Filed Under: Blog

Battle Over, “Reform” Groups Surrender and Disband

At least, that is the headline we would expect to see in the next few days, if we thought that the Campaign Legal Center could be taken seriously.  Writing today in The Politico, Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center – an organization founded to promote restrictions on political speech and to defend them in court – steals a line from we here at CCP and says, "The First Amendment establishes the right to speak, not a right to limit the speech of one’s adversaries."

Of course, that has been our principle all along.  Now that the Campaign Legal Center agrees, we welcome them to disband, or better still, use their resources to join us in the campaign to protect the "right to speak" by fighting the efforts of Democracy 21, Common Cause, Public Citizen, U.S. PIRG, the League of Women Voters, numerous politicians, and others to "limit the speech of one’s adversaries."  Unfortunately, we don’t see that happening, because we think it is pretty obvious to any reasonable observer that Ms. Malloy and the Campaign Legal Center are not to be taken seriously when they start talking about constitutional principles and the First Amendment.

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

They said it: Part II

"The First Amendment establishes the right to speak, not a right to limit the speech of one’s adversaries. We hope this Supreme Court respects this distinction," wrote Campaign Legal Center legal associate Tara Malloy in an op-ed published today by Politico.

Malloy’s words follow similar comments made last month by Alison Smith, co-chairman of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

"I think the court will make preserving political speech the highest priority. You can’t make a straight-faced argument that scaling back money in political campaigns enhances free speech," Smith said.

Filed Under: Blog

Line Drawing … and Face Saving

The Voters Education Committee is seeking review of a Washington State Supreme Court opinion marking the line between unfettered discussion of issues and the full regulation of "political committees."

But granting certiorari in the Washington case may cause heartburn for a Court uncertain as to the "constitutional standard for clarity … in the abstract."  The Court has oft repeated, and rejected an opportunity to back away from, the statement that express advocacy is "not constitutionally required."

It would be unfortunate if face saving or "faux judicial restraint" were to prevent the Court from drawing a proper line in the Washington case.

More after the jump

Filed Under: Blog

Doing away with the presidential public financing system

As election observers continue to buzz about the public-financing conundrums of both John McCain and Barack Obama, the Chicago Tribune offers an enticing idea – do away with the program entirely.

As most readers of this blog know, McCain finds himself under fire from Democrats for backing out of the public financing system for the primary. Obama, meanwhile, discovered a "parallel" public financing (traditional, private financing but with a plethora of small donors) and has backed away from a pledge to accept public financing for the general election.

The Tribune smartly recognizes the public-financing situation of both candidates isn’t about ethics – it’s about tactics. The Tribune goes on to say:

"The system that is supposed to wean presidential candidates from private fundraising doesn’t work. As this campaign shows, it pushes candidates to navigate around arcane government rules. It skews the presidential campaign."

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

The problem with the DNC’s complaint against McCain

Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to force John McCain into the presidential public financing system.  The DNC had filed a similar complaint with the FEC on February 25th. The problem for the DNC is that the FEC has 120 days to respond to the DNC’s initial request.

As first noted by Eric Brown at politicalactivitylaw.com, 2 U.S.C. 437g(a)(8) states:

"Any party aggrieved by an order of the Commission dismissing a complaint filed by such party under paragraph (1), or by a failure of the Commission to act on such complaint during the 120-day period beginning on the date the complaint is filed, may file a petition with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
(B) Any petition under subparagraph (A) shall be filed, in the case of a dismissal of a complaint by the Commission, within 60 days after the date of the dismissal.
(C) In any proceeding under this paragraph the court may declare that the dismissal of the complaint or the failure to act is contrary to law, and may direct the Commission to conform with such declaration within 30 days, failing which the complainant may bring, in the name of such complainant, a civil action to remedy the violation involved in the original complaint."

Thus, it appears that the DNC’s court challenge may not be ripe until June 24th.  A dismissal without prejudice in the near future would not be surprising.

Filed Under: Blog

“Clean Elections” Claptrap

You’ve got to love the doggedness of the "clean elections" crew (a doggedness aided by reams of foudnation money, but a doggedness nonetheless). 

 Yesterday, CCP’s own Sean Parnell and Jamie Story of the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii published this piece in the Hawaii Reporter, critical of "Clean Elections," noting the failure of the program to deliver promised results in Arizona and Maine.  Parnell and Story cite studies and data to show that "clean elections" have not helped level the playing field against incumbency, and that government financing of campaigns has a negative effect on voter confidence in government – including polling data showing only 21% of Arizona’s say that government financing of campaigns increases their confidence in state government.  They note that the states that even "reform" financier Pew Charitable Trusts labels as the "best governed" do not subscribe to the "clean elections" playbook.  They might have added, but did not, that "clean elections" appears to have no effect on the number of lobbyists in a state. 

So today Todd Lang, an amiable fellow who job, as Executive Director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission (a government body) hinges on claiming that "the reform that dare not speak its name"* is a big success, replies

According to Lang, clean elections is "working better than even its creators could have imagined."  But by what standard? Well,  

60% of those running for office in the primary used the system while 65% of the candidates running for a statewide office used the system. All but two current statewide officeholders participated in the Clean Elections system. Arizona’s current Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General successfully ran “clean.”

That’s it.  Beyond that, Lang gives not one measure of success – not one – except that 80% of Arizonans think "clean elections" are important.  (I wonder what poll results would show for a "strong economy" or "healthy environment"?)  But concrete, actual, acheivements?  Nada, zero, zip.

So the measure of a successful government program now is that people will take the cash offered to them?  Hey, with those standards, what program can’t be a "success?"

Except, even under those criteria, can a 60% participation ratio really be deemed a success?  I mean, here is the deal the state of Arizona offers candidates: "we’ll give you lots of free money, and if your opponent outspends you anyway, we’ll give you more."  Who wouldn’t take that deal?  What’s shocking is that only 60% of candidates (or 65%, to use Lang’s larger number) are participating. 

What can you say about a "reform" that has to try to hoodwink voters from the start with its "clean elections" monniker?  Are they afraid to say "government financed" or "tax financed" or even "publicly financed" elections?  And why?

*By "clean elections," what is meant is "tax financing."  The latter being a loser politically, the euphemism "clean elections" has been thought up.  Who is opposed to that?

Filed Under: Blog

CCP files amicus brief in support of VEC

CCP filed an amicus brief Friday in support of the Voters Education Committee’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Click HERE to read CCP’s brief.

Filed Under: Blog

Amicus Brief: In support of writ of a certiorari for VEC

Amicus in support of writ of a certiorari for VEC

Filed Under: Completed Amicus Briefs, Legal, Legal Center, amicus brief, VEC, Amicus Briefs, Completed Cases (Amicus), Amicus Briefs, Completed Cases (Amicus)

U.S. District Court to Hear SpeechNow.org’s Request to Speak Now

EVENT: U.S. District Court to Hear SpeechNow.org’s Request to Speak Now
TIME/DATE: 9:30 a.m./Friday, April 11, 2008
PLACE: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Before the Honorable Judge James Robertson in Courtroom 23A
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
ATTORNEY: Steve Simpson, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice
CLIENT: David Keating, President, SpeechNow.org
CO-COUNSEL: Stephen M. Hoersting, Vice-President, Center for Competitive Politics

SpeechNow.org, a new group of citizens formed to protect the First Amendment at the ballot box, will ask a federal court today to free the group to begin its political advocacy immediately.
Represented by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics, SpeechNow.org is challenging the federal campaign finance law that requires the group to become a "political committee" and submit to government limits and red tape simply to advocate for or against candidates on the basis of their stand on free speech.
SpeechNow.org is a completely independent group of individual citizens, not a PAC or a party.  It is simply Americans talking to Americans about an issue of vital public importance—a right that is fully protected by the First Amendment.
In today’s hearing, IJ Senior Attorney Steve Simpson will argue that SpeechNow.org should be granted a preliminary injunction, protecting it from an enforcement action by the Federal Election Commission as the case proceeds.  That would free the group to air ads and raise funds for political advocacy immediately.

Filed Under: Blog

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.