No fireworks at Sullivan nomination hearing

The nomination hearing for labor attorney John J. Sullivan this afternoon was a veritable lovefest as Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer praised Sullivan and the two Republicans who attended the hearing, ranking member Bob Bennett and Saxby Chambliss, indicated they would support Sullivan’s nomination.

The approximately 20 minute hearing adjourned after brief questioning from Schumer and Bennett about Sullivan’s background and criticism from some in the so-called “reform” community about Sullivan’s criticism of aspects of McCain-Feingold while representing the Service Employees International Union.

CCP’s statement on Sullivan’s comments at the hearing is here.

The link for archived video of the hearing is here.

(This post has been updated from its original version).

Filed Under: Blog

Prosecuting Anonymous Political Speech: That’s What’s Criminal

The main headline was innocuous enough: “Clarksburg Councilman Arrested.”  Okay, we thought, it’s unfortunate, but elected officials all too often find themselves subject to the criminal justice system just like their constituents from every other walk of life.  Maybe they had a few too many before hitting the road, had a domestic dispute or whatever.

But what really caught our eye — what we couldn’t believe — was the sub-headline: “Councilman Martin Shaffer was arrested for his role in producing a newsletter.”  And, our disbelief only grew as we read further and further into the article.

You see, not only did the “Clarksburg Police Department, working in conjunction with the [West Virginia] Secretary of State’s Chief Investigator,” arrest a city councilman “for his part in the distribution of a newsletter titled “Clarksburg City Council News,” but also that arrest took place on the eve of an election — albeit an election in which Councilman Shaffer was not a candidate because his term does not expire for two more years.  To add to the drama, the councilman’s arrest was prompted by an investigation called for by his well-known political adversary, City Manager Martin Howe.

In other words, this sounded like the most egregious of official retaliations against disfavored political speech.  And, despite our disbelief, both the reported facts of the story and illegitimate rationale for the arrest appear to be exactly what happened late last week.

Click here to read more about the unbelievable and illegitimate prosecution of anonymous political speech in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Filed Under: Blog

CCP statement on Sullivan nomination hearing

Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC Chairman, released the following statement following a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the FEC nomination of John J. Sullivan, associate general counsel of the Service Employees International Union:

“John Sullivan’s comments at his nomination hearing indicate that he understands the constitutional protection for and democratic necessity of independent political speech by groups like SEIU, which he has represented in campaign finance matters,” said CCP Chairman and former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith.

Filed Under: Press Releases

‘Probability of bias’ and ‘I know it when I see it’

Media coverage of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. often focused on the sensational — the case inspired a John Grisham novel — but the actual facts suggest a more muddled reality.

Media accounts often incorrectly state that Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO, contributed the bulk of the $3 million in question directly to West Virginia state justice Brent Benjamin’s campaign. However, Blankenship used his money to fund an independent advocacy group and to run ads against the incumbent justice on his own (his direct campaign contribution was only $1,000). Benjamin could not control the independent spending, and, as any campaign consultant knows, independent ads can backfire.

Benjamin won by more than a six point margin, he was endorsed by all but one major state newspaper and the losing incumbent justice made a damaging speech before the election. Additionally, businessmen on both sides of the “v.” in the case contributed money to groups active in the judicial race.

In Caperton the Court created a new “probability of bias” standard. Dissenting justices warned of a flurry of recusal motions soon to come — possibly inviting political gamesmanship to 39 states with judicial elections.

Chief Justice John Roberts raised no less than 40 questions that will now be used as grounds for recusal motions in the 39 states with judicial elections — opening up the judiciary to political gamesmanship and festering questions about what exactly the Court’s new “probability of bias” standard means. The Center for Competitive Politics asked similar questions in its friend-of-the-court brief in this case: How much money is too much money? Does the standard apply to associations like the plaintiff’s bar or the institutional press? Does the standard apply in reverse, creating a “debt of hostility” against those who advocated against a judge?

Thankfully, the Court emphasized the one-time nature of its ruling (it has protected First Amendment rights in judicial elections in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White), which probably means it’s the Bush v. Gore of campaign finance law. The ruling also resembles Jacobellis v. Ohio, the famous 1964 decision setting an obscenity standard: “I know it when I see it,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote.

State courts now face a period of confusion while 39 states determine what “it” is in potential judicial bias.

(cross-posted at The Hill‘s Congress Blog)

Filed Under: Blog

Reaction to today’s Supreme Court ruling in Caperton

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today created a murky “probability of bias” standard that has ominous implications for free speech in judicial elections.

CCP’s release on the decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. is here.

For background reading on the case, read our op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the case and past blog postings on the issue.

For an opposing take, Rick Hasen also has analysis here.


Filed Under: Blog

Contribution limits and the wealthy candidate

The Hill reported last week that both Democratic and Republican Senate campaign committees are trying to recruit top-notch candidates for the 2010 election – top-notch in this case often meaning “not hampered by too-low contribution limits.”

From the article:

With potentially competitive Senate races forming in the seven most populous states in the union, the scope of campaign finance could reach new heights in 2010.

Much is yet to be decided – specifically, whether Republicans actually land top candidates in mega-states like California, Illinois and New York – but even if only a few races pan out in the country’s biggest states, the tab on the 2010 election is set to be enormous.

That could result in parties being more selective with regard to what states they spend money in; raising more funds; trying to recruit self-funding candidates, or a combination of the three…

Click here to read more about contribution limits and wealthy candidates

Filed Under: Blog

Supreme Court creates limited ‘bias’ standard

The Supreme Court released its ruling today in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., creating a murky “probability of bias” standard that has ominous implications for free speech in judicial elections.

The Center for Competitive Politics filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, which was argued in March.

“The Supreme Court has created a novel ‘probability of bias’ standard that is wholly unworkable,” said Center for Competitive Politics Chairman Bradley A. Smith. “The Court has given no guidance on how judges should interpret potential biases, so this ruling will have a chilling effect on citizens engaging in independent speech.”

Filed Under: Press Releases

Tiananmen Square and the importance of the First Amendment

Twenty years ago today, the People’s Liberation Army of China began their assault on the peaceful protesters of Tiananmen square, guilty of no crime other than that of holding a view contrary to the “authorized” ideology of those in power.

Outside of my office, positioned in such a way that every time I look up from my desk I see it, is a picture apparently taken the following day (the caption says June 5, 1989). The picture, famous around the world, is a picture of a man standing in a road, with tanks rolling towards him.

I keep this picture in CCP’s offices to remind us, and make the point to our visitors, of just how terrible it can be to live in a country without a First Amendment, without the right to challenge those in power, and without the opportunity to speak one’s mind on issues of the day free of government barrier and sanction.

While there is little to suggest that the self-styled campaign finance “reform” community is eager to roll tanks over those who dare to dissent from the approved political orthodoxy and ideology that most “reformers” share, the fundamental premises of “reformers” is little different than that of the men who ordered the soldiers into Tiananmen Square, ordered them to open fire on unarmed civilians who thought they should be able to speak freely and dissent from the party line.

Click here to read more about campaign finance “reform” and Tiananmen Square

Filed Under: Blog

Expansion of taxpayer financed campaigns fails in North Carolina

A bill to expand taxpayer funded campaigns to more cities in North Carolina is likely dead for the rest of the legislative session as it was referred back to a Senate committee today after failing to receive support in the chamber.

“It’s encouraging that this misguided idea of expanding taxpayer financed political campaigns in North Carolina appears to have failed,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “The ‘matching fund’ provisions in the bill would unconstitutionally penalize donors to privately-funded candidates merely because they choose to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and association, and similar programs in other states have failed to deliver the changes promised by advocates.”

Filed Under: Blog, North Carolina

Connecticut Lobbying Regulations v. The Catholic Church

The online version of The American Spectator reports today on the efforts of the Connecticut Office of State Ethics (OSE) to investigate and penalize the Diocese of Bridgeport for having the temerity to exercise at least four of the five sections of the First Amendment (religion, speech, assembly, petition). The story makes us very pleased that we led the fight against so-called “grassroots lobbying” regulations  that were stripped out of legislation that passed Congress in 2007, because it would have enabled exactly the type of harassment and abuse that appears to be going on here.

From the story by Lisa Fabrizio:

It seems that our Diocese of Bridgeport — which in March was forced to marshal the faithful to defend itself from unconstitutional government interference — was notified by the Connecticut Office of State Ethics that it is under investigation for possible violations of the state’s lobbying laws.

Click here to read more

Filed Under: Blog, Connecticut

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