Young voters and the small donor non-‘revolution’

Brennan Center for Justice grant writer Nate Frentz published a piece yesterday on Salon.com entitled “Protect young voters — save campaign finance reform.” Frentz bemons the potential impact of the upcoming decision in Citizens United v. FEC, worrying a decision affirming free speech rights would disenfranchise young voters. He speaks of the record number of voters in the 18-30 age bracket, and of the so-called “small-donor revolution” in the 2008 election, which Obama ethics lawyer Norm Eisen hilariously compared to the American revolution.

Frentz cites a Campaign Finance Institute study showing that “all small donors of any age account for only 6 to 22 percent of the funds collected by Democratic and Republican senatorial candidates,” but leaves out a huge CFI study that contradicts his next point about the “small-donor revolution.”

Apparently, the word revolution also does not carry a particularly strong implication in Frentz’s mind, as the percentage of Obama’s funds coming from small donors was 26 percent, while in 2004 President Bush’s campaign received 25 percent of its donations from small donors, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Filed Under: Blog

The Brennan Center for Hypocrisy

Brennan Center for Justice Hypocrisy attorney Ciara Torres-Spelliscy has posted a draft of a paper, “Corporate Political Spending & Shareholders’ Rights: Why the U.S. Should Adopt the British Approach” (via Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog). We’ve addressed the merits of this specific policy question in the Citizens United v. FEC case, but what’s stunning about this topic is the hypocrisy of “reform” groups like the Brennan Center, which accept copious corporate contributions to further their regulatory agenda with no regard to shareholders’ rights.

I hereby offer this challenge to the Brennan Center: Considering the Brennan Center’s stance on shareholders’ rights, the Brennan Center should stop accepting corporate contributions unless a corporation can certify that its shareholders support the mission and agenda of the Brennan Center. The Brennan Center should further scour its past corporate contributions and return those from corporations whose shareholders cannot affirm support for the Brennan Center. Finally, the Brennan Center, like most 501(c)3 organizations, exercises its rights to keep its donors anonymous. If it really believes it’s B.S. shareholders’ protection argument, it should disclose every corporate contribution to the Brennan Center.

On Monday, Nov. 16 the Brennan Center is hosting its annual Legacy Awards Dinner 2009. Guess who they’re honoring? Nicole Seligman, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Sony Corporation. I hope the Sony Corporation isn’t availing itself of the opportunity to sponsor the Brennan Center by buying a $10,000 to $50,000 table at the dinner…

Past honorees and event chairs (and one would assume corporate donors) have included executives at The Coca-Cola Company, Citigroup, UBS Paine Webber, Inc., Pfizer, Novartis AG, NBC Universal, The Hartford Financial Services Group and The Travelers Companies, Inc. Disgraced and imprisoned trial lawyer Melvyn Weiss has frequently chaired the dinners.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog

Will EMILY’s List be appealed?

With the campaign finance community already buzzing about Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Supreme Court is expected to correct one of its more egregious errors and reverse the 19 year-old precedent of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a second bomb was dropped on September 18 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its decision in Emily’s List v. FEC.

Emily’s List doesn’t look like a big case at first glance — it merely strikes down some FEC regulations, not a federal or even a state statute. But these are not trivial regulations — 11 C.F.R. 100.57, 106.6(c) and (f) severely limit the ability of non-profit organizations such as the plaintiff EMILY’s List to raise and spend money for political purposes. Democracy 21 had once called these, “key regulations issued by the Federal Election Commission to restrict the use of soft money in federal campaigns by federal political committees and other groups, including 527 organizations.” (Caveat: When the regulations in question were first issued by the FEC, Demcracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer argued that they were all but totally worthless, telling the Los Angeles Times that the new rules wouldn’t stop soft-money groups “from blatantly violating the federal campaign finance laws.” Wertheimer statements are for press consumption to fit Democracy 21’s agenda of the moment, and are not generally intended to be taken as serious legal analysis.)

Moreover, the majority opinion by Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a tour de force of campaign finance law, the relevant Constitutional provisions and grounding, and the Supreme Court’s past opinions on the matter.  And though it finds that the regulations exceeded the FEC’s statutory authority, it also held that the regulations violate the First Amendment.

By striking the regulations, the Court makes clear that non-profits such as EMILY’s List, but also any others, can raise unlimited funds for non-federal races. The majority’s powerful reasoning has already caused the FEC to concede, in the pending appeal of a denial of an injunction to SpeechNow.org in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, that it is unlikely to succeed on the merits.

The decision has sparked much buzz as to whether or not the FEC will appeal. We don’t believe that the Agency will appeal, for the simple reason that it is hard to see how the agency can gain from an appeal — unless there is simply a desire to drag out the process, which we believe would be improper for the agency.

Filed Under: Blog

CCP issues corporate contribution ‘hypocrisy’ challenge to Brennan Center

The Center for Competitive Politics has issued a challenge to the Brennan Center for Justice, based at the New York University School of Law, to disclose and reject all corporate contributions that don’t carry a waiver from shareholders supporting the agenda of the Brennan Center in advance of its corporate-studded fund-raising gala.

Filed Under: Press Releases

A Belated Comment on Bauer’s Critique of Justice Kennedy

The Citizens United case is submitted, and, yet, the editorial pages and others continue to opine.  Perhaps, then, there is time to consider an earlier, erroneous, critique by Bob Bauer.

Filed Under: Blog

Professor Winkler Weighs in on Citizens United

These are troubling times in the campaign finance “reform” camp. The reform camp is increasingly placing its hope, and public relations efforts in  the case of Citizens United v. FEC on the idea that the Court should not disturb longstanding precedent.  During oral argument, we at CCP were tickled when Chief Justice John Roberts brought Seth Waxman up short when Waxman began the “100 years of history meme.” 

Roberts’ weapon? A brief filed by CCP Advisor Allison Hayward and other campaign finance scholars that deconstructed the Court’s longstanding “history” of reform first developed by Justice Frankfurter in the UAW case over 50 years ago.  This week, on his popular Election Law blog, Prof. Hasen has gone so far as to seek out others to rebuff the scholars’ brief filed in the Citizens United challenge, including Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA.

Toward the end of correcting “misconceptions,” law Professor Winkler (no relation to the Fonz), provided some helpful material. Prof. Winkler has spent several years researching and writing on corporate political speech and written important law review pieces on the origination of the 1907 Tillman Act banning corporate contributions to campaigns.  What is most worth noting, though, is the broad agreement reached between Winkler and the scholars’ brief filed by Prof. Hayward. Prof. Winkler does not raise any noticeable disagreement with the scholars’ brief, other than to note that in his personal estimation the desire to protect shareholders is very important.

Filed Under: Blog

Super Ethics Man saves the day, defeats Lex Lobbyist

Norm Eisen, President Obama’s scold-in-chief Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, posted an item on the White House blog today announcing that the administration has finally transformed Washington into a corruption-free utopia asked executive agencies and departments to refrain from appointing anyone who is a federally-registered lobbyist to agency advisory boards and commissions.

As Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has pointed out, this policy would allow people from the same organizations that employ lobbyists to take these seats, begging the question: if this policy is really about reducing special interest influence, what exactly is the difference between a lobbyist for firm X and a lawyer for firm X? Does registering as a lobbyist suddenly bestow one with black magic power to influence government officials?

In the same Roll Call story, Sloan suggested the policy would only accomplish the Obama administration’s goal of “buttress[ing] its ‘anti-lobbyist rhetoric.'”

Filed Under: Blog

CCP sends letter to Obama advisor Eisen on administration’s censorship of critics

The Center for Competitive Politics sent a letter today to Obama advisor Norm Eisen on the administration’s recent order censoring Humana and other critics of a congressional health care proposal. Our release is here. The letter is here.

Filed Under: Blog

‘Reformers’ v. Reality after EMILY’s List decision

Last week’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in EMILY’s List v. FEC is unmatched in its clear and forceful defense of the First Amendment in politics. If the tone of the re-argument in Citizens United v. FEC didn’t put groups that support broad, burdensome campaign finance regulations on notice that the federal courts are resurrecting political free speech rights, EMILY’s List sent the message loud and clear (cleverly topping it off with footnotes from “reform” allies).

Roll Call ($) reported yesterday that the FEC is weighing an appeal. If the FEC passes, Solicitor General Elena Kagan could decide to appeal as well. CCP’s earlier post on the ruling is here and our press release is here.

The ruling, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, nullified the $5,000 cap on contributions to nonprofits and restrictions on ads mentioning federal candidates requiring the full costs of such ads to be paid for using “hard money” subject to such limits. The Court held that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence has only allowed campaign finance regulations to prevent corruption, which clearly did not apply to the contributions to and independent expenditures of non-profit organizations.

Filed Under: Blog

CCP sends letter to Obama advisor Eisen on censorship of critics

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) sent a letter today to Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, concerning the recent actions by President Obama’s administration to silence certain critics of a congressional health care proposal.

“The First Amendment does not permit the government to censor its opponents in any political or policy debate,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “In crafting public policy, it’s essential that the government not stifle citizens who express differences on how certain proposals might affect them. The right to petition government is not subject to veto by the government.”

Filed Under: Press Releases

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