The Michigan Auto Dealers Prosecution: Exploring The Department of Justice’s Mid-Century Posture Toward Campaign Finance Violations

In this article, Allison Hayward examines the impetus behind a 1948 decision by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute a Flint businessman for making illegal corporate contributions and the legacy of what transpired. Ultimately, lawyers on both sides questioned the legality of the “corruption” laws, and the case ended without a single conviction. The tenacity of the DOJ in its quest to make convictions is of great interest to Hayward throughout this piece, which she eventually proves was unwarranted. The results beg the question:  why weren’t campaign finance laws enforced before the Voter Registration Act of 1974? Using this case as context, Hayward thoroughly overviews campaign finance regulations before 1974 and provides an interesting look at campaign finance regulation in its infancy.

Filed Under: Enforcement, Research, Independent Speech, Jurisprudence & Litigation, Independent Speech, Jurisprudence & Litigation

Examining the Unconstitutionality of Montana’s Disclosure Laws

As political campaigns have become more expensive and sophisticated, Congress has increasingly regulated them, yet the Supreme Court has declared many aspects of that regulation unconstitutional. Recently, in Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church of East Helena, Inc. v. Unsworth, the Ninth Circuit continued this deregulatory trend by holding that Montana’s election contribution disclosure requirements were unconstitutional as applied to de minimis campaign expenditures. Though the bureaucratic disclosure requirements of the regulation at issue may chill speech, an effect that the court correctly recognized, another feature of the regulation may chill speech even more: its third-party enforcement mechanism. Because the regulation allows third parties to bring complaints of campaign rule breaking, enforcement against minor parties may spring from questionable motives, result in disproportionate burdens, and ultimately militate against the public interest. Thus, whether using the information interest regulation rationale as a pretext for harassment or for mere democracy, such third-party enforcement of campaign disclosure requirements is problematic. This enforcement is especially troublesome given such laws’ disproportionate impact on minor players. Policymakers should recognize this issue when crafting disclosure laws, perhaps by raising the floor for disclosure of contributions when disclosure is urged by a third-party complainant.

Filed Under: Disclosure, Disclosure, Research, Disclosure, Disclosure, Montana

Mowing Down the Grassroots: How Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure Suppresses Political Participation

Grassroots lobbying is any effort to organize, coordinate or implore others to contact public officials in order to affect public policy. Through grassroots lobbying, like‐minded citizens can alert elected officials to constituents’ preferences, educate fellow citizens and make their voices heard, and even persuade the public to adopt new views. In short, grassroots lobbying is quintessential representative democracy in action. However, as this report documents, sweeping lobbying laws in 36 states threaten to strangle grassroots movements in red tape and bureaucratic regulation. Twenty‐two states explicitly include grassroots lobbying in the definition of lobbying, while another 14 consider any attempt to influence public policy to be lobbying, as long as a certain amount is spent. Thus, such common activities as publishing an open letter, organizing a demonstration or distributing flyers can trigger regulation and force organizers to register with the state and file detailed reports on their activities, as well as the identities of supporters. These regulations raise the costs of political activity and set legal traps for unsuspecting citizens, thus making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to participate in politics-all with little or no benefit to the public. These findings suggest elected officials should listen to constituent concerns or debate ideas in the open, rather than mowing down the grassroots with regulation.

Filed Under: Issue Advocacy, Lobbying, Research, grassroots, lobbying, lobbyist, milyo, primo, Disclosure, Lobbying, Disclosure, Lobbying, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

New Federal Initiatives Project: Fair Elections Now Act

In this analysis piece, the authors examine the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) currently meandering its way through Congress. The article begins with a comprehensive breakdown of FENA and its components, with a focus on differentiating between the Senate and House versions of the bill. After explaining the bill, the authors reveal multiple Constitutional issues with provisions of the bill as written. This analysis sheds light on a bounty of flaws with the FENA legislation.

Filed Under: Research, Tax Financed Campaigns Research, Tax-Financing, Taxpayer Financed Campaigns, Fair elections, fair elections now, fair elections now act, FENA, Taxpayer Financed Campaigns

Campaign finance clash: experts to debate future of regulation

The Center for Competitive Politics will host a panel discussion Thurs., April 8 on Capitol Hill to address the state of campaign finance policy after Citizens United as mid-term elections approach.

Beltway publications-including Politico, The Hill and the Bureau of National Affairs-have reported that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to introduce their long-simmering campaign finance legislation soon after the congressional recess. The duo released a framework for a post-Citizens United bill in February. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) has also introduced legislation that would mandate advance shareholder approval of political spending.

A panel representing diverse interests and views will discuss the range of congressional policy options for campaign finance regulation: As other major campaign finance cases-such as v. FEC and RNC v. FEC-potentially head to the Supreme Court, are the proposals in the Schumer-Van Hollen framework constitutional? Should shareholders and labor union members be required to approve political spending? Should restrictions on candidates and parties-like contribution limits and coordination rules-be eased to allow campaigns to more effectively respond to spending by businesses, unions and other groups?

Panelists include Sean Parnell, President of the Center for Competitive Politics; Scott Thomas, Of Counsel at Dickstein Shapiro and former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission; James Portnoy, Chief Counsel of Corporate & Government Affairs at Kraft Foods, Inc. and former Democratic General Counsel of the House Administration Committee; and Meredith McGehee, Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center.

The event, from noon to 1 p.m. in Room B-340 of the Rayburn House Office Building, will be moderated by Louis Jacobson, Staff Writer for, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project of the St. Petersburg Times.

A buffet-style bag lunch will be provided. To RSVP, please e-mail Note: RSVPs will be accepted up until the event. Please RSVP as soon as possible so we can provide an accurate head count for the lunch.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending First Amendment political rights.

Filed Under: Press Releases

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