Campaign Contributions and Influence…

It’s understandable that many people think that campaign contributions are a pernicious weapon of private influence on policy.   A recent prominent report on OpenSecrets described the “mashup” of campaign contributions and earmarks.   In fact, you might even believe that eradicating private funding of campaigns would reduce the influence of special interests and their lobbyists. But according to real, live candidates in jurisdictions where tax funding is available, that isn’t the case.


Filed Under: Blog, Arizona, Maine

Twitter, Facebook in crosshairs of political speech regulators

Twitter and Facebook are great means for keeping in touch, and popular tools for political activists.  Unless… potentially… if you’re in Maryland.

The Maryland State Elections Board, in an attempt to extend disclaimer requirements to social media, is proposing new regulations that impose burdensome requirements on Maryland politicos.  Essentially, Maryland wants to treat social media like snail mail.  Their thinking must be that if a piece of political mail requires a statement declaring who paid for it and sent it, so too should these new forms of communication.

Let’s set aside for a second the whole problem of equating a Twitter feed, that a person only sees because he or she has asked for it, with unsolicited bulk mail.  Let’s also set aside the fact that social media sites already have means to check the bona fides of users, and that fraud and abuse are better handled by the ISP or service provider than by a one-size-fits-all identification requirement that applies only to Maryland political actors already subject to the state disclaimer requirement. 

The real devil is in the details.

Filed Under: Blog, Maryland

Roundup – Granite State protects First Amendment while “transparency” mongers negotiate DISCLOSE in

Late today came two developments that fans of the First Amendment should care about.

In the Live Free or Die State, the New Hampshire House of Representatives quickly shot down a bill that represented a serious assault on the First Amendment and political speech. The bill was approved by the New Hampshire Senate earlier today and would have required corporations to get the approval of their boards of directors before speaking, and also forced them to register with the state. Perhaps the best quote to come from the debate in New Hampshire was provided by Democratic State Representative James Splaine, who said:

“I find it shameful that the Senate has already approved this today, and I would be sad if the House went along,” Splaine urged. “We’re creating a bureaucracy that does very little, but create hoops and loops for groups. If all of the T’s are not crossed and all of the I’s are not dotted, they’ll be brought into court.”

A tip of the hat to Representative Splaine and all his colleagues and fellow Granite Staters who stood up for the First Amendment!

On the other hand, the right to praise or criticize politicians appears to be less valued in Congress at the moment. Also not very high on the priorities list, at least for the self-styled campaign finance “reformers” who are insisting that the DISCLOSE Act is just about “transparency,” is – well, transparency.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act, New Hampshire can speak now

In an order entered yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered a judgment declaring that, an independent group of citizens, may accept unlimited donations to support its efforts to protect the First Amendment at the ballot box.  The court also explicitly enjoined the Federal Election Commission (FEC) from enforcing contribution limits against and its prospective donors.  The order follows on the heels of the unanimous March 26, 2010 decision by the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the federal government may not limit contributions to  Yesterday’s judgment clears the way for and its supporters to begin speaking.

David Keating,’s president and treasurer said, “Now we can start our work to make the First Amendment as important to politicians as it is to all Americans.  Politicians are constantly scheming to silence their critics, and this has to stop.  This decision is a liberating moment in American politics.  Other citizens who care about other causes can now also pool their resources and make their voices heard.”

The District Court’s order did more than simply declare the limits on unconstitutional; it gave and its prospective donors the injunction they needed to speak without concern.  The FEC had opposed an injunction, arguing that the court could trust it not to enforce the law against  Notably, however, the FEC did not agree to refrain from enforcing the laws against prospective donors to who were not plaintiffs in the case.

Filed Under: Press Releases

Breaking news most people already knew: Clean Elections a flop

There is a tradition in politics of dumping bad news on Friday, when it is less likely to catch the attention of the public. Even better to push the bad news into a three day weekend, when the news is already “old news” by the time people get back to picking up the paper and paying attention.

Paying heed to tradition if nothing else, on Friday the Government Accountability Office released its updated report on Arizona and Maine’s “clean elections” programs, the latest fad in the campaign finance “reform” community. By coincidence, the subcommittee the report was released to is chaired by Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, who happens to also be the lead sponsor of the federal “clean elections” effort, called the Fair Elections Now Act.

We’re just now beginning to really examine the report, but it seems worth pointing out the summary offered by the authors:

While there was some evidence of statistically significant changes in one of the five goals of Maine’s and Arizona’s public financing programs, we could not directly attribute these changes to the programs, nor did we find significant changes in the remaining four goals after program implementation. Specifically, there were statistically significant decreases in one measure of electoral competition—the winner’s margin of victory—in legislative races in both states. However, GAO could not directly attribute these decreases to the programs due to other factors, such as the popularity of candidates, which affect electoral outcomes. We found no change in two other measures of competition, and there were no observed changes in voter choice—the average number of legislative candidates per district race. In Maine, decreases in average candidate spending in House races were statistically significant, but a state official said this was likely due to reductions in the amounts given to participating candidates in 2008, while average spending in Maine Senate races did not change. In Arizona, average spending has increased in the five elections under the program. There is no indication the programs decreased perceived interest group influence, although some candidates and interest group officials GAO interviewed said campaign tactics changed, such as the timing of campaign spending. Data limitations, including a lack of comparable measures over time, hinder analysis of changes in voter participation.

In other words, no real changes as a result of millions of taxpayer dollars dished out to political campaigns. Sounds like what we at the Center for Competitive Politics have been saying for quite some time.

Filed Under: Blog, Arizona, Maine

Campaign Finance Reform: Experience of Two States that Offered Full Public Financing for Political Candidates

GAO-10-390 Campaign Finance Reform: Experiences of Two States That Offered Full Public Funding for Political Candidates

The 2000 elections in Maine and Arizona were the first in the nation’s history where candidates seeking state legislative seats had the option to fully fund their campaigns with public monies. In 2003, GAO reviewed the public financing programs in Maine and Arizona and found the programs’ goals were to (1) increase electoral competition; (2) increase voter choice; (3) curb increases in campaign costs; (4) reduce interest group influence; and (5) increase voter participation. This report: (1) provides data on candidate participation and (2) describes changes in five goals of Maine’s and Arizona’s programs in the 2000 through 2008 elections and the extent to which changes could be attributed to the programs. To address its objectives, GAO analyzed available data about candidate participation, election outcomes, and campaign spending for the 1996 through 2008 legislative elections in both states, reviewed studies, and interviewed 22 candidates and 10 interest group officials selected to reflect a range of views. The GAO’s 2010 report concludes that the benefits supposedly derived from taxpayer financed campaigns do not occur in any way that can be shown by generally accepted techniques of analysis.

Filed Under: Research, Tax Financed Campaigns Research, Tax-Financing, Taxpayer Financed Campaigns, Taxpayer Financed Campaigns, Arizona, Maine

The Liberal Mythology of an “Activist” Court: Citizens United and Ledbetter

Opponents of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC are currently engaged in a concerted effort to redefine judicial activism. Rather than accepting the true definition of judicial activism-when a judge applies his or her own policy preferences to uphold a statute or other government action which is clearly forbidden by the Constitution-the term is being applied anytime a statute is struck down or when a court delivers an unfavorable decision. Yet, the facts of this case and an examination of the legal analysis applied by the justices in their majority opinion show that there is no merit to any of these claims. Rather, the justices followed the original meaning of the Constitution and the applicable statutes when deciding the Citizens United case. In making their decision, the justices relied on precedents set in the seminal finance cases Buckley v. Valeo and Bellotti v. First National Bank of Boston. The cynical and derisive cries of judicial activism by Citizens United‘s opponents are unfair to the justices who participated in these decisions and injure the public’s faith and confidence in the judicial system.

Filed Under: Jurisprudence & Litigation, Research, Faulty Assumptions, First Amendment, Jurisprudence & Litigation, Faulty Assumptions, First Amendment, Jurisprudence & Litigation

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