Election Law Newsletter, Sept. 2010



Filed Under: In the News

Federal agreement liberates political groups in Ohio

An agreement reached yesterday in federal court brings campaign finance law in Ohio in compliance with constitutional standards after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The consent decree approved by U.S. District Court Judge George Smith finds certain Ohio campaign finance restrictions unconstitutional. The Ohio Right to Life Society, which brought the lawsuit, as well as companies and labor unions, will now be free to use their funds for independent political speech.

“Too often, state and local officials just ignore First Amendment rights upheld by the Supreme Court,” said Bradley A. Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former Federal Election Commission chairman. “This settlement should be a reminder to state and local elections officials around the country that they cannot ignore the constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court.”

Filed Under: External Relations Press Releases, External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases

CCP poll: Voters skeptical of intrusive disclosure

The Center for Competitive Politics released the results of a national poll today showing that likely voters are deeply skeptical of proposed campaign finance disclosure regulations, think current disclosure thresholds are too low and oppose the special deals given to unions in the DISCLOSE Act.

Respondents were generally supportive of organizations’ First Amendment right to spend money on political speech, but support waned for certain groups, such as government contractors and unions. When asked several questions about specific provisions that favor unions in the DISCLOSE Act, strong majorities rejected preferential treatment for organized labor.

“Congress should scrap the DISCLOSE Act,” said Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former Federal Election Commission Chairman. “Despite wild claims of public support for the bill, it is clear that the public does not support the special treatment for unions and intrusive disclosure regime contained in the bill.”

“Americans’ views on disclosure are much more complex than ‘reform’ groups like to claim,” he said. “There is a relatively broad consensus that current disclosure thresholds are too low.”

Filed Under: Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases

Free speech in the Granite State: update on Green Mountain v. Fifth Estate

Last year I wrote about the New Hampshire case of Green Mountain Realty v. Fifth Estate Tower, a case testing whether speech by a business relating to a town election warranted First Amendment rights. As I summarized then:

The case… revolves around two competing proposals in the small New Hampshire town of Wolfeboro for cell phone tower placements. Fifth Estate had one idea about where to build a new tower, [Green Mountain Realty (GMR)] had a different idea, and the matter was to be decided in a vote of the townspeople.

…Both Fifth Estate and GMR engaged in the most basic of political speech possible – mailings, newspaper ads, radio spots, handing out fliers, and speaking out in town meetings… On election day, the voters decided against the GMR proposals (Fifth Estate’s had been previously rejected as well)…

…GMR decided to sue Fifth Estate over the content of some of their statements and mailings against the [GMR] proposal, under the theory that Fifth Estate’s statements on the matter were regulated commercial speech subject to the limitations of the state Consumer Protection Act.

Filed Under: Blog, New Hampshire

What Does Citizens United Have to Do With the Republican Spending Advantage?



Filed Under: In the News

Kentucky ruling on low contribution limits

Last week, a federal district court judge enjoined Kentucky from enforcing the $100 contribution limit applicable to campaigns for Count Boards of Elections. That’s the right decision.

The order is here. Relying on Nixon v. Shrink Missouri (not the Randall plurality, notably) the court concluded that the $100 limit was not closely tailored to achieves the state’s interest in battling corruption. The court here instead found that plaintiffs had shown the limit was so low as to “make individual contributors’ political association ineffective” and credited the evidence that large independent expenditures in school board elections have taken over. “Candidates who rely on individual donations cannot compete.”

Filed Under: Blog, Kentucky

Castle complains about out-of-state cash

Rep. Mike Castle, a Delaware Republican, is whining that his campaign is facing an onslaught of out-of-state campaign contributions and influence as voters head to the polls today for the state’s Senate primary.

Castle has singled out the California-based Tea Party Express, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina for criticism—all have endorsed his opponent. This story from Politico yesterday, “Mike Castle rips ‘out-of-state’ operation,” is representative of his lamentations.

“This has been a complete out-of-state operation, a political action committee from California, a couple people from Washington, D.C., and that’s it. It’s not been a local campaign. It’s not had local donations,” Castle said.

What’s remarkable about Castle’s claim is that (1) Castle has accepted much more out-of-state cash than his opponent, Christine O’Donnell, and (2) it’s odd that someone running for national office would gripe about people from across the country interested in the race.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Disclosure State, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act, Delaware

E.J. Dionne writes on DISCLOSE, and gets the law wrong again

In the whack-a-mole game that is putting to rest misrepresentations about existing campaign finance disclosure laws made as part of the push to pass the partisan DISCLOSE Act, E.J. Dionne is the latest mole in need of whacking.

In his September 13 column, Dionne gives us the typical horror story about spending by “front groups,” with no one knowing “who is behind the ads. 

Only one problem: existing law already requires disclosure of the funders of the ads in Dionne’s imaginary house of horrors.

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

Hayward v. Lessig

Center for Competitive Politics Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward has a piece in the Boston Review today. The article is a response to an essay by Lawrence Lessig, “Democracy After Citizens United.”

Hayward’s piece, “The Flawed Iceberg Model,” takes on Lessig’s claims about money in politics:

Lawrence Lessig’s essay takes the familiar questions surrounding private money in politics and dresses them up with new flourishes. Before, people asked, “do campaign contributions influence legislation?” Now Lessig frets about “institutional corruption” where “an influence” in “an economy of influences,” um . . . exercises influence! Furthermore, in Lessig’s analysis, political money isn’t just what is raised and spent; there’s also an “iceberg” component we can’t see, but that is part of the economy of influence. We have heard similar things before, and have learned some hard lessons about the effectiveness of trying to “reform” the competing pressures of politics. We need to remember those experiences and not be misled into thinking that somehow a new representation of an old argument voids them.

Read the whole thing here.

The Boston Review’s forum on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, featuring commentary by Lessig, Hayward, David Bossie, Will Wilkinson and others is here. More posts will be added this week.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Target Boycott Fizzles

Both Target and Best Buy have outperformed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin since MoveOn called for a boycott of the companies because of their financial support for Minnesota Forward, a pro-business group supporting Republican Tom Emmer for Governor of Minnesota.  We also see that both companies have outperformed competitor WalMart by a substantial amount, and Best Buy has also drubbed competitor Costco.  It certainly does not seem that either Target or Best Buy is suffering from having the audacity to exercise their First Amendment rights, despite predictions by the campaign finance reform lobby of a backlash.

Filed Under: Blog

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