CPAC retrospective

The Conservative Political Action Conference was once again, the greatest conservative shindig of the year, complete with cigar chomping and scotch sipping, a guy in a fat suit, Jimmy “The Rent is too Damn High” McMillan, and professional protesters with pithy signs outside making a media-friendly ruckus.

Within the hallowed halls of the Woodley Marriott, CCP had its very own panel discussion, consisting of host Dan Backer, Chairman Brad Smith, campaign finance attorney Steve Hoersting, CCP of counsel advisor Benjamin Barr, and legal director Allen Dickerson.

The panel addressed many of the recent developments in campaign finance law and addressed some ways in which grassroots groups could benefit from it.

The panel agreed they see a brighter future for campaign freedom coming. Dickerson mentioned that the SEC has lost a number of decisions in the past three years due to a barrage of first amendment cases being brought to court, and sloppy rule-making on the part of the SEC. Among them, Business Roundtable et. al. v. SEC, whereby the DC circuit court bench-slapped the SEC on proxy access rules, blasting the agency for adopting “arbitrary and capricious rules” with apparently little consideration for public comments.

The panel’s host, campaign finance attorney Dan Backer, said he foresaw higher campaign finance contribution limits and better indexing to inflation; U.S. v. Danielczyk, on which CCP was amicus, was expected to have an impact; and the continued paralysis of the FEC keeping the skies clear. Smith and Dickerson added they don’t expect the brewing movement to force 501(c)(4) disclosure to gain much steam in the near future.

Mr. Hoersting added that Super PACs have indeed had an impact on this election season; the GOP nomination, he indicated, would have likely been “sewn up weeks ago,” if not for the impact of SpeechNow/Citizens United. These have indeed been brighter days for the underdog candidate; Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have all benefited from the support of Super PACs, getting their messages out to audiences who otherwise might never have heard them and keeping the GOP race hotly contested.

According to Mr. Barr, “if Super PACs are the apocalypse… the four horsemen are right here.”

Some hours after the panel, I spoke with a former advisor to President Reagan, who seemed horrified when I brought up the term “Super PAC,” and proceeded to give me a lecture on the evil inherent in such an entity. He also incorrectly stated that they only disclose their donors once per year (according to FEC data, most disclose quarterly, while some opt for monthly). Clearly, even among conservatives, there is much work to be done to protect free speech.

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