By Luke WachobCampaign finance disclosure laws are supposed to empower citizens to monitor elected officials. But today, we increasingly hear calls for disclosure laws that would do the opposite: afford those in power the ability to monitor the beliefs and activities of the citizens they serve.According to The Buffalo News editorial, “Disclosure of political contributions is a fundamental check on government,” dark money allows anonymous contributions to nonprofits for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate or issue.However, all contributions of more than $200 to federal candidates are publicly disclosed, including the contributor’s name, address, occupation and employer. In addition, contributions to political parties, PACs and super PACs are also fully disclosed over similarly small thresholds. In New York, all contributors who give more than $99 to statewide and legislative candidates are disclosed.
By Jon CassidyAs long as there is privacy in politics, even way out at the margins, such as with some home school coalition that mails out endorsements by newsletter, then the progressives will call it a hiding place for subversive elements and dark money. This is why their movement is coming to resemble the Inquisition.The first victims of the Inquisition were the heretic Waldensians, proto-Protestants who insisted on Biblical primacy and rejected the supremacy of the Pope and his priestly hierarchy. Much the same, the new heretics are those groups who insist on Constitutional primacy and reject presumptuous authorities and their self-serving doctrines written in strange tongues.The Center for Competitive Politics, along with the Institute for Justice, is one of the leading national advocates for the heretics, challenging state authority to go rummaging through the papers and donation records of private associations that have little or nothing to do with the campaigns of elected officials. So it’s fitting that California Attorney General Kamala Harris, on no more textual authority than Torquemada had in the Bible, is demanding that CCP turn over donor records filed in confidence with the Internal Revenue Service. Federal law specifically prohibits state authorities from accessing the 501(c)(3) donor records kept by the IRS, but Harris is demanding them anyway from CCP and Americans for Prosperity, one of the free market advocacy groups associated with Charles and David Koch.
By Jon CassidyBoth cite a well-known Supreme Court case that held it was unconstitutional to impose that sort of regulation on mildly political groups “who occasionally make independent expenditures on behalf of candidates,” because it makes “engaging in protected speech a severely demanding task.”The Lake Travis Citizens Council, which has a budget of just over $2,000, says that it decided not to run a Facebook ad “to advocate for more recreational fields for children to service Lakeway’s rapidly growing population because the $75 dollar disbursement would have subjected the Citizens Council to the State’s burdensome political committee regime.”This is the essence of “dark money” regulation. It takes rules meant to keep politicians honest and applies them to ordinary citizens, forcing them to maintain and publish exhaustive reports on their activities and finances in perpetuity.“The only reason that there’s disclosure required of candidates and officeholders is that the power of the sword rests with these guys,” Sullivan said. “What power does the Home School Coalition have? They can’t regulate anyone, they can’t tax anyone, they can’t imprison anyone. The only thing they have is the power to speak.”
By Kenneth P. VogelYet the power of the ultra-rich was also ironically highlighted by Mayday’s own fundraising. It yielded a total of $3 million from just seven donors, most of whom made POLITICO’s top 100 list — LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman (who ranked No. 64, gave $1 million to Mayday and another $60,000 to various Democratic and liberal committees), Napster co-founder Sean Parker (No. 43; $500,000 to Mayday and $1.1 million to a mix of liberal and conservative committees), Boston investor Vin Ryan (No. 70; $500,000 to Mayday and $400,000 to liberal candidates and groups), billionaire heiress Pat Stryker (No. 52; $300,000 to Mayday and $1 million to liberals) and retired shoe executive Arnold Hiatt (No. 98; $250,000 to Mayday and $500,000 to liberals).In the end, Mayday PAC suffered embarrassing disappointment in 2014, winning only two out of eight races in which it played. “Obviously, 2014 makes it hard to be optimistic about it in any immediate term,” Lessig said, “but the democracy fails unless we change this system, so I am confident that eventually we’ll figure out how to make this change happen.”Top conservative donors and their representatives dismissed liberal concerns about the expansion of big money in politics as hypocritical and lacking in context. More than twice as much money was spent on Halloween this year — $7.4 billion — as on federal elections — $3.67 billion — one donor representative pointed out.
We crunch a lot of numbers at the Center for Public Integrity. These are some from 2014 that stand out
When the history of the Securities & Exchange Commission’s pay-to-play rule is written, 2014 could be the inflection point. Developments this year suggest two dramatically different paths for the rule in the years to come: either the rule will unravel from court challenges or it will become an increasingly prominent enforcement weapon in the SEC’s arsenal.In August, two state Republican party committees sued the SEC, alleging that that the pay-to-play rule unlawfully restricted the ability of Republicans in those states to contribute to some federal candidates and unlawfully limited the ability of some federal Republican candidates to receive contributions to which they were otherwise entitled. The complaint alleged that the pay-to-play rule exceeded the SEC’s authority under the Adviser’s Act, conflicted with the Federal Election Campaign Act, and violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In September, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. dismissed the case on procedural grounds, arguing that it had been filed in the wrong court and expressed skepticism as to whether the political parties had standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place. That case is now on appeal before the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. Despite the setback, if litigation is ultimately successful, the constitutionally dubious rule would be dealt a major blow.
By Eric LichtblauWASHINGTON — It was one of Capitol Hill’s most salacious scandals, featuring a senator’s affair with a campaign aide, an outraged husband, tens of thousands of dollars in hush money, illicit lobbying deals with Las Vegas power brokers and a dramatic intervention by a leading Christian ministry.Now, three years after the fall of former Senator John E. Ensign of Nevada, thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents reveal new details about the evidence the F.B.I. gathered against Mr. Ensign, who briefly flirted with running for president in 2012. The documents, which show that Mr. Ensign’s behavior was more brash than known at the time, also offer new specifics about why the Justice Department decided not to prosecute Mr. Ensign despite an aggressive F.B.I. investigation into the scandal.