Scott Blackburn, Research Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics, discusses the effects of campaign-finance regulations on free political speech and participation, and how not even reformers can follow campaign-finance laws.
The 2015 proxy season is underway and all indications suggest that it will be another record-breaking year for the number of proposals targeting companies on their corporate political spending and lobbying activities. In 2014, political and lobbying disclosure comprised 22% of all shareholder proposals with 86 that went to a vote. Meanwhile, the Fortune 250 has seen proposals targeting these activities increase by 120% since 2010.The dramatic increase in these proposals can be traced back to the often-misunderstood Citizens United ruling five years ago. Responding to unsubstantiated fears that corporations would unleash spending to achieve their public policy goals, liberal groups and social activist investors implemented a campaign to ultimately defund business groups and trade associations through the levers of Corporate Governance. Instead of debating the merits of public policy on the playing field of ideas they have resorted to a playbook of name and shame tactics that follow on the heels of a virtuous plea for more disclosure.Behind this campaign is a tight-knit community of liberal policy groups such as the Center for Political Accountability, Committee for Economic Development and their social investor partners including Green Century Capital, Walden Asset Management, Trillium Asset Management, the Clean Yield Group, As You Sow Foundation, Northstar Asset Management, Domini Social Investments, and several other Union-backed and Religious Pension funds. In fact in 2014 activist investors and organized labor submitted a staggering 91% of the Fortune 250 proposals. These are groups with a political agenda unrelated to the economic vitality of the companies they invest in.
By John D. McKinnon“Americans should never feel silenced or threatened by their own government,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill), a House sponsor. “And yet the [proposed] IRS regulations targeting tax-exempt organizations would clamp down on political engagement, impeding even non-partisan efforts like voter registration drives and candidate forums.”The Senate version is sponsored by GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Pat Roberts of Kansas.The IRS said it doesn’t comment on proposed legislation. The Treasury did not comment.Under the bill, the Treasury and the IRS would be prohibited for one year from finalizing their proposed regulations issued in November 2013, or otherwise changing the rules governing the nonprofits.
By Jason PlautzOn the Democratic side, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has an amendment due up that would require campaign finance disclosures from companies benefiting from the Alberta oil sands.In a floor speech Tuesday, Whitehouse made it clear that the amendment was designed to get more disclosures about the flood of so-called dark money spending from the Koch Brothers and others in the fossil-fuel industry.
By Dan BalzWalker filed papers to set up the committee, called “Our American Revival,” and a new Web site for the organization was scheduled to go live later Tuesday. The steps come after a busy weekend of pre-presidential events that included his address at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a later appearance at a gathering in California hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers and a stopover in Denver for additional fundraising.“Our American Revival encompasses the shared values that make our country great; limiting the powers of the federal government to those defined in the Constitution while creating a leaner, more efficient, more effective and more accountable government to the American people,” Walker said in a statement in the release announcing the committee.Walker’s steps come at a time when other prospective candidates are making similar moves in what has quickly become the largest prospective field of Republican candidates and the most wide open nomination contest in the modern history of the party.
By Reid WilsonThe RGA contributed $68.6 million to political action committees in dozens of states, including $18 million to a Florida committee backing Gov. Rick Scott (R), $9 million to a Massachusetts PAC that supported Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and more than $5 million to committees in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.Their Democratic counterparts spent $31.6 million on groups aimed at backing their candidates, including $6.1 million to support Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in Colorado and more than $3 million on a PAC in Connecticut. They also sent $3.7 million to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who lost his reelection bid.The man who beat Quinn, Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), and his wife, Diana, were the largest individual donors to state political campaigns. Rauner, who made his fortune in private equity, gave his own committee more than $37 million. He also contributed about another $300,000 to candidates running for the Illinois legislature.
By Philip RuckerMike Shields, the top aide at the Republican National Committee and a veteran political operative, is leaving the party committee to helm a super PAC dedicated to preserving and expanding the party’s House majority.Shields has been appointed president of both the American Action Network, a 501(c)4 organization focused on issue advocacy, and its sister super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund. Shields, who begins work at the groups next Monday, is stepping down as chief of staff at the RNC, where he is being replaced by Katie Walsh, who had been the party committee’s finance director.
By Mike VilenskyALBANY—Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan wrote to her colleagues on Wednesday that she could make history as the first female speaker of the New York state Assembly.Assemblyman Carl Heastie said he would spur an ethics overhaul if he became speaker. And Assemblyman Joseph Lentol was positioning himself as the chamber’s most experienced member.Before the dust could settle on Sheldon Silver ’s two-decade reign as Assembly speaker, Ms. Nolan, Mr. Heastie, Mr. Lentol and other Albany lawmakers began vying for his job, kicking off a two-week campaign that will hand a rank-and-file Democrat one of the state’s most influential positions.
By Michael GoodwinIf nobody suspected something amiss, Albany is the dumbest place in America. More likely, lawmakers of both parties were fine with the obvious corruption; as Bharara’s record proves, some elected crooks saw Silver as a role model and got on gravy trains of their own.For the rest, those supposedly honest public officials, their leader’s lien on their morality continued after he was busted. Only several dared call for Silver to step aside as speaker, as the vast majority showed the courage of mice, hiding and waiting for him to signal his intentions.The disgraceful silence held through the weekend. Even after Silver offered a cockamamie plan to hand his powers to a committee he would select, fewer than 20 Democrats, out of 105, challenged him.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Sheldon Silver’s 21-year reign as the speaker of the New York state Assembly is ending — a tectonic shift in state government that many reform-minded lawmakers say provides an opportunity to rewrite Albany’s political playbook.Greater transparency. Less centralized power. Technological innovations to help lawmakers share information with constituents. More input by rank-and-file lawmakers on which bills get votes and who sits on which committees.The first major changes have already been agreed to: Silver is out, and his successor will be chosen over the next two weeks.
By Jimmy Vielkind and Josefa VelasquezALBANY—State Assembly majority leader Joe Morelle will replace Sheldon Silver on Monday, taking the reins of the chamber for eight days as Democratic members continue to search for a new, permanent leader.Morelle, who represents parts of Rochester, announced the decision with dozens of his Democratic colleagues crushed behind him in the marble-clad hallway near the Assembly chamber on the Capitol’s third floor after over seven hours of private discussions.
By Rick HasenI’m sorry. I love Bob, but this reasoning will not fly. The president said that Citizens united “allowed . .. foreign corporations . . . to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.” The Court did no such thing. If the court permitted a “loophole” to open in which foreign corporations could illegally direct their U.S. subsidies to do this activity, that is not the same as the Court allowing foreign corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections. The Court acted with the knowledge that this is illegal—and Bob’s resort to the reform community’s loose argument playbook is quite ironic (given where Bob usually is on these issues.)Look, foreign money could well be coming into our elections, illegally, especially through 501(c) groups which do not disclose publicly their donors. But that could have been happening before Citizens United too. The fix for this must come from Congress or the IRS or the FEC (though I have no hope that it will).
By Bob BauerRick’s answer is that foreign national “participation” in elections would be illegal. But, as Justice Breyer stressed in McCutcheon, the issue is not what is clearly illegal but what, through “subtle” and “complex” means of circumvention, can be done to get around the rule. And here enters the doubt that many have—and that Rick has expressed on many other occasions—that the FEC can be relied on to stop these end-runs. And it is not clear why the Court would have placed any more weight in Citizens United than in McCutcheon on Congress’ willingness or ability to legislate against predictable circumvention.Neither Congressional action nor muscular FEC enforcement would be an issue if the corporate spending ban had remained in place. Now that CU has done away with it, the consequences include a risk of foreign national influence in the electoral process that did not exist before.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to tentatively approve caps on the amount of money political parties can donate to candidates for county offices.Pending a second vote, the limits would be $25,000 for supervisors races by district and $50,000 for countywide offices.When a federal judge struck down San Diego’s $1,000 cap on political contributions some years ago for being too restrictive, the county did away with its own limit, which was the same amount.The city responded in 2013 by capping political contributions for district races at $10,000 and $20,000 for citywide campaigns.