Featuring Allen Dickerson, Aaron Ross Powell, and Trevor BurrusAllen Dickerson joins us to talk about First Amendment rights when it comes to funding campaigns. What does it mean to have an undue influence on an election?
By Matt NeseThe reason behind these changes is clear. As academic research and studies by the Center for Competitive Politics have shown, contribution limits have no impact on reducing corruption, promoting “good” government, or improving trust in government, but do have an impact in terms of reducing the amount of political speech. Academic research also demonstrates that campaign cash and legislative votes are not linked.Understanding how contribution limits distort election campaigns helps explain why states without limits have fared as well or better than states with low limits in state rankings on corruption and good governance measurements. Many people wrongly assume that in the absence of financial contributions, all citizens would have equal access to candidates. In reality, established interests (including trade associations, labor unions, the media, well-organized public interest groups, celebrities, and established political players) already have an overwhelming advantage in access to elected officials. Thus, contribution limits serve to stifle the voice of the average citizen while doing little to hinder the influence of those who already hold political sway.Ultimately, this is because contribution limits infringe upon the free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. While courts have upheld many limits on contributions as constitutional due to a government interest in combating corruption or the appearance of corruption, there is broad agreement that limits on campaign contributions harm the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, now that evidence proves that contribution limits do not reduce corruption, produce “good” government, or increase trust in government, citizens and policymakers alike have recognized that the logic underlying contribution limits is weak at best. Limiting free speech rights should not be undertaken lightly, even when it is constitutionally permissible to do so. Many state legislators now realize that raising or eliminating limits entirely better conforms to the First Amendment, and therefore better fulfills every lawmaker’s commitment to upholding the Constitution. For Utah legislators to impose contribution limits on the citizens of Utah in the face of the above research and national trends would be antithetical to both common sense and the First Amendment.
By Ajit Pai and Lee GoodmanFollowing these deadlocks, the FEC held a hearing this month on Internet regulation and other issues. About 5,000 citizens submitted comments urging the FEC to keep its hands off the Internet. Three former FEC commissioners and five nonprofit groups testified that the Internet should not be regulated. Even “a little” regulation, they maintained, would suppress significant amounts of political speech — for no compelling reason. Significantly, as one former FEC commissioner testified, a decade of free Internet speech has not given rise to corruption. Freedom has served us well.The bottom line is that Internet freedom works. It is difficult to imagine where we would be today had the government micromanaged the Internet for the past two decades as it does Amtrak and the U.S. Postal Service. Neither of us wants to find out where the Internet will be two decades from now if the federal government tightens its regulatory grip. We don’t need to shift control of the Internet to bureaucracies in Washington. Let’s leave the power where it belongs — with the American people. When it comes to Americans’ ability to access online content or offer political speech online, there isn’t anything broken for the government to “fix.” To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, Internet regulation isn’t the solution to a problem. Internet regulation is the problem.
By Nick CorasanitiRepublican groups are not waiting for Hillary Rodham Clinton to announce her campaign for president to begin attacking it.The latest example: a cut-for-television ad from American Crossroads, the Republican “super PAC,” criticizing the Clinton Foundation for taking money from foreign governments, after an article in The Wall Street Journalraised questions about the practice.
By Rishawn BiddleThe Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust alleges in its 109-page complaint that the DNC, Democratic political campaigns, and progressive outfits such as the notoriously-shadowy Democracy Alliance, through the efforts of former Clinton Administration honcho Harold Ickes’ Catalist LLC and NGP Van (which manages the DNC’s databases), are sharing voter lists, fundraising information, and other data for their congressional and presidential election campaigning. By selling such data at below-market rates to political campaigns and to advocates alike — as well as through the presence of prominent Democratic Party in financing Catalist and Democracy Alliance — Democrats are essentially coordinating political and advocacy activities.Such coordination between 501(c)3 nonprofits (which are supposed to be focused on pure advocacy), Super-PACs, 501(c)4 groups, and political campaigns (the latter three engaged in explicit political campaigning) is a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which is supposed to be a firewall against such activities. There’s also the possibility that such coordination may also violate federal tax laws, especially since 501(c)3s are restricted from anything other than advocacy. [The fact that much of political advocacy ends up resembling lobbying in practice is another matter entirely.]For now, neither NEA nor AFT have been named by FACT in its complaint. But the two unions have plenty to sweat about. After all, as Dropout Nation reported in November, the Big Two have spent the past few years building close ties to Democracy Alliance, which has worked aggressively to dodge the firewalls between advocacy and political campaigning.
By Lee Drutman and Steven TelesAmerica’s political institutions are suffering from profound decay. The political parties—especially the Republicans—have become so constrained by their activists and addicted to short-term one-upmanship that they are incapable of governing together. At the same time, the political power of the very wealthy and organized business interests has reached levels that undermine our legitimate expectations that the political system should be able to solve big problems and generate shared prosperity.These twin phenomena are part of the same basic pathology—the capture of our governing institutions by concentrated interests and the weakening of the structures that aggregate and balance public preferences and channel expertise toward workable consensus.They also have a similar cause: more than three decades of disinvesting in government’s capacity to keep up with skyrocketing numbers of lobbyists and policy institutes, well-organized partisans, and an increasingly complex social and legal context. Instead, policymakers have increasingly turned to the information and analytical capacity provided for them by those with the biggest material and ideological stakes in the outcome. This dependence has created a power asymmetry crisis that has been quietly building for almost four decades.Like many crises, it has been allowed to build because it has escaped our attention. Political reform advocates have largely ignored it, in large part because it doesn’t fit into the keep-the-money-out-of-politics narrative that has gripped the political reform community since Watergate. The classic political reform move is to deflate the pressure that powerful interests can bring to bear on government by reducing their campaign spending, or to counter that pressure by getting the elusive saviors of our democracy—“the people” or “moderate voters”—to pay attention and demand accountability, or even just to show up to vote. Yet it’s hard to escape the conclusion that these strategies have failed.
By Bob BauerStill, this study and others are useful reminders of a confusion in the campaign finance debate—the difference between conceptions of a healthy electoral process and worries about the corruption of government. It is not necessary to the importance of donors or spenders that they be clearly able to “buy elections.” It should be enough that their spending might sway the choice of the campaign issues raised and debated and determine the competitiveness of candidates associated with particular policy positions. This is not a question of the effect of their money on government, but on the electoral process itself.This shifting emphasis in the reform debate, now on government and then on campaigns, has produced critiques and proposals aimed more at the quality of campaigns than at the integrity of government. Reform measures include initiatives to contain “attack ads”, or the requirement of debates as a condition of public financing, or curbs on “outside group” or Super PAC activity to secure more accountability from candidates and parties for the dominant messages of the campaign period. The “stand by your ad” rule for advertising is a sterling expression of these calls for better, healthier, more productive campaigns. Some states administer codes to policy the accuracy of campaign statements. The case made for any of these measures need not involve or depend upon the effectivenessof heavy campaign spending in deciding outcomes.
By Tory NewmyerBut here’s the strange twist in the saga: For all the billions spent and the K Street swagger, for all the crab-cake receptions, phone-bank blitzes, and hallway huddles, for all the giveaways gotten and special deals secured, corporate America as a whole didn’t get any of the major items on its legislative wish list. None. As in zero.
By Jack Gillum and Stephen BraunThe expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors’ planes since mid-2011.The AP tracked Schock’s reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman’s penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock’s office and campaign records.
The four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance a referral asking voters to eliminate the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. The proposal would use the commission’s funding to support schools. That’s about $8.5 million a year, collected from a surcharge on civil and criminal fines, civil penalties paid by candidates and small contributions candidates must collect to qualify for public funding.The voter referral sponsored by Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, along with Senate President Andy Biggs and Rep. J.D. Mesnard, would land on the ballot in 2016 if the full Senate and House vote in favor of SCR1001.Pierce said more than 15 years after voters created public campaign financing, it’s time to give them a chance to re-evaluate Clean Elections.“I think it’s fair to ask the voters to re-evaluate the program and have them decide whether they want to spend money on politicians running for office or would they rather have the revenue and the funds going into education and classrooms,” he said Thursday.
By Scott ThistleAUGUSTA, Maine — Nonprofit organizations that spend money on political campaigns in Maine could be required to disclose their donors under a bill proposed by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton.Saviello’s proposed legislation targets what many consider a flaw in Maine’s campaign finance disclosure laws and also looks to tackle the issue of so-called “dark money” in politics.Saviello presented his bill Monday to the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance laws in Maine.
By Mike DennisonHELENA – The bill to require public reporting of so-called “dark money” in Montana campaigns narrowly advanced Monday evening, as a Senate committee voted 4-3 to send the measure to the Senate floor.Senate Bill 289, sponsored by Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, is one of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s major goals this Legislature, revising state law to require more frequent reporting of campaign money and force disclosure by certain political groups that currently avoid such reporting.