By Ashley Balcerzak
“The data compiled in Commissioner Ravel’s report are misleading and do not accurately reflect the state of enforcement decisions at the FEC,” Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman wrote OpenSecrets Blog in an email. “I assume that Commissioner Ravel has manipulated her statistics purposely in order to advance her philosophical narrative that First Amendment rights should be severely restricted.”…
“Ann has been a determined voice for regulation of First Amendment rights and I wish her well in private life after the commission,” Goodman said. “I expect her to remain engaged in the important debate that has animated our time on the commission together.”…
“What is striking to me is that she tends to lay the blame exclusively on Republican commissioners for the gridlock and they don’t take any responsibility,” said Eric Wang, campaign finance attorney and former FEC Republican staffer. “Ann Ravel’s eagerness to take her grievances against her colleagues to the press has not been helpful to the animosity and alleged dysfunction at the FEC.”
By Ashley Balcerzak
By Eric Wang
Senate Bill 255 appears to require an “independent expenditure committee” to file ongoing campaign finance reports as a political “committee” – commonly known as “PAC.” The bill’s extreme ambiguity on this point is, in and of itself, a fatal flaw. What is clear is that the bill intends to publicly out the donors to such groups – even if their donations were completely unrelated to any political purpose. Names, addresses and employer information would have to be reported not only for donors, but also for a group’s employees and vendors.
“Not surprisingly,” the Post and Courier editorial noted approvingly, the state officials pushing this bill are ones whose legislative initiatives advocacy groups have opposed. We fail to see the virtue here. Yes, it is “not surprising” that certain public officials would lash out at citizen groups that do not fall in line with those officials’ agendas. But far from promoting ethics, a bill to intimidate those groups into silence is a recipe for more corruption.
Citizens who want to know donors’ identities are free to discount messages from groups that do not provide that information. Forcing disclosure, however, deprives citizens of the chance to hear from groups that would be silenced by bills like SB 255.
By Eric Wang
For both policy and administrative reasons, most laws must set thresholds below which they do not apply. If every time someone acting below a regulated threshold prompts someone else to advocate lowering the threshold, the law’s scope will constantly expand until everything is regulated. This is both socially undesirable and practically untenable.
Indeed, we see this ill-advised trend in proposals to expand the federal and state lobbying laws, and many of which states have implemented. Last year the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics decided to regulate certain public relations consultants as lobbyists. After a wave of protest and litigation, brought in part by the Center for Competitive Politics on behalf of PR firms, the state legislature acted to reign in JCOPE’s overreach…
Many state and municipal lobbying laws and regulatory agencies also purport to impose no minimum threshold for lobbyist registration. In Missouri, the Center for Competitive Politics is representing Ronald Calzone, a concerned citizen who merely shared his views on proposed legislation with state legislators, against the Missouri Ethics Commission’s charges that he failed to register as a lobbyist.
By Brad Johnson
Eric Wang, a special counsel in election law in Washington, D.C., warned about the measure before the election in a detailed brief written on behalf of the Center for Competitive Politics. His group did not recommend how to vote, but simply tried to present the facts.
The measure, he said, makes more than 70 changes to South Dakota’s elections law. It greatly restricts freedom of personal and commercial speech, severely restricts campaign contributions and creates a government reporting burden that may not “survive a constitutional challenge in litigation. “This could result in substantial legal fee payments by the state to successful plaintiffs under federal civil rights laws.”…
It “would enact expansive new disclaimer, reporting, and compelled speech requirements for anyone – even an individual – who spends even a minimal amount communicating about issues of public concern.”
This requirement, he said, “would deter and punish the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
Often derided (unfairly) as “dark money groups” because they are not required to disclose their donors, 501(c)(4) organizations like Our Revolution are legally permitted to engage in all of these activities under current tax law. However, a sitting U.S. senator’s involvement in such a group is unusual and raises several knotty campaign finance and congressional ethics issues.
The campaign finance laws explicitly recognize only two types of “political committees” that may be “established, financed, maintained or controlled” by a federal candidate or elected official: a campaign committee and a leadership PAC. Both are subject to contribution limits and source prohibitions that generally do not apply to 501(c)(4) groups.
Any other type of entity that is established, financed, maintained, or controlled by a federal candidate or officeholder is also subject to federal contribution limits and prohibitions if it engages in any activity “in connection with an election for federal office,” certain federal election activities, or even activity in connection with state or local candidate elections.
Eric Wang Meanwhile, a Sanders supporter recently demonstrated that the current campaign finance laws are already so burdensome that even relatively sophisticated Americans cannot comply with them. Ironically, despite the resentment Sen. Sanders has unfairly stoked against the Citizens United decision, this corporate supporter “feeling the Bern” ran smack into multiple legal obstacles that prevent […]
Eric Wang The Citizens United and Wisconsin Right to Life rulings made it possible for advocacy groups today to put the heat of public opinion on senators and presidential candidates to confirm or block Supreme Court nominees, and to push this as a campaign issue. Ironically, many of the same groups exercising their speech rights […]
Eric Wang If Mr. Jolly is correct that members spend too much time fundraising because of the campaign finance laws, it is not for the reason he thinks. When the federal contribution limits were originally enacted in 1974, an individual could give $1,000 per election to a candidate, and a PAC could give $5,000 per […]
Eric Wang The Brennan Center further objects that “limiting disclosure to groups that run ads explicitly asking viewers to vote for or against a candidate means that the vast majority of super PAC and other outside spending will stay in the shadows.” To the contrary, the legislation requires super PACs to “make full reports…of all […]
Eric Wang During the New Deal era, agents of the Democratic administration coerced federal contractors benefiting from the government spending splurge to “purchase” political books at wildly inflated prices as a condition for continuing to receive lucrative government contracts. In response to this blatant shakedown, Congress amended the Hatch Act ethics law in 1940 to […]