Archives for June 2009

Institute for Justice releases ‘electioneering communications’ study

Too often, campaign finance regulations are regarded as incomprehensible and inapplicable to most people’s daily lives. However, the Institute for Justice recently completed a study concerning the actual effects of “electioneering communications” restrictions on non-profit organizations and grassroots groups, and the results are troublesome to people everywhere who value First Amendment political rights.

By conducting a survey of registered non-profit organizations in Florida — which held the dubious distinction of having the broadest electioneering communications prohibition in the country (a federal district court recently struck down the law as unconstitutional) — the study aims to measure the actual impact of these laws on the day-to-day operations of small organizations.

The results are noteworthy — the reporting and disclosure requirements in these laws would, according to the non-profit survey participants, negatively affect their ability to fundraise (and, by extension, operate), communicate with members about relevant issues and more generally take valuable time away from the core missions of the groups.

The report thoroughly explains the results and is well worth the read, not to mention timely given the Supreme Court’s recent non-decision in the Citizens United case.  In fact, the study underscores the broader implications and harm these restrictive and sweeping laws inflict on core political speech.

(click here to read more)

Filed Under: Blog

No decision, but more than a hint in Citizens United

When this morning began, Supreme Court watchers expected the justices would issue their decision in the campaign finance case of Citizens United v. FEC, No. 08-205.  After all, last week, Chief Justice John Roberts had made it clear that this would be the last decision day before the High Court’s traditional summer recess.  But instead of High Court decision, campaign finance aficionados got a big surprise — Citizens United would be held over for re-argument early next September (before the Court’s next term official begins on the first Monday in October, 2009).

Specifically, the justices ordered the “Hillary: The Movie” case to be reargued to address whether “the Court [should] overrule either or both Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and a part of McConnell v. FEC, which addresses the facial validity of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.”  Quite frankly, that’s even bigger news than the decision that was widely expected to come down in favor of Citizens United today.

The re-argument order — explicitly on the issues of whether the Supreme Court should overrule Austin, the part of McConnell that facially upheld McCain-Feingold’s electioneering communications ban, or both — puts the entire campaign finance community on notice that the Citizens United decision to come likely will be big and bold, also likely in an attempt by at least five justices to straighten out what has been a confused area of the High Court’s jurisprudence.

Click here to read more about how the Supreme Court likely will be going big in Citizens United, cleaning up campaign finance jurisprudence in the process.


Filed Under: Blog

SCOTUS surprise in Citizens United

The Supreme Court announced today that it will rehear Citizens United v. FEC Sept. 9.

CCP’s release on the development is here.

Filed Under: Blog

The “public interest” and the “public option”

The latest “hard-hitting research” by so-called campaign finance reformers focuses on the very timely issue of health care legislation and is, of course, cleverly titled “Legislating Under the Influence.”

Common Cause released the report this week under the larger banner of continuing to “expose how big-lobbyist money is corrupting public policy.”

And while the report does a very thorough job of citing the amount of money various groups in the health care industry have donated to legislators, it fails to make — or even address — its supposed larger point: the connection between campaign contributions and lawmakers’ votes. It also fails to place the amounts spent in perspective or to note the amounts spent by groups and individuals with presumably different views, and it lumps together individuals, PACs, and whole “industries” who in fact have radically different views on health system reform.

Rather, it relies on untested and arguably untrue assumptions about the nature of the legislative process and campaign finance in general, in addition to cashing in on the latest victory for “reformers” by quoting language from the Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. opinion on the “serious risk of actual bias.” 

However, it’s important to note that Caperton was a case of supposed judicial bias, which is potentially concerning. Caperton has no impact whatsoever on legislative bias, which is natural and it’s almost ridiculous to assume otherwise. How many politicians have no agenda or thoughts on major issues of the day? Voters expect their candidates to take firm, passionate stances on issues – not remain detached and as indifferent on an outcome as a judge. Perhaps by utilizing alarming language that would lead someone to believe that a risk of bias equals complete buying of votes, Common Cause hopes to distract readers from the fact that this report in no way proves that.

(click here to read more)


Filed Under: Blog

CCP statement on Citizens United rehearing

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) released the following statement on today’s announcement by the Supreme Court that Citizens United v. FEC will be reargued:

The Court specifically asked if it should overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce or the portion of McConnell v. FEC that upheld the facial validity of the electioneering communications prohibition in McCain-Feingold — or both.

“For two decades Austin has been the odd man out in the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence, creating a great deal of mischief with its sloppy holding that appeared to equate less than perfect equality in spending with political corruption,” said Bradley A. Smith, the Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former FEC Chairman.

Filed Under: External Relations Press Releases, External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases

Common Cause Lacks Common Sense: Threatens Legal Action to Save Taxpayer Financed Campaigns in Budget Strapped Minnesota

Like many states across the country, Minnesota is facing difficult choices as precipitously falling tax revenues are creating huge budget deficits. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has made a number of emergency cuts — referred to as “unallotments”– in order to balance his state’s budget.

Here at CCP, we’re big fans of axing one of the programs on Gov. Pawlenty’s list of “unallotments.” The Political Contribution Refund program is set to end on June 30, which will save Minnesota taxpayers $10 million every two years. Under the program:

“candidates who agree to abide by state campaign spending limits are allowed to seek contributions of up to $50 from individuals and $100 from married couples with the enticing promise that the state will reimburse the full amount.”

Click here to read more about how Common Cause isn’t using a whole lot of common sense by threatening a lawsuit to ensure Minnesota keeps using money it doesn’t have to pay for taxpayer financing of political campaigns.

Filed Under: Blog, Minnesota

FEC adopts new audit and advisory opinion procedures

At today’s FEC meeting, the agency adopted two new rules of agency procedure.  Both of the FEC’s procedural changes will allow members of the regulated community to request in-person hearings before the Commission — the first in advance of Commission adoption of final audit reports that assert violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act or agency regulations, and the second at Commission meeting when issuance of draft advisory opinions are being discussed. A third proposed rule on notice to respondents in non-complaint generated matters was put off until the next meeting.

To listen to an audio file of today’s FEC meeting — split into three parts — click here, here and here [all files are Windows Media Player format; part one is 48:50, part two is 15:39 and part three is 38:15].

The proposed rules stem from a long-running process by which the Commission is updating and revising the agency’s policies, practices and procedures. In January, the FEC accepted public comments and then held hearings on these (and other) proposed agency procedures, and CCP Legal Director Reid Cox submitted comments on behalf of CCP.

CCP’s comments strongly recommended increased opportunities for hearings before the FEC, including for those requesting advisory opinions and those subject to audits.

(click here to read more)

Filed Under: Blog

‘Pay-to-play’ ban axed — for now — in Colo.

Yesterday, a Denver district judge temporary halted a so-called “pay-to-play” ban preventing certain state contractors from donating to state campaigns, according to a story today in The Denver Post.

Groups, including those in the business and labor communities, have criticized the ban as an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Coloradans to participate in politics.

Judge Catherine Lemon agreed with opponents of Amendment 54, who argued the measure was “confusing, discriminatory and in violation of free-speech rights.” The case will now head to trial.

From the story:

The amendment prevents anyone tied to an entity that receives a no-bid government contract greater than $100,000 from giving to political parties or candidates at any level.

Plaintiffs complained that vagaries in the language left would-be contributors afraid of donating, even if the rules might not apply to them.

“In my mind, it’s just not a close case,” Lemon said after hours of arguments. “When First Amendment freedoms are involved, the state has got to come forward with evidence of a sufficiently important (threat).”

Everyone has an interest in their government — contractors, doctors, teachers, etc. — and there’s no justifiable reason to give people unequal First Amendment rights. The proper way to combat the possibility or perception of undue influence by state contracters is a transparent bidding process and vigilance on the part of the press and the public. The answer is not arbitrarily restricting the First Amendment rights of citizens.

Filed Under: Blog, Colorado

The End of Taxpayer Funded Campaigns in Arizona?

Arizona’s system of taxpayer financed campaigns may have already seen its last election.  The Arizona Capitol Times reported Friday that the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 to advance SCR1025, a referendum that would allow Arizonans to vote to end the state’s decade-long failed experiment with publicly-funded campaigns.

Arizona’s current system of allowing candidates to choose to have the taxpayers foot their campaign bills was only narrowly enacted by ballot initiative in 1998, lacking any organized opposition at the time.

Under Arizona’s so-called “Clean Elections Act,” candidates who choose to “participate” in the public funding program, and who raise a minimum number of small dollar qualifying donations, are then entitled to a lump sum of campaign money bestowed by the state’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission, so long as the “participating” candidates agree to be a part of public debates and limit their campaign expenditures.  But those expenditure limits are little more than an illusion because, if a non-participating opponent (or any independent group) outspends the taxpayer financed candidate, then each opposing “participating” candidate receives dollar-for-dollar matching funds from — you guessed it — the taxpayers.

The matching funds provisions are currently being constitutionally challenged in federal district court in the case of McComish v. Bennett.  And, just today, CCP filed a friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that the matching funds provisions are unconstitutional since they penalize non-participating candidates and their supporters for exercising their First Amendment rights to spend unlimited amounts of lawfully raised and constitutionally protected campaign contributions.  Indeed, this was the constitutional rule established by the U.S. Supreme Court just a year ago when it struck down the federal Millionaire’s Amendment in the case of Davis v Federal Election Commission.

Click here to read more about what increasingly looks like the demise of taxpayer financed campaigns in Arizona.

Filed Under: Blog, Arizona

CCP files brief challenging ‘matching funds’ provisions in Arizona

The Center for Competitive Politics today filed a friend-of-the-court brief that challenges the constitutionality of the “matching funds” provisions in Arizona’s taxpayer financed campaigns. The brief was filed in McComish v. Bennett, a case pending in the federal district court in Phoenix.

“It’s long past time to end this unconstitutional program allowing the government to punish candidates who decide not to rely on taxpayer money to run their campaigns,” said Reid Cox, the legal director of the Center for Competitive Politics and counsel of record for the brief.

Filed Under: External Relations Press Releases, External Relations Sub-Pages, Federal, Federal Press Releases and Blogs, Press Releases, State, State Press Releases and Blogs, Tax Financed Campaigns Federal, Tax Financed Campaigns Press Release/In the News/Blog, Tax Financed Campaigns State, Tax-Financing

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