Archives for April 2011

Why are ‘reformers’ making donor secrecy a priority?

Jeanne Cummings of Politico has a very interesting article this morning reporting on the creation by prominent Democratic operatives of groups intended to counter Republican-friendly organizations like American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS:

Democrats with ties to the Obama White House on Friday are launching a two-pronged fundraising effort aimed at countering deep-pocketed GOP groups in 2012 – and adopting some of the same policies on unlimited, secret donations that President Barack Obama himself has long opposed, the organizers tell POLITICO.

The two groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, aim to raise $100 million to defend Obama’s re-election from an expected onslaught of attack ads from similar Republican outside money organizations activated in the 2010 midterms, organizers say.

The Priorities companion committees will have one that discloses donors – and one that doesn’t, a practice Obama hammered during last year’s election cycle as undermining the democratic process.

There is nothing particularly hypocritical about the Democrats decision to create independent organizations that are able to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations, taking full advantage of the First Amendment rights recognized in Citizens United (and too), even after bashing that decision and doing everything in their power to overturn, undermine, and limit that decision.

But the same can’t necessarily be said for their decision to respect the privacy of donors to their 501(c)4 group.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

There are better ideas for transparency in federal contracting

President Obama’s effort to force federal contractors to disclose the donations made by executives and directors to private groups like the Sierra Club and National Rifle Association is supposedly about bringing transparency to the federal bidding process. According to the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community, this will help fight what is termed ‘pay-to-play,’ where contracts are handed out based not on merit to the lowest bidder, but instead to those making campaign contributions and independent expenditures.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of this argument, beginning with the fact that this is only the most recent attempt by ‘reformers’ to strip away the right of citizens to privately associate and support organizations that share their values. Between the DISCLOSE Act, the rejected regulations considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the call for the Federal Communications Commission to enact onerous disclosure standards, and the petition submitted to the FEC and lawsuit filed against the FEC by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, it seems pretty obvious that this executive order is just one more attempt to stifle political speech that some feel the American public shouldn’t hear.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

CCP: National Popular Vote initiative a poor choice for Oregon

The Center for Competitive Politics sent letters to Oregon state legislators expressing concerns about pending legislation regarding switching to a National Popular Vote (NPV) from the current Electoral College system.

Changing to a popular vote system is likely to trigger a host of Constitutional issues that could destabilize the electoral system. One of the largest concerns is that states may attempt to withdraw from the system for partisan advantage, triggering both a political and a Constitutional crisis.

“This would not be without precedent,” said CCP President Sean Parnell.  “State legislatures have a history of changing the rules in order to hurt their political opposition.”

Specifically, the Center’s letter points to events in Massachusetts, where the legislature changed the laws regarding vacant U.S. Senate seats twice in recent years to favor partisan interests. Adopting the NPV would mean presidential elections would be open to these sorts of high-stakes political games.

“The electoral college is an important part in the system of checks and balances in our country,” said CCP Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward. “Changing the way we elect the president in favor of a system that increases the chances of electoral chaos and voter anger is not in the best interest of our country.”

Another concern is that ballot fraud currently only impacts the areas in which they occur. If elections were changed under the NPV plan described by House Bill 3517 and Senate Bill 885, election fraud in other states impact how another state allocates its delegates. In addition, this would magnify the uncertainty and chaos of ballot recounts and ultimately serve to undermine the legitimacy of the results.

“The Electoral College serves a vital function in our Constitutional system,” said Parnell. “The NPV represents a step backwards for the rights of Oregon’s citizens.”

Filed Under: External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases, State, State Press Releases and Blogs

Common Cause flunks basic campaign finance knowledge test

Many of us who favor unfettered politcial speech and the right of citizens to spend or contribute money as they see fit in order to promote their own political views have had the sneaking suspicion that many of our counterparts in the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community aren’t just wrong, they are deeply ignorant and misinformed when it comes to what the law actually is.

At least in the case of Common Cause, this suspicion seems to be confirmed via today’s Twitter feed. Remarking on President Obama’s release today of his “long form” birth certificate (depriving the American public of a perfectly silly conspiracy theory to laugh at, incidentally), Common Cause Tweeted the following:

RT @CommonCauseMA: @commoncause now that the #birthcertificate is released, can we talk about releasing the names of PAC donors #uncloakkoch

It’s hard to imagine anyone who even vaguely understands campaign finance law would assert, as Common Cause does, that donors to PACs aren’t disclosed. But the “#uncloakkoch” hashtag goes a long way towards explaining this Tweet. In their pursuit of the Great Koch Brothers Conspiracy (only slightly less bizarre than the Obama birth certificate craziness), Common Cause has once again chosen to abandon caution, facts, the law, and any sense of reasonableness for one more false attack against their target.

It’s increasingly clear that the ‘reform’ community is dividing into those that are simply wrong, and those that have become so unhinged by Citizens United and the free exercise of the First Amendment by Charles and David Koch that they’re basically uninterested in the truth, only scoring partisan points.


@CommonCause Tweets to thank me for noting their error:

RT @seanparnellCCP: @CommonCause PAC donors are released: #campaignfinance …True, i meant 527’s thx for correction #eitherway

Of course, 527 donors are disclosed as well at the website of the IRS.

Eventually they’ll get it right…


Slight error, it was the Massachussets chapter of Common Cause that sent the last Tweet explaining that they wanted 527 donors released. Not that big of a difference, but worth noting.

Filed Under: Blog

Why be skeptical of Obama’s disclosure EO

More than a little skepticism is called for when the White House says that “ethics” and “transparency” motivate a proposed Executive Order mandating that government contractors keep tabs on their employees’ political activity and inform the government of their political donations before getting a contract. 

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog

CCP advocates ending Nebraska’s Campaign Finance Limitation Act

The Center for Competitive Politics this week sent a letter to the Nebraska legislature advocating the repeal of the Campaign Finance Limitation Act (CFLA). CFLA supposedly attempts to ‘level the playing field’ in elections by allowing participating candidates to obtain tax funds if their opposition does not opt into the program and exceeds a spending cap.

“The Supreme Court ruled in the 2008 case Davis v. FEC that the state cannot provide preferential treatment to some candidates based on the spending of their opponents, and is widely expected in the next few months to strike down a similar Arizona law in the case McComish v. Bennett” said CCP President Sean Parnell.  “In addition to being unconstitutional, these programs have generally been shown to have failed to achieve their goals.”

LB 142, currently under consideration, would substitute CFLA with an increase in disclosure requirements.  Although the current threshold is $250, under the proposed system the threshold would me moved to $50 and mandate daily campaign-finance filings. 

“While jettisoning CFLA is the right move, there is no need to lower the threshold for reporting,” said Parnell. “No one is bribing candidates with dollar amounts ranging from $50 to $250, and the added disclosure burden would simply invade the privacy of citizens who want to support candidates that share their views.”

Filed Under: Contribution Limits, Contribution Limits Press Release/In the News/Blog, Contribution Limits State, External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases

Political Privacy Should Be a Civil Right

Filed Under: In the News

Senate GOP to White House: Don’t check political contributions of contractors

Filed Under: In the News

Campaign finance ‘reformers’ silent about gathering of wealthy political contributors

Several months back, wealthy libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch held a gathering of likeminded people in California to discuss politics and public policy. The event was condemned by the more hysterical wing of the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ movement, with Common Cause organizing a protest outside and bussing in hundreds of demonstrators.

The protest was in some ways the First Amendment at its finest, where citizens voiced their opinions on pressing matters. In other ways, it was troubling – the protesters were literally demonstrating against the right of the Koch brothers to spend their own money advocating their beliefs, and it took an ugly turn when several of the demonstrators were interviewed suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas be lynched or at least “put him back in the fields.” Thirty protesters actually were arrested when they attempted to break into the meeting.

One of the basic messages of this protest was that wealthy Americans spending money to promote their political views was somehow corrupting and a subversion of democracy.

Well, it turns out that there’s another group of very wealthy Americans that are gathering at this moment to discuss and plan how to spend millions of dollars in order to influence the political debate leading up to the 2012 elections. From I Watch News (a project of the Center for Public Integrity):

Democratic donors and operatives talk money at posh Laguna Beach resort

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

LAT writer on Obama’s campaign finance fiat

Los Angeles Times political writer Andrew Malcolm has a biting take on the draft executive order to require additional disclosure regulations:

What could possibly go wrong with that kind of information in a nonpartisan place like Washington?

Now the Obama White House is considering an executive order to create a back-door donor disclosure requirement for companies seeking federal contracts. According to the leaked draft, the order would require contract applicants to disclose any political donations exceeding $5,000 by the corporation or its executives, often Republican supporters.

As it happens, the Wall Street Journal has noted, the draft executive order would not apply to recipients of federal grants or to federal employee unions, often Democratic supporters. Probably just an oversight.

The White House points to the increasing flow of millions of dollars into political activities via third-party groups that are not required to disclose their donors’ identities. Hence the sudden administration interest in transparency.

Critics claim that it’s an end-run around Congress, whose elected members and substantial Democratic majorities defeated similar disclosure legislation last year. And that it’s simply a Chicago-style intimidation tactic to deter those who desire federal work with this Democratic administration from the disgusting habit of donating to GOP members and causes.

This is, of course, a ridiculous suggestion… [E]veryone should accept that this upcoming political Obama executive order is simply about good government and bureaucratic integrity — except for one tiny, silly, little thing.

Most federal contracts are supposed to go to the lowest bidder, regardless of political donations, connections, hometown or hat size. So why would Obama’s South Side gang need to know any company’s political allegiance?

Filed Under: Blog

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