Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Disclosure' Category

Article: Secretive Political Groups Flourish After ‘Citizens United’

iStock_000015670171Small1“At least four mysterious groups targeted candidates for state judicial races,” the Center for Public Integrity reports in a broader article about secretive nonprofit groups that played in the 2014 elections and flourished.

“Such secretive spending is especially concerning within the judicial community because donors could come before a judge whom their dollars helped elect,” CPI notes.

Its article mentions Law Enforcement Alliance of America spending on TV advertising critical of attorney Tim Cullen, who was defeated by Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne (see Gavel Grab) in an Arkansas Supreme Court contest, and support by a group called American Freedom Builders for the successful re-election bid of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 was followed by a wave of so-called “social welfare” nonprofit groups spending in elections, and these groups are not required to disclose their donors, the article says.

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Editorials Scrutinize Big Spending in Judicial Elections

I-Am-a-Money-Magnet-the-secret-23316442-500-372Citing Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s $300,000 donation to a Washington, D.C. group that tried to defeat a local Missouri judge, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial asks Sinquefield for more transparency and less deceit.

In an editorial styled as a letter to Sinquefield, the editorial board asks, “Could you please instruct your vast army of political operatives to stop being deceitful about how they spend your money?” It acknowledges that on some issues it agrees philosophically with the activist donor, but “When you — or the people who work for you — secretly funnel money into Washington, D.C., political action committees to hide the source of the funds, it looks really sneaky and underhanded.”

The letter refers to money Sinquefield gave to the Republican State Leadership Committee and its spending that amount and more to defeat Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, who ultimately won reelection in November (see Gavel Grab). It says “your spokespeople wouldn’t fess up. Neither would the RSLC.” Read more

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Commentary Urges Transparency in Funding Illinois Court Races

In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, lawyer Robert A. Clifford says he and other attorneys who contributed heavily to oppose the retention of Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier did so with public disclosure, whereas those who bankrolled Karmeier in 2004 and this year were cloaked in secrecy.

iStock_000015670171Small1“Insurance companies and large corporations have funneled money through organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce so that the specific identities of the donors remain anonymous. Voters can’t find out who funneled money to the organizations for those purposes,” Clifford writes.

“How can voters make an informed decision about who should be on the Illinois courts if they don’t have all of the facts?”

A day ago, Gavel Grab mentioned Clifford’s efforts to depose Justice Karmeier in connection with a racketeering lawsuit against State Farm. The lawsuit contends that the insurance company funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect Karmeier to the Supreme Court. Read more

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Ruling Could Bring Disclosure to Some Secret Election Money

In a long-running campaign finance case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down a Federal Election Commission disclosure rule, saying it was too narrow, the Washington Post reported.

The FEC rule had undermined the intent of Congress “to enable voters to be informed about who was trying to influence their decisions,” the judge wrote. “A donor can avoid reporting altogether by transmitting funds but remaining silent about their intended use.”

The Los Angeles Times said Judge Jackson ruled that “groups that run election-related ads must reveal their donors” and her decision “could force disclosure of some of the secret money flooding into elections.” Read more

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Editorial: Cole County Voters Rejected ‘Climate of Fear’

When voters in Cole County, Mo. reelected an incumbent circuit court judge this month, many of them recognized a “dark money campaign was neither fair nor factual” on behalf of the challenger, a Jefferson City News Tribune editorial said.

Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital, and it is located in Cole County. The editorial was commenting on the race between challenger Brian Stumpe, supported with six-figure spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), and incumbent Judge Pat Joyce. The RSLC is a national group based in Washington, D.C.

“We commend Cole County voters for rejecting a climate of fear and for vanquishing it with their votes. They have sent a message that walkers bringing dark money are not welcome here,” the editorial said. The editorial relied on Wikipedia for a Read more

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Dark Money Regulation Approved in Texas

texas-state-flag_1_0Dark money groups in Texas may need to start disclosing their anonymous donors, according to an article in San Antonio Express-News. The Texas Ethics Commission unanimously approved a measure for groups to reveal donors if 25 percent or more of its expenditures are politically motivated or if political contributions account for more than 25 percent of its total contributions in a calendar year.

Last session, the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring disclosure of donors but it was vetoed by the Governor. For more background see Gavel Grab.

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California Disclosure Bill Debated in Legislature's Last Days

California’s Assembly is weighing a Senate-passed bill to require that political ads aired on TV for ballot measures disclose their three greatest original funders. A spate of editorials is calling attention to the proposal shortly before the legislature finishes its business for the year.

A San Jose Mercury News editorial was headlined, “Truth in campaign advertising should be the law,” and it said the bill’s powerful opponents include the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association. The Los Angeles Daily News editorialized, “California campaign cash disclosure bill needs final push.” A San Francisco Chronicle editorial said, “Do-or-die time for campaign funding disclosure bill.”

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Commentary: Avoid Further Secrecy on Judicial Applicants' Names

It’s good for the public to have the names of applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court, a Wichita Eagle editorial page blog says. The writer, Rhonda Holman, says this transparency would be endangered if legislators change the state constitution to dump the current merit selection process for picking justices.

For a new vacancy on the high court, 14 people have applied for consideration by a judicial nominating commission, and they include four members of the state Court of Appeals. Holman notes that this kind of transparency was not in effect when Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a new judge to the Court of Appeals last year; the legislature had changed, by passing a new law, the process for selection of Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Campaign Finance Measures Advance in California, Massachusetts

campaign_financeCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown said he will allow citizens to vote this fall on an advisory measure asking Congress to revise the U.S. Constitution and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United was “wrongly decided and grossly underestimated the corrupting influence of unchecked money on our democratic institutions,” the governor said in a message to legislators, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, he said the advisory measure would have no legal effect and he would not sign it.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the state House has passed legislation to require greater public disclosure by super PACs, and the Senate will consider it. Read more

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A New Push for 'Dark Money' Disclosure in Texas

All members of the House State Affairs Committee in Texas have signed a letter urging the Texas Ethics Commission to use its rule-making authority to adopt a “dark money” disclosure rule.

dark_money_email_image“We believe the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections — and that the integrity of our electorate depends on disclosure so that the electorate can be fully informed,” the letter said.

“We DO NOT support requiring disclosure of all donors to non-profit organizations. However, we believe that the commission can, under current law, require disclosure of donors and their contributions, if those contributions are used to make direct campaign expenditures as defined by the Election Code.” Read more

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