Archive for the 'Campaign Finance Laws' Category
The political activity of certain tax-exempt nonprofit groups, which have become major spenders in American elections, would be limited under proposed rules unveiled on Tuesday by the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department.
Tax-exempt “social welfare” groups, as organizations classified under tax code rules as 501(c)(4)s are commonly known, are not required to disclose their donors. They have become active in some state judicial elections. Under the Obama administration’s proposed limits, the scope of political activity permitted by these groups would be rolled back, the Washington Post reported.
By defining as “candidate-related political activity” the distribution of voter guides, voter registration, and airing ads that mention elected officials near Election Day, the proposed rules would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of groups that engage in these activities, according to Bloomberg News. Read more
The Republican-led Michigan state Senate has passed a bill that would exempt disclosure of spending for “issue ads,” even as Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson sought an administrative rules change to require campaign finance reporting by groups that air the ads.
Currently, any ad that does not endorse a candidate is classified in Michigan as an issue ad, and there are no disclosure requirements for the donors who fund these ads. This kind of advertising has attracted the attention of defenders of fair and impartial courts, including Justice at Stake.
Earlier this year, the Michigan State Bar asked the Secretary of State for a declaratory ruling that would require donors to disclose their spending in judicial elections. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization, submitted a letter to Johnson saying a massive lack of disclosure of judicial electioneering spending in Michigan fosters negative advertising that in turn harms public confidence in fair and impartial courts (see Gavel Grab).
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a major campaign finance regulation case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, challenging aggregate limits on an individual’s giving to candidates and to committees. The court was divided, and to some leading news media, it appeared leaning toward a decision.
“The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates,” reported the New York Times. A majority of the high court “seemed skeptical” of that limit, suggested the Washington Post.
A final ruling from the court may be limited in its scope. Reuters reported that the court “signaled an unwillingness to issue another broad ruling on how much people can donate in federal elections.” Read more
The Supreme Court’s scheduled oral arguments next week in a major campaign finance regulation case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, are continuing to generate extensive commentary and coverage. The case involves a challenge to aggregate federal limits on an individual’s campaign donations to candidates and committees.
In the (Raleigh) News & Observer, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign wrote a piece entitled, “Flood of campaign money would drown voter voices.” Public Campaign is a Justice at Stake partner organization. News media coverage included Washington Post, “Supreme Court case could give wealthy donors more latitude in elections;” USA Today, “Supreme Court weighs limits on campaign donations;” Huffington Post, “Mitch McConnell Will Ask Supreme Court To Scrap Campaign Contribution Limits Entirely;” and Bloomberg News, “Campaign-Money Limits at Risk in New Court Term.”
One of the first cases set to be heard by the Supreme Court in its new term, involving campaign finance, is getting extensive commentary and media attention. The case, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, is seen by some advocates as having “the potential to destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation,” the New York Times reported.
The case involves a challenge to aggregate federal limits on campaign donations to candidates and committees. Some analysts have called it a sequel to Citizens United, which in 2010 transformed the political landscape by removing key limits on election spending by corporations and labor unions.
“If you knock out aggregate contribution limits, you create a system of legalized bribery in this country,” cautioned Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. Read more
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) came out with a report with research showing that it is becoming more difficult for voters to know who’s contributing money to influence public policy and for what purpose.
This report, titled A Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance tackles the issue of donors whose identities and motives remain unknown, including the number of anonymous donations involved in the 2012 Michigan Supreme Court elections.
- Last year, anonymous donors gave $18 million dollars for television advertising in Michigan state elections. This is the equivalent of one in every three dollars spent on campaigns for state office for the 2012 election cycle.
- The candidate committees for the Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court campaign reported independent expenditures totaling $733,000. Unreported candidate-focused TV issue ads dwarfed reported activity with $2 million in spending.
- Two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court were contested in 2012. Three-fourths of the $19 million spent was provided by anonymous donors.
In a Detroit Free Press column, this research is highlighted along with a comparison of the current state of campaign finance laws in Michigan. Overall, as described in a press release from the MCFN, the report explores trends of the rise in spending with diminishing accountability.
A case challenging Iowa campaign finance law “cries out” for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and clarification — in the wake of of the court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 — of disclosure requirements for corporations engaging in political spending, a Des Moines (Iowa) Register editorial says.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, issuing a multi-pronged decision in the case recently, “struck down Iowa’s requirement that corporations file continuous reports throughout an election cycle, even if campaign spending ended. And, it sent the case back for a trial to determine the legality of Iowa’s requirement that campaign spending be approved by the corporation’s board of directors,” the editorial reports. The original challenge to the law was brought by Iowa Right to Life.
“This case could provide the Supreme Court the opportunity to make clear that lawmakers may require that corporate campaign spending reports be complete, be filed promptly and be readily accessible by the public,” the editorial urges. It concludes:
“The Supreme Court was right in its Citizens United decision to say that organizations, such as Iowa Right to Life, which are organized under the laws of incorporation, have the same First Amendment rights as other organizations to express themselves in elections. Read more
Nonprofit groups that spend hidden money on elections in New York will now be required to disclose how much they raise and spend and the identity of their donors, reports the Associated Press.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (photo) is aiming to force groups to be transparent and reveal “dark money” spent in elections.
“When people spend money to try to influence our elections, the public needs to know where that money is coming from, and how it is being spent,” Schneiderman said. “Simply put, transparency reduces the likelihood of corruption.”
Schneiderman’s campaign directive came into effect Wednesday, ensuring that nonprofit groups and “social welfare” organizations report their campaign activities if they spent $10,000 or more in a New York race.
The article says this encompasses expenses for TV, radio, Internet and print advertising. Money spent on forums and “town hall” meetings will not have to be disclosed. Once this information is posted to the Attorney General’s Office website, the public will be able to track campaign expenditures, the article notes.
Public officials from California, New York, Alaska, Maine and other states dialed in to a conference call last month to discuss how to address the rise in undisclosed campaign funds that abounded in the 2012 election, reports the Los Angeles Times.
State officials said they took initiative after federal government actors failed to make any progress on campaign finance laws.
“There is no question that one of the reasons to have states working together is because the federal government, in numerous areas, has failed to take action,” said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
According to the article, more than $1 billion was spent in 2012 federal races by independent groups. That number is three times as much as it was in 2008. Nonprofit advocacy groups and trade organizations that do not have to disclose their donors spent almost $309 million in 2012, the article says. Read more
Campaign finance doesn’t rank as a hot issue for American voters, but there is nonetheless overwhelming popular support for banning super PACs, the committees that can engage in unlimited fundraising and spending on federal campaigns.
Those findings come from polls cited in a Washington Post blog post. Sixty-nine percent of Americans said in a poll last year that the super Political Action Committees should be prohibited, the article said.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have sponsored a bill to require super PACs to identify their sources of money. In elections, voters “deserve to know where the money is coming from and where it’s going,” Wyden said.
At a Hill newspaper blog, Jonathan Backer of the Brennan Center for Justice said such bipartisan efforts suggest an easing in the “rigid partisan stalemate” on campaign finance disclosure. The Republican-controlled Texas state Senate recently approved a similar measure, he wrote. The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner group. Read more