Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance Laws’ Category

Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Direct Corporate Contributions

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a trial judge’s decision striking down a federal ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision from 2010 didn’t overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates, the appeals court ruled, according to a Bloomberg article.

“The attempt to overturn the corporate contribution ban was an invitation to a return to the blatant political corruption and rampant scandals of the Gilded Age,” said Tara Malloy, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “We are pleased the Fourth Circuit corrected the gross judicial overreach by the lower court.”

To learn about the trial court’s ruling, see Gavel Grab. The Campaign Legal Center is a JAS partner group.

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A Vigorous Debate Over Campaign Finance Disclosure

There are two extended looks at hot campaign finance issues in the news media and online. They precede a week when the Supreme Court may say whether it will take up a Montana case that could lead to revisiting the landmark Citizens United campaign finance ruling from 2010.

At U.S. News & World Report, the “Debate Club” invites leaders of differing views to respond to the question, “Should There be Less Disclosure in Campaign Finance?”

Those detailing their views are Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, “Current Disclosure Laws Fail the American People;” David N. Bossie, president of Citizens United and Citizens United Productions, “Campaign Finance Disclosure Is a Burden That Restricts Independent Speech;” Sheila Krumholz, executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics, “Campaign Finance Disclosure Maintains Integrity of Read more

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Lawsuit Challenges Limits on Party Support for Judicial Candidates

A federal judge has raised questions about — but declined to suspend for now — a Montana law that prohibits  political parties from spending money on or endorsing nonpartisan judicial candidates.

Federal District Judge Charles Lovell said a broader hearing on the issue is needed before he would consider suspending the law, according to a Billings (Mt.) Gazette article.  The Sanders County Republican Central Committee had sued to overturn the law, contending it violates First Amendment free-speech rights.

“I think this is a very serious issue and the plaintiffs have a sound and authoritative basis for their position,” Judge Lovell said. “But I do agree that further hearings are going to be required.”

State lawyers advocated against suspending the statute. “The state of Montana … has a compelling interest in making sure its elected judiciary is fair and impartial,” said Assistant Attorney General Mike Black. “We’re not talking about just endorsements. What is anticipated is spending money, on advertising, at the last minute … to influence a nonpartisan election.”

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FCC: Broadcasters Must Disclose Political Ad Purchases

The Federal Communications Commission adopted on Friday a rule to require major broadcasters to disclose online who is funding campaign ads and how much they are spending for them.

“In this kind of day and age, this kind of transparency is a no-brainer and it’s something that’s needed,” said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause, according to a Reuters article. Common Cause is a Justice at Stake partner group.

Some transparency advocates, however, said the action did not go far enough because the rule is limited to the largest broadcasters, a Washington Post article said.

In a Huffington Post commentary, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an assistant professor of law at Stetson University, commended the FCC for “a big step in the right direction” while saying other federal agencies need to fill the gap that remains.

Specifically, she referred to a petition before the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking to require disclosure from publicly traded companies of their corporate expenditures on elections.

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Colorado Judicial Ouster Group ‘Political,’ Court Says

Clear the Bench Colorado, a group that unsuccessfully sought to oust three state Supreme Court justices in 2010,  is a political committee subject to contribution caps under state campaign finance law, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled.

The ruling represented “a victory keeping big money out of judicial elections in Colorado, said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, according to a Denver Post article. His group had lodged a complaint against Clear the Bench. Matt Arnold, director of Clear the Bench, said the decision “flies in the face of the law.”

As a political committee, Clear the Bench would restricting to accepting no contributions greater than $525 per donor in an election cycle. As a different kind of committee, called an issue committee, it was able to accept unlimited contributions.

The appeals court upheld a decision by an administrative judge (see Gavel Grab).

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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  •  A Kentucky lawmaker is pushing a proposal to establish a public financing system for the state’s Supreme Court elections, says Roger Alford of the Associated Press. State Representative Jim Wayne believes the law would reduce special interest pressure on justices.
  • Iowa’s judicial system faces growing case backlogs as budget cuts have severely reduced the number of employees able to handle the workload, states an article in the Globe Gazette. Without increased funding, Iowa’s courts are suffering from a lack of staff.
  • On Friday, federal judge in Montana blocked several campaign finance laws and ruled that corporations are allowed to donate to political action committees, according to an article in the Helena Independent Record. The judge turned down a request to allow direct contributions to candidates from corporations, and upheld some campaign contribution limits.

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NY Times: Citizens United Made ‘a Mockery’ of Disclosure

When the Supreme Court issued its landmark Citizens United ruling more than two years ago, Justice at Stake warned of the grave dangers it posed for the nation’s elected state courts but also identified a “silver lining” in the court’s endorsement of disclosure.

By an 8-1 vote, with only Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the court ruled that all groups that spend to influence elections can be forced to disclose their financial sources. “This is a critical victory for fair, open elections,” JAS Executive Direct Bert Brandenburg said then.

A recent New York Times editorial, however, laments developments that have rendered political disclosure of financial sources virtually meaningless at the federal level in the wake of Citizens United:

A major premise of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling is that prompt disclosure of campaign contributions can allow voters to judge whether candidates are “ ‘in the pocket’ of so-called money interests.” But the huge amount of cash funneled through “super PACs” by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals — whose identities are often hidden behind shell entities — makes a mockery of this notion.

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MT Supreme Court Restores Ban on Corporate Campaign Spending

The Montana Supreme Court has restored a century-old ban on direct corporate campaign spending on candidates and committees.

The ban had originally been struck down by a lower court in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark Citizens United decision.

According to an AP article, in the case of Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General, “The Montana Supreme Court argued there are plenty of ways for corporations to engage in politics, without funneling anonymous money into the process.”

In his analysis of the decision, election law expert Rick Hasen writes that the court circumvented Citizens United by taking “SCOTUS’s statement that independent spending cannot corrupt and pointed to evidence that such spending has in fact corrupted in Montana.”

The case is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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New Groups Seek to Limit Influence of Money in Politics

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, new reform groups are springing up that seek to push constitutional amendments to restrict the influence of money and corporate lobbying on politics.

The potential amendments have been inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, Eliza Newlin Carney reported in a Roll Call article. At the same time, there has been a spate of resolutions introduced in Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn “corporate personhood.”

Justice at Stake filed an amicus brief in Citizens United, and when a decision was issued, warned that the ruling threatened a cash deluge from corporate treasuries in judicial elections — and a grave threat to America’s courts. The decision cleared the way for unlimited corporate spending on independent political expenditures.

Meanwhile, advocates told a special panel investigating election reform issues in Illinois that a public financing program for candidates could help the state fight the dominance of money in elections and give citizens more of a stake in election outcomes, according to a article.

JAS has called public financing of judicial elections “one of the most powerful reforms in shielding courts from special-interest influence.” To learn more about public financing of judicial elections, see the JAS issues page about it.

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NY Times Backs Federal Ban on Direct Corporate Political Cash

A trial judge’s ruling that struck down a federal ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates was wrongheaded and “even worse than Citizens United,” according to a New York Times editorial.

The editorial decried the ruling by Judge James Cacheris of Virginia (see Gavel Grab) and agreed with arguments made recently by the Justice Department in its appeal of his decision to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

“As the government contends, he was wrong in ruling that contributions from corporations ‘pose no greater risk of corruption or its appearance’ than those from individuals if they stay within the $2,500 limit that individuals are allowed to donate. A corporation is ‘easy and inexpensive to form,’ the government’s brief says, and it can create ‘a web of subsidiaries and affiliates’ and ‘multiply its capacity to make contributions.’”

If upheld, Judge Cacheris’ ruling could have major implications for judicial elections, although the case at hand deals with corporate contributions to federal candidates. A broad ruling that the First Amendment prohibits any ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates could trickle down to judicial elections at the state level.

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