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Context of 'January 29, 2010: Wall Street Journal Accuses Obama of Lying about Possibility of Foreign Money Influencing American Elections'

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A federal court rules that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has exceeded its authority by requiring only corporations and labor unions, and not all contributors, to report contributions made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications as defined in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in Washington, DC, issues the ruling in the case of Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission, filed by US Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD—see April 21, 2011 and After). Under the BCRA, corporations or labor unions who do not segregate their funds for campaign purposes as opposed to more general purposes must report all contributions of $1,000 or more. (The Citizens United decision of 2010 rendered such segregation of funds optional—see January 21, 2010.) Those contributions include money donated by anyone who gives to a corporation or labor union. In December 2007, the FEC revamped its disclosure regulation in the wake of the Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission ruling (the so-called “WRTL ruling”—see June 25, 2007) to create a loophole allowing corporations to evade disclosure requirements. 501(c)4 groups such as Crossroads GPS have avoided disclosure of their donors by using this loophole. Jackson agrees with Van Hollen, ruling that the FEC’s revision violates the plain language and legislative purpose of the BCRA. Jackson writes: “Congress spoke plainly, that Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking, and that a change in the reach of the statute brought about by a Supreme Court ruling did not render plain language, which is broad enough to cover the new circumstances, to be ambiguous. The agency cannot unilaterally decide to take on a quintessentially legislative function; if sound policy suggests that the statute needs tailoring in the wake of WRTL or Citizens United, it is up to Congress to do it.” She rejected arguments that broader reporting requirements would place an undue burden on corporations and unions, and thusly would violate their First Amendment freedoms, ruling that the Citizens United decision already invalidated those arguments by upholding BCRA reporting requirements. If Jackson’s ruling survives an appeal, the FEC will have to go back and revamp its regulatory language to require disclosure of all contributors, no matter what the purpose, for any corporation or labor union that uses general, unsegregated funds for campaign purposes. Or, corporations and unions may choose to create segregated funds for campaign purposes in order to avoid reporting their contributors. Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes that even if the FEC chooses to rewrite its rules to comply with Jackson’s ruling, “countless loopholes remain” to allow corporations and unions to shield the identities of their donors. For instance, donors and companies could more-or-less launder donations through middle-man groups, shielding their own identities. “Even if we somehow achieved full disclosure… for all political spending,” Israel writes, “any meaningful reforms to the campaign finance system will require the high court to reverse the 5-4 Citizens United ruling.” [Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C., 9/2002; National Archives and Records Administration, 2012; Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission: Memorandum Opinion, 3/30/2012; Constitutional Law Prof Blog, 4/3/2012; Think Progress, 4/9/2012] On May 14, an appeals court will refuse a stay of the decision, filed by an organization identified in the court order as the Center for Individual Freedom. [US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court, 5/14/2012 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Amy Berman Jackson, American Crossroads GPS, Federal Election Commission, Center for Individual Freedom, Chris Van Hollen, Josh Israel, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Logo of American Crystal Sugar, one of the corporate donors making contributions to Steve King’s re-election campaign.Logo of American Crystal Sugar, one of the corporate donors making contributions to Steve King’s re-election campaign. [Source: ACSC]US Representative Steve King (R-IA) tells an audience at a town hall meeting in Jefferson, Iowa, that he has accepted no corporate contributions for his campaign. Yet King has indeed accepted over $100,000 in corporate contributions. The denial comes after a constituent asks him about the impact of the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited contributions by corporations and labor unions (see January 21, 2010). The constituent says: “The whole question of what’s wrong with our country here is corruption. Money buying elections. Money buying corporate messages.” King replies: “That’s another thing. I will listen to him. I just want to tell you. I don’t have any corporate contributions into my campaign.” King’s campaign has accepted contributions from the PACs of Koch Industries, American Crystal Sugar, AT&T, Berkshire Hathaway, Exxon, First American Bank, Kirke Financial Services, Mail Services LLC, Mobren Biological, Silverstone Group, Sukup Manufacturing, and a large number of corporate trade associations. Scott Keyes of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “King is technically correct that corporations haven’t contributed directly to his campaign. Federal election law (see March 27, 2002) prohibits corporations from making such contributions to any candidate. However, corporations establish their own PACs precisely so that their leadership and investors can donate to candidates. King’s campaign has benefited immensely from these corporate PACs, receiving more than $100,000 for his reelection bid.” [Think Progress, 4/25/2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 7/9/2012]

Entity Tags: Kirke Financial Services, Berkshire Hathaway, American Crystal Sugar, AT&T, First American Bank, Sukup Manufacturing, Scott Keyes, Silverstone Group, Koch Industries, Mail Services LLC, Steve King, Mobren Biological, ExxonMobil

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” [Washington Post, 4/13/2012; iWatch News, 4/20/2012; Think Progress, 4/20/2012]
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” [iWatch News, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, National Right to Life Committee, Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Crossroads GPS, Washington Post, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Melanie Sloan, Campaign Law Center, Bill Allison, Jonathan Collegio, Steven Law, Harold Simmons, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy 21, Republican Jewish Coalition, Bobby Jack Perry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. [Lyle Denniston, 5/1/2012; Think Progress, 5/2/2012] The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).

Entity Tags: US Chamber of Commerce, Citizens United, Free Speech for People, Mitch McConnell, US Supreme Court, Montana Supreme Court, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich.A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich. [Source: Think Progress]The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), a nonpartisan political analysis group working out of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, finds that negative political advertising has become the mainstay of political broadcast advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign. Only about 8 percent of ads in the 2008 presidential campaign could be considered negative, the WMP writes, but in 2012, 70 percent of ads are negative. (The WMP defines negative as “mentioning an opponent.”) Erika Franklin Fowler, the WMP’s co-director, says: “One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago. But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.” Interest-group advertising, i.e. ads financed by “independent” third-party organizations that support one candidate or another, were 75 percent positive in 2008, but only 14 percent positive in 2012. In 2008, ads financed directly by candidate campaigns were 9 percent negative, but this year are 53 percent negative.
Huge Spike in Third-Party Advertising from 2008 - Almost two-thirds of the ads aired in 2012 are paid for by “third party” organizations such as super PACs and “nonprofit” groups. Super PACs alone have financed 60 percent of the ads during this cycle; that figure for 2008 was 8 percent. The WMP writes: “An estimated $112M [million] has been spent to date on 207,000 ads compared to $190M spent on just under 300,000 ads in 2008. Much of this decline in spending and ad volume is due to the lack of a nomination contest on the Democratic side this year.” The project refers to the Republican presidential primary, which is featuring massive spending on behalf of candidates by third-party organizations. “Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented,” according to co-director Travis Ridout. “This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping.” One of the most prominent organizations, the nonprofit Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012), has already aired some 17,000 ads, mostly attacking President Obama. Those ads are joined by commercials paid for by another conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has aired some 7,000 ads. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have combined to air some 20,342 ads. WMP data shows that 33,420 anti-Obama, pro-Republican spots have aired as opposed to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama ads.
Most Ads Paid for by Anonymous Donations - Unlike the majority of the ads that aired in the primary election, most of the ads airing for the general election have “come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors,” according to WMP co-founder Michael M. Franz. “That’s a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources.” Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were very reliant on super PAC advertising, with Ron Paul (R-TX) less so. About 20 percent of ads aired on Obama’s behalf have come from his super PAC, Priorities USA Action, though the DNC has aired a number of ads on behalf of Obama. Priorities USA Action is answering negative ads from Crossroads GPS with its own advertising, mainly in “battleground” states such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ridout says: “Early general election spending reveals that both parties are focused on markets in the same key battleground states. The past couple of weeks, Obama and his super PAC have been on the air in a few more markets than Crossroads GPS, but both sides have focused their advertising in markets in Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.” Groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), and AFP are airing ads in Senate races in Florida, Indiana, and Nebraska. And some $6 million in advertising has flooded Wisconsin and its gubernatorial recall election involving Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). Walker and the super PAC supporting him, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (an arm of the Republican Governors’ Association), have outspent their Democratic opponents; of the 17,000 ads aired in Wisconsin about the recall election, 10,000 have either been pro-Walker or negative ads attacking the recall and Walker’s challengers. Franz says: “Wisconsinites have been inundated with advertising surrounding the gubernatorial recall election. Walker and his allies hold a substantial advantage to date in the air war in all markets except Madison, and the incumbent governor’s ads have been more positive than his competitors’ ads.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that the 2010 Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the increased spending by third-party groups (see January 21, 2010). [Wesleyan Media Project, 5/2/2012; Think Progress, 5/3/2012]

Entity Tags: Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, Travis Ridout, Wesleyan Media Project, Willard Mitt Romney, American Action Network, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Scott Kevin Walker, Ron Paul, Think Progress (.org), Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Erika Franklin Fowler, Democratic National Committee, American Crossroads GPS, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Michael M. Franz, Priorities USA Action, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The New York Times reports that wealthy liberal donors, after months of relative inactivity, are gearing up to make large donations on behalf of Democratic candidates. But unlike their Republican counterparts, these donors are not going to give millions to super PACs. Instead, the Times reports, they will give most of their money to organizations focused on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts. The Times reports, “The departure from the conservatives’ approach, which helped Republicans wrest control of the House in 2010, partly reflects liberal donors’ objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), which paved the way for super PACs and unbridled campaign spending.” Also, donors and strategists do not believe they can go head-to-head with wealthy Republican donors who are giving to groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Instead, they say they feel Democrats can press an advantage in grassroots organizing. Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors, says that while super PACs “are critically important,” local efforts and social-media outreach “can have an enormous impact in battleground states in 2012.” Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros (see January - November 2004) will give $1 million to America Votes, an organization that coordinates political actions for environmental, abortion rights, and civil rights groups, and another $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that focuses on election research. Soros has not yet given significantly during the 2012 cycle. A Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, says: “George Soros believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests’ paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups is consistent with those views.” President Obama’s reelection campaign is in the process of unleashing a $25 million ad campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (R-MA), directed and financed by the campaign itself. Romney and other Republicans have relied more heavily on “independent” spending by American Crossroads, AFP, and other “third party” groups. An Obama-aligned super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised relatively little money in comparison to its Republican counterparts, though it has been active in some battleground states (see May 2, 2012). Obama’s opposition to super PACs and his reluctance to have his campaign rely on their efforts (see January 18, 2012) has slowed super PAC fundraising efforts on his behalf, though he has recently given his approval for the group to operate at maximum capacity (see February 6, 2012). David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century and the liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, says, “The idea that we’re going to engage in an arms race on advertising with the Republicans is not appealing to many liberal donors.” While Priorities USA and two other groups founded to help Democrats in Congress remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members, Robert McKay, the chairman of the group and a board member of Priorities USA, says that much of the money expected to be spent this year—up to $100 million—by the group’s donors will go to organizing and research, and far less to television advertising. “There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” McKay says. “That means get-out-the-vote efforts” aimed at minority voters, women, and younger voters. Organizations involved in Democracy Alliance include Catalist, a voter database organization; ProgressNow, which organizes Internet-based groups in different states; and the newly created Latino Engagement Fund, an organization that works to organize Latino voting on behalf of Democrats. Groups outside Democracy Alliance will also be involved, particularly labor unions and advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club. San Francisco philanthropist Steve Phillips, who intends to spend some $10 million on efforts to increase turnout among Latino voters, says: “You can dump 10 or 20 million in TV ads in Ohio and try to reach the persuadable swing voters there, or you can up voter turnout among Latinos in Colorado and Arizona and win that way. It’s much cheaper.” [New York Times, 5/7/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, Steve Phillips, Willard Mitt Romney, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Robert McKay, American Bridge 21st Century, Rob Stein, New York Times, Americans for Prosperity, David Brock, Priorities USA Action, Michael Vachon, America Votes, George Soros, Democracy Alliance

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Jeffrey Toobin in 2007.Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Ed Whelan of the conservative National Review is highly critical of a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Elements of Toobin’s narrative have already been questioned by law professors Thomas Goldstein and Jonathan Adler (see May 14, 2012), though both professors are generally supportive of the article and recommend it for reading. In his first article, Whelan writes that the evidence “doesn’t support his thesis,” and promises a followup article that addresses “some of Toobin’s wild distortions about” the decision, including what he calls Toobin’s “baseless libel” against Chief Justice John Roberts, referencing Toobin’s implication that Roberts engineered the sweeping campaign finance reform of the decision in order to aid Republican candidates. Whelan interprets Toobin’s evidence to say that it shows Justice Anthony Kennedy, not Roberts, enlarged the scope of the Citizens United decision; however, Whelan believes neither interpretation. Some of Toobin’s interpretation of events hinges on a draft dissent penned by Justice David Souter that was withdrawn after Roberts agreed to let the case be re-argued (see June 29, 2009 and September 9, 2009). Whelan implies that he doubts the existence of such a dissent, an implication that cannot be disproven, as Souter sealed his Court records after his retirement (see May 14-16, 2012). If the dissent does exist, Whelan doubts that Toobin has read it. He concludes by casting aspersions on Toobin’s assertion that Roberts engineered the results of the decision “without leaving his own fingerprints.” Roberts cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 split, Whelan notes, and adds that Roberts did not entirely escape criticism for the ruling after it was issued. [National Review, 5/15/2012]
Part Two - The next day, Whelan publishes the second part of the article, and condemns Toobin for asserting that Roberts crafted the decision with the intention of helping Republican candidates in upcoming elections. He calls the assertion “scurrilous,” and says Toobin presents “not an iota of evidence” for the claim. Whelan then writes that no evidence exists to show that the decision has helped Republican candidates more than Democrats (see November 1, 2010 and January 21, 2012), apparently ignoring two years’ worth of evidence showing that in the wake of decisions, outside funding of Republican candidates has swamped Democrats’ efforts to retain parity (see August 2, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, October 30, 2010, Mid-November 2010, January 26, 2011 and After, March 2011, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 8, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 6, 2012, February 9, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 9, 2012, March 26, 2012, Late March 2012, April 13-20, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012). He cites an article by Weekly Standard contributor Andrew Ferguson that denies the “rich and powerful” donate more to Republicans than Democrats, where the only “evidence” Ferguson cited was his assertion that “Democrats are the party of what Democrats used to call the superrich. Only Democrats seem not to realize this.” [National Review, 5/16/2012]
Final Thoughts - Whelan’s final article on the subject approvingly cites an equally negative critique of the Toobin article from Weekly Standard writer Adam White (see May 17, 2012), and insults law professor Richard Hasen’s perspective on the matter (see May 14-16, 2012); after noting that Hasen is a “[l]aw professor and election-law expert,” Whelan advises Hasen to read White’s column more closely. He also derides the idea that the Souter dissent is “secret,” noting that it would have been circulated among the other eight justices, and Justice John Paul Stevens would have had it available to him for his own published dissent. He then quotes Hasen’s critique of Stevens’s “somewhat meandering and ineffective” dissent, turns the phrasing around to insult Souter’s writing style, and says that Souter’s dissent may “reflect… too much of Souter’s draft dissent.” In attacking Hasen’s request for Souter to release the dissent, he contradicts himself by noting that the dissent is “confidential case information” that should remain out of public view. [National Review, 5/17/2012]

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Anthony Kennedy, Andrew Ferguson, Adam White, David Souter, Jeffrey Toobin, Richard L. Hasen, Thomas Goldstein, John Paul Stevens, Jonathan Adler, Ed Whelan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Columnist Adam White, writing for the conservative Weekly Standard, lambasts a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Most publications describe the decision as allowing corporations and labor unions to spend money freely in campaigns, but White defines it differently, calling it an affirmation of “a corporation’s First Amendment right to spend money on independent speech on political issues, even when that speech criticizes candidates for office” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Law professors Tom Goldstein and Jonathan Adler have found some “spin” in Toobin’s account of events (see May 14, 2012), and law professor Richard Hasen has asked that a draft dissent highly critical of the decision and its methodology be made public to shed light on Toobin’s narrative (see May 14-16, 2012). However, White goes significantly further than any of the professors in tarring Toobin’s article, and in some instances Toobin himself. White writes flatly that everyone outside of “Toobin’s base,” presumably meaning liberals who comprise “Chief Justice [John] Roberts’s critics,” is “skeptical” of the article, and cites Goldstein and National Review columnist Ed Whelan (see May 15-17, 2012) as examples of those presumed skeptics who have “poured cold water” on the story. According to White, Toobin “front-load[ed] his story with easily disprovable mischaracterizations of the case” that [e]ven a cursory review of the case’s briefs, and contemporary news coverage, disproves Toobin’s thesis” of Roberts using a narrowly drawn case to revamp and invalidate most of US campaign finance law. White writes that Toobin’s characterization of the narrow focus of the case is wrong: “The First Amendment stakes were well known, and much discussed, in the run-up to oral argument.” He cites the New York Times editorial published at the time of the first arguments, in March 2009 (see March 23, 2009), warning that if the Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, “it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” He also notes that respected court reporter Lyle Denniston warned before the oral arguments that the Citizens United case threatened to deliver “a sweeping rejection of Congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations.” Toobin himself made some of the same arguments on CNN the day of the arguments, White notes. He calls Toobin’s version of events in the article a “clumsy fictionalization of the case” designed to vilify Roberts. He also questions Toobin’s characterization of the first arguments from Citizens United (CU) lawyer Theodore Olson, going considerably further than either Goldstein or Adler in accusing Toobin of fundamentally misrepresenting Olson’s original, narrowly focused case. According to White, Olson’s opening argument claimed that the restriction being challenged by CU was “unconstitutional as applied to the distribution of Citizens United’s documentary film through video on demand… [it] plainly exceeds Congress’s sharply limited authority to abridge the freedom of speech.” White claims that Olson cited First Amendment grounds in a portion of the arguments not reported by Toobin, and quotes from Olson’s argument; that quote describes Olson’s citation of the 2007 case Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL—see Mid-2004 and After and June 25, 2007), which indeed used First Amendment grounds for its successful positioning, and quotes Olson as saying the WRTL decision “errs on the side of permitting the speech, not prohibiting the speech.” White accuses Toobin of deliberately misrepresenting Olson’s argument to “advanc[e] his own anti-Roberts narrative.” White is unable to check the accuracy of Toobin’s behind-the-scenes narrative, as Toobin’s sources are not revealed in the article, but White is “skeptical,” writing, “Given Toobin’s inability of accurately handling straightforward, easily confirmable facts, why should anyone take at face value Toobin’s description of the justices’ private discussions, and their draft opinions—especially when Toobin only describes, never quotes, those deliberations or draft opinions?” Like Adler, Toobin questions the ethics of the person or persons at the Court who “leaked” the story to Toobin. [Weekly Standard, 5/17/2012]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ed Whelan, Adam White, Jeffrey Toobin, Lyle Denniston, John G. Roberts, Jr, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Jonathan Adler, Richard L. Hasen, Thomas Goldstein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia join a brief filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking the US Supreme Court to reaffirm Montana’s ban on corporate spending. The brief is in response to an upcoming Court hearing on the Montana Supreme Court’s upholding of the Montana ban, which contradicts the 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010, December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012). The brief is signed by Schneiderman, a Democrat, and 22 other attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans. In the brief, Schneiderman writes, “The Montana law at issue here, like many other state laws regulating corporate campaign expenditures in state and local elections, is sharply different from the federal law struck down in Citizens United, and the Court need not revise its ruling in Citizens United in order to sustain the challenged Montana law.” Referring to briefs asking the Court to reverse the Montana high court ruling without a review, Schneiderman writes, “Even if the challenged Montana law were identical to the federal statute struck down in Citizens United—and, as shown below, it is far from identical—disposing of this case on the merits would require a fully considered analysis that takes these constitutional distinctions into account.” The states with Democratic attorneys general include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. States with Republican attorneys general include Idaho, Utah, and Washington. [International Business Times, 5/21/2012; Think Progress, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Montana Supreme Court, Eric Schneiderman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tells a reporter that the Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in part because none of its members have ever been elected officials and thusly they have no personal experience with the corruption that comes with unregulated money being allowed into political campaigns. The Court’s majority opinion found that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Whitehouse says in part: “Unfortunately you had the five right-wing judges, none of whom have ever run for any office ever and have zero political experience between the five of them, offering opinions about what money can do in elections.… So clearly the finding of fact in Citizens United that unlimited corporate spending cannot either increase the risk of corruption or increase the appearance to the public that there’s corruption is ludicrous.… The president asked me who I thought, you know, what were the characteristics of somebody that should be appointed to the Court, and I said I think it should be somebody who has some actual political experience out there so that they are not operating in this political arena with absolutely no knowledge. Even if they wanted to come to the result that Citizens United came to, I think those judges would have had a hard time getting there if they’d had actual practical political experience because they would have known what a preposterous finding they were making.” Legal scholar Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes: “The current Supreme Court includes eight former US Court of Appeals judges and one former law school dean. Four of the five current justices responsible for Citizens United served as political appointees in Republican administrations. The justices who decided Brown v. Board of Education (see May 17, 1954), by contrast, included one former governor, three former US senators, and one former state lawmaker.” [Think Progress, 5/23/2012]

Entity Tags: Ian Millhiser, US Supreme Court, Sheldon Whitehouse

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senate races are seeing the impact of huge “independent” expenditures that resulted from the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), and as in so many other instances, Republicans are reaping most of the benefits of these expenditures (see August 2, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, October 30, 2010, Mid-November 2010, January 26, 2011 and After, March 2011, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 8, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 6, 2012, February 9, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 9, 2012, March 26, 2012, Late March 2012, April 13-20, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012). Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and former Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) are being outspent by more than a 3-1 ratio by their Republican opponents and the third-party groups that support those opponents. Brown and his allies have spent some $2.5 million on television advertising, but are being challenged by an $8 million expenditure by such groups as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Brown says: “These individuals, these billionaires, realize that small numbers of people can have a huge impact. It’s very one-sided. This outside money is bad for the system.” Kaine and his supporters have spent $385,000, but face a $1.9 million expenditure by such groups as the US Chamber of Commerce. Crossroads GPS is airing a series of ads accusing Kaine of having a “reckless” spending record as governor, including turning a $1 billion surplus into an almost-$4 billion shortfall, an assertion fact-checking organizations have declared to be false. In turn, Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio upped the claim, telling a reporter that Kaine had left office with a $3 trillion shortfall. The Virginia Constitution requires the state to maintain a balanced budget, and factcheckers have said that Kaine balanced budgets during his term. Missouri Republicans are enjoying a $7 million-$2 million disparity in their challenge to Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). In Florida, US Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) and his supporters have run almost 6,500 television ads against Senate incumbent Bill Nelson (D-FL) with no response from Nelson’s campaign. One Mack ad accused Nelson of supporting a tax-funded program to research the effects of cocaine on monkeys, a claim factcheckers have found to be false. Another Mack ad attempts to link Nelson to the Obama administration’s health care reform legislation, which Republicans have dubbed “Obamacare,” and says 20 million people will lose medical coverage because of the reform, a claim factcheckers have found to be false. The re-election campaign of President Obama is hoarding resources, expecting to have to combat an onslaught of spending by Republican contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) and his supporters (see Late May 2012), and is thusly contributing little to Congressional races. Advertising executive Ken Goldstein says: “There’s so much oxygen being sucked up by the Obama campaign. Democrats are also not going to have the same kind of money that Republican outside groups are going to have.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina confirms that the Obama campaign is not prepared to contribute large sums to Congressional contenders, saying: “Our top priority and focus is to secure the electoral votes necessary to re-elect the president. There’s no doubt that Democratic campaigns face a challenging new political landscape with special interests giving unlimited amounts to super PACs.” Scott Reed, a US Chamber of Commerce official who worked on the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign, says the sharp disparity in spending will not matter at the end of the campaigns: “It comes out in the wash at the end of the day in the sense that Obama is a ferocious fundraiser-in-chief. There’s no question the pro-business and pro-growth groups are spending early and more aggressively than ever because they recognize the stakes of the election are so high.” [Bloomberg News, 5/29/2012]

Entity Tags: Clarence W. (“Bill”) Nelson, US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, Tim Kaine, Obama administration, Connie Mack, Jim Messina, Scott Reed, Ken Goldstein, American Crossroads GPS, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens lambasts the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), in which he strongly dissented (see May 14, 2012). Stevens has criticized the decision in earlier statements. He continues that trend in a speech given to the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. He agrees with President Obama’s warning that “foreign entities” could bankroll US elections (see January 27-29, 2010 and October 2010), and challenges the Court to prove that such concerns are “not true,” as Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed during Obama’s speech at the time by reconciling the Court’s finding that the First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity” with its subsequent decision to uphold a ban on campaign spending by non-citizens in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission (see August 8, 2011). Alito’s reaction to Obama’s warning “persuade[s] me that that in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” Stevens says. In doing so, “it will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.” Stevens is referring to corporations and labor unions as “non-voters,” as is the Canadian citizen who filed the Bluman lawsuit. The Bluman case, Stevens says, “unquestionably provided the Court with an appropriate opportunity to explain why the president had misinterpreted the Court’s opinion in Citizens United. [T]he Court instead took the surprising action of simply affirming the district court without comment and without dissent.” Stevens says the two cases pose a legal conundrum—“notwithstanding the broad language used by the majority in Citizens United, it is now settled, albeit unexplained, that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” At some point, Stevens says, the Court will have to grapple with the effects of the decision. “I think it is likely that when the Court begins to spell out which categories of non-voters should receive the same protections as the not-for-profit Citizens United advocacy group, it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by non-citizens, and possibly even those in which non-citizens have a substantial interest. Where that line will actually be drawn will depend on an exercise of judgment by the majority of members of the Court, rather than on any proposition of law identified in the Citizens United majority opinion.” Stevens does not explicitly reference the upcoming Court case where it will have to rule on Montana’s ban on corporate spending (see December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012), but he says the Court was wrong to overturn a precedent that allows states to bar corporate spending from outside their borders. For states such as Montana with those laws in effect, “those corporate non-voters were comparable to the non-voting foreign corporations that concerned President Obama when he criticized the Citizens United majority opinion.” He says, “If the First Amendment does not protect the right of a graduate of Harvard Law School to spend his own money to support the candidate of his choice simply because his Canadian citizenship deprives him of the right to participate in our elections, the fact that corporations may be owned or controlled by Canadians—indeed, in my judgment, the fact that corporations have no right to vote—should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process.” [Huffington Post, 5/30/2012; University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, 5/30/2012 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, Barack Obama, Citizens United, US Supreme Court, Clinton School of Public Service, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Politico reports that Republican super PACs and other outside groups are coordinating under the leadership of what it calls “a loose network of prominent conservatives, including former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce,” to spend an unprecedented $1 billion between now and November to help Republicans win control of the White House and Congress. The plans include what Politico calls “previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers” (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, February 14, 2011, February 29, 2012, and Late March 2012) to organize funding for county-by-county operations in key states, using tools such as the voter database Themis (see April 2010 and After) to build “sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states.” The Kochs’ organizations have upped their spending plans to $400 million. Just the Kochs’ spending will outstrip the $370 million spent by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, and the $1 billion will exceed the $750 million spent by the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. The “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and January 31, 2012), plans on spending $100 million on the campaign to unseat Obama. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the two Rove-led groups coordinating much of the Republican spending efforts, plan to spend $300 million on efforts to elect Romney and other Republicans (see February 21, 2012). The raised millions will go to, among other things, television, radio, and Web advertising; voter turnout efforts; mail and telephone appeals; and absentee- and early-balloting drives. The $1 billion is entirely “outside” spending. Romney and the Republican National Committee (RNC) intend to raise some $800 million on their own. According to Politico: “The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.… The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings—including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010)—that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.” The super PAC supporting Obama’s re-election, Priorities USA Action, has not raised anywhere near the amount of money being garnered by Rove and the Koch brothers, partly because of Obama’s initial reluctance to have such groups operating on his behalf (see January 18, 2012). US labor unions may be able to raise some $200 to $400 million on behalf of Obama and other Democrats. The AFL-CIO’s Michael Podhorzer says his organization does not intend to try to match the Republican donor groups, but instead will spend most of its money reaching out to union members and other workers: “Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement.” Politico notes that billionaire Sheldon Adelson single-handedly kept the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) primary challenge afloat (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012), and billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012) was the key funder for Republican primary challenger Rick Santorum (R-PA). Outside money helped “tea party” challengers defeat incumbents like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the 2012 primaries (see February 21, 2012). “Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012,” Politico states: “outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.” [Politico, 5/30/2012]

Entity Tags: Foster Friess, Sheldon Adelson, Tom Donohue, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, David Koch, Richard Lugar, Rick Santorum, Republican National Committee, Karl C. Rove, Michael Podhorzer, Newt Gingrich, Priorities USA Action, Charles Koch, Politico, Restore Our Future

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

YG Network logo.YG Network logo. [Source: BizPacReview]The YG Network, a Republican political organization nicknamed the “Young Guns,” tells Republican House members that if they vote for specific House proposals, they will be rewarded by advertisements on their behalf to be paid for by YG. The organization is run by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), but denies having any ties to the lawmaker. Congressional leaders such as Cantor are not permitted to offer anything in exchange for a vote. YG is launching a radio advertising campaign that will run ads praising Republican House members who voted with Cantor to repeal a tax on medical devices, and advises those members to “keep voting to stop tax increases arriving next year,” referring to a group of tax rates that will expire at the end of 2012. An aide says the YG Network is trying to “leverage the floor schedule and votes scheduled by Cantor to help members at home.” According to Politico, “[i]f a [Republican House] member—specifically, an ally of Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—votes for a leadership priority, they can look forward to an ad in their district.” The aide says that YG hopes the effort becomes “another tool in the belt to call attention to members and help encourage cohesion on difficult-to-whip votes.” YG advisor Brad Dayspring explains: “For too long, a lot of the good legislation that the House has passed has gone unnoticed because [Senate Democrats] have sat on [their] hands for a year and a half. Too often, the only outside group activity occurring back in districts comes in the form of an attack against new conservative lawmakers. The YG Network hopes to change the conversation by highlighting the positive work that the new generation of conservatives have done, calling attention to legislative votes that would help create jobs, remove the red tape weighing down small business, and to repeal ‘Obamacare.’” A number of “Young Guns” legislators will receive radio ads on their behalf. [Politico, 6/10/2012] Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center says that what YG is doing is probably legal, but, he adds, “many would characterize the way Washington politics has long worked as ‘legalized bribery.’” The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) is what makes activities like this possible, he says: “When you allow unlimited special interest money in politics, this type of behavior should be expected. Criticism is fair, but nevertheless, it’s predictable. This is the world that this Supreme Court majority has given us with the Citizens United decision. It’s troubling, but entirely predictable. Even more troubling is the likelihood of conversations behind closed doors—threats of huge corporate-funded independent spending campaigns made [for those who don’t act in the corporation’s interest on a given piece of legislation]. And much of it, we will never hear about.” Ryan warns that he expects lobbyists to meet with legislators and say, “you saw what we did to so-and-so,” referring to a lawmaker who did not behave in the interest of the lobbyist’s client. Ryan says the lobbyist will ask, “Do you want that to happen to you?” [Think Progress, 6/11/2012]

Entity Tags: Brad Dayspring, YG Network, Kevin McCarthy, Paul S. Ryan, Eric Cantor

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have given $10 million to the super PAC supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and a source close to Adelson says the billionaire’s further donations will be “limitless.” Adelson owns a global network of casinos, including the Las Vegas Sands and a consortium of casinos on the Chinese island of Macau. Adelson, one of the world’s 15 richest people, once supported Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, donating over $21 million to Gingrich’s failed candidacy, and said he was willing to give up to $100 million to keep Gingrich’s candidacy viable. Forbes reporter Steven Bertoni says that Adelson may be willing to give hundreds of millions to the Romney election effort (see March 26, 2012). “[N]o price is too high” to defeat President Obama’s re-election, says the source close to Adelson. Obama is presiding over what Adelson calls the “socialization” of America, and the source says Adelson considers this the most important election of his lifetime. Because of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), Adelson faces no restrictions whatsoever on the amount of money he can donate to super PACs supporting Romney. The current recipient of Adelson’s largesse is Romney’s campaign super PAC, Restore Our Future. (To give context, Bertoni writes, “The $10 million donation he just made to Romney is equivalent to $40 for an American family with a net worth of $100,000.” He also notes that Adelson has seen his personal and business profits soar during the Obama administration.) Adelson says: “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like [billionaire George] Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money (see January - November 2004). I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it.” Adelson’s primary cause is the security of Israel and its right-wing government. Adelson is also firmly against the Obama administration’s economic policies, telling Bertoni: “What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years. That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives. What scares me is the lack of accountability that people would prefer to experience, just let the government take care of everything and I’ll go fish or I won’t work, etc. US domestic politics is very important to me because I see that the things that made this country great are now being relegated into duplicating that which is making other countries less great.… I’m afraid of the trend where more and more people have the tendency to want to be given instead of wanting to give. People are less willing to share. There are fewer philanthropists being grown and there are greater expectations of the government. I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current administration’s quest to socialize this country. It won’t be a socialist democracy because it won’t be a democracy.” [Forbes, 6/13/2012; Huffington Post, 6/16/2012]

Entity Tags: Restore Our Future, George Soros, Barack Obama, Miriam Adelson, Obama administration, Steven Bertoni, Newt Gingrich, Willard Mitt Romney, Sheldon Adelson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) writes an article for the Stanford Law Review discussing the dominance of “big money” in the nation’s elections in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), documenting his belief that the rise in small-donor contributions that put Democrats in office in 2006 and 2008 led to the Citizens United backlash, and calling for sweeping campaign finance reform. Feingold writes, “Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.” Feingold heads Progressives United, an advocacy group that pushes for the overturning of the Citizens United decision and campaign finance legislation.
Background - Feingold gives the background of campaign finance reform in America: the 1907 Tillman Act which banned corporations from spending their money in elections (see 1907), which he says was spurred by the realization that “corporate influence corrupts elections”; the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which extended the Tillman ban to labor unions (see June 23, 1947); and more recent legislation, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), which Feingold co-authored with Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections,” he writes. “But Citizens United changed everything.” The “road to corruption” in modern elections, he says, began when Democrats in the early 1990s began exploiting a loophole in finance regulation that allowed the creation of “soft money” groups (see January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, and December 10, 2003) that allowed parties to solicit unlimited amounts of donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. “This system was corrupting,” Feingold writes. “Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty.” The BCRA plugged the “soft money” loophole. Even as the BCRA began to reform campaign finance practices, Feingold writes, “the same corporate interests that fought McCain-Feingold set to work to dismantle it. In what was clearly an orchestrated effort by opponents of campaign reform (see January 25, 2010), a group called Citizens United produced a movie savaging the record of then-Senator Clinton (see January 10-16, 2008). Ostensibly intended to educate the public about conservative concerns regarding Clinton’s run for the presidency, the film was little more than a legal vehicle to challenge some of the common-sense restrictions enacted by the BCRA (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). Specifically, the creators of the film sought to challenge the BCRA’s requirement that electioneering communications—commonly known as ‘phony issue ads’ that attack a candidate in the days before the election, but don’t explicitly advocate voting for or against that candidate—be subject to the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits as other campaign ads.” The case was argued on narrow grounds about a specific provision of the BCRA, but the Court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, “manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result” (see May 14, 2012). Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority opinion, “[F]ive justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” The ruling, Feingold writes, “created a framework for corruption parallel to ‘soft money.’” Instead of “soft money” organizations, Citizens United led to the creation of the “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, January 13, 2012, and February 20, 2012). It has also called into doubt the legitimacy of US elections themselves, due to the “increasing skepticism about the campaign finance system.” Many voters now believe “that the average participant’s small contribution is irrelevant, and that the average person’s vote is grossly outweighed by the gigantic contributions now allowed.”
Internet Politics and Small-Donor Contributions - In part due to the BCRA, Feingold writes, “[f]or three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.” He cites the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean (D-VT), who went on to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as the first powerful instance of “online organizing,” using the Internet to garner millions of dollars in small donations from individual citizens. In 2008, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama (D-IL) pushed the Dean innovation even further. The Obama campaign “raised a historic amount in small-dollar contributions,” Feingold writes, and created an online platform to engage supporters. All told, the Obama campaign raised $500 million online.
An Ineffective FEC - By 2008, he writes, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was completely impotent. The agency “has been fatally flawed since the time of its creation—any administrative law professor will point out that a law enforcement commission with an even number of commissioners [six] is probably designed specifically not to enforce the law at all,” he writes. By 2008, the FEC only had two seated commissioners, and in effect was not enforcing campaign laws whatsoever. Even after eventually receiving a full complement of commissioners, he writes, the agency “remains ineffective, as even Democratic violators go unpunished as conservative commissioners remain unwilling, philosophically, to enforce any campaign finance law.”
2012: Corporations Trump Citizens - In 2012, corporate contributions far outweigh small-dollar donations by individuals. “[T]he most prominent actors in the 2012 election cycle are unnamed corporations and a small group of influential—primarily conservative—billionaires.” Seventy percent of registered voters think super PACs should be illegal, according to polls, and the favorability rating of the Court has dropped a significant amount. Overall, Feingold writes, the public is firmly against the Citizens United paradigm of campaign finance. He advocates strong legislation from Congress, fixing the “broken system of presidential public financing,” and replacing the “dysfunctional” FEC “with a true enforcement agency.” The ultimate repair of campaign finance lies with the Court, he says, noting that the Court has a chance to do some early repair with the Montana case it is now considering (see June 25, 2012). Regardless of what the Court does or does not do in the Montana case, he concludes, “[t]oday’s framework for corruption cannot stand.” [Stanford Law Review, 6/14/2012]

Entity Tags: Howard Dean, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton, Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, John McCain, John G. Roberts, Jr, Stanford Law Review, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Black Rock Group logo.Black Rock Group logo. [Source: Black Rock Group]The 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) requires third-party groups working on behalf of candidates or parties not to coordinate their efforts with those candidates or parties—to remain “independent.” Many political observers have suspected that some of these groups are coordinating their efforts with the campaigns and/or with one another. Two of the groups under suspicion are American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads GPS. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, the two have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads (see April 13-20, 2012). In early June, Crossroads GPS spent $70,000 in advertisements attacking Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), half of its $140,000 spent on that race. Shortly before that run of advertisements began, Heitkamp’s Republican challenger, Rick Berg (R-ND), paid the Black Rock Group, a Republican consulting firm in Virginia, thousands of dollars for “communications consulting.” Black Rock is also contracted to perform “advocacy and communications consulting” for American Crossroads. Black Rock’s founding partner, Carl Forti, is American Crossroads’s political director and formerly served as Crossroads GPS’s advocacy director. (Forti also helped start Restore Our Future, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC—see June 23, 2011). Black Rock partner Michael Dubke is the founder of Crossroads Media, which buys ads for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Crossroads Media and Black Rock share offices. It would be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult or coordinate with Crossroads GPS on advertisement strategies. It would not be illegal for Berg’s campaign to consult with Black Rock, and then for Black Rock to consult with Crossroads GPS. “The real scandal is what’s legal,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center. The Citizens United ruling said that groups would disclose their donors and activists, and groups would not coordinate with one another. Yet both provisions are either being ignored or dodged. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 says: “The statu[t]e and the Supreme Court have been very strong on preventing coordination. But the FEC regulations have basically gutted the laws and given us very weak laws to prevent coordination between outside spenders and candidates… despite the fact that the Court’s entire decision in Citizens United is based on the notion that the expenditures are going to be entirely independent from the campaign.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation says, “[T]he FEC [Federal Election Commission] has a very narrow definition of what coordination actually is.” As long as a campaign and an outside group do not directly communicate, their use of a “common vendor” such as Black Rock is perfectly legal as long as several specific criteria are avoided. “It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s what the FEC has defined and there’s nothing illegal about it.” Ryan says: “It makes the coordination rules pretty meaningless. We have all of this special interest money that we feared might be in the system, and none of the meaningful restraints on coordination, and very limited disclosure.” Allison gives a hypothetical example: “If they’re using the same people to buy ads, and the campaign is telling the ad buyer, ‘We want you to buy ads in such and such and such,’ and the ad buyer does that, the super PAC can then say, ‘Well, run ads where they’re not running ads, or double their ads,’ or whatever. These guys are professionals and they know how to do this. That’s still not coordination.” There is no evidence that Black Rock is ferrying communications between Crossroads GPS and the Berg campaign; according to Black Rock spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, “Black Rock has had firewalls in place since last year which allows the firm to legally engage in federal campaign and independent expenditure or issue advocacy campaigns.” Crossroads GPS is not legally bound to disclose much of its information to the FEC, and it is impossible to know precisely what Crossroads GPS is paying Black Rock to do for it. The Berg campaign denies any coordination, saying in a statement: “While we do work with Black Rock, there is no coordination between our campaign and outside groups and we have no knowledge of what their plans are. We cannot control what outside groups will do.” Allison says that even if Berg’s campaign is being truthful, there are many ways campaigns and outside groups can legally coordinate, using a common advisor such as Black Rock or even individual consultants. “There can be coordination at the level of consultants, even if they’re not at same company,” he says, noting that many consultants know one another socially or have worked together in previous campaigns. It is also possible, and legal, for super PACs to find out where campaigns they are supporting are buying ads by contacting the campaigns of the opposing candidates, which keep track of such information. Forti, the CEO of Black Rock, is in a unique position to facilitate what reporter Alex Seitz-Wald calls “GOP non-coordination coordination,” as he “sits in the middle of a powerful nexus of outside spending groups and GOP political firms all run out of the same office suite in Alexandria, Virginia.” Charles Spies, the treasure of Romney’s Restore Our Future, says of Forti, “I don’t know of anybody who’s got as important of a role with the major outside organizations, both in 2010 and in 2012.” [Salon, 6/19/2012]

Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Bill Allison, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, Alex Seitz-Wald, Carl Forti, Rick Berg, Steven Law, Paul S. Ryan, Chelsea Wilson, Crossroads Media, Fred Wertheimer, Black Rock Group, Michael Dubke, Restore Our Future, Heidi Heitkamp

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al, 6/25/2012 pdf file; SCOTUSBlog, 6/25/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Mitch McConnell, Marc Elias, Charles Schumer, Montana Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that the US Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of a Montana Supreme Court decision to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate political spending (see June 25, 2012) proves that the US Supreme Court is actively working to dismantle representative democracy. Referring to the 2010 Citizens United case that formed the basis for the Court’s recent decision (see January 21, 2010), Feingold says: “This court had one fig leaf left after this one awful decision two years ago.” The justices could claim “they were politically naive or didn’t know what would happen when they overturned 100 years of law on corporate contributions.” But after the American Tradition Partnership decision that reversed the Montana high court, he says, “They have shown themselves wantonly willing to undo our democracy.” Feingold continues: “This is one of the great turning points, not only in campaign finance but also in our country’s history. I believe we’re in a constitutional crisis.” Feingold heads an anti-Citizens United group called Progressives United, which works to raise awareness about the effects of the decisions and to persuade Congress to overturn the decision via legislation. He says the Supreme Court has “clearly become… a partisan arm of corporate America. This is a real serious problem for our democracy. It’s essentially a court that rules in one direction.… [T]his court is no longer perceived as the independent arbiter of the law that the people expect them to be.” A recent study by the Constitutional Accountability Center shows that during the tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts, the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobbying organization (see January 21-22, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, and February 10, 2011), which filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against the Montana high court (see April 30, 2012), has seen victory in 68 percent of the cases in which it has filed briefs, a much higher success record than in earlier years. Feingold wrote an article for the Stanford Law Review claiming that the 2006-2008 rise in small donor contributions spurred corporations and the Supreme Court to create the Citizens United decision (see June 14, 2012). Feingold says: “The corporate interest in America saw the face of democracy, and so what they did was engineer this decision. They used it as an excuse to stop citizen democracy in this country.” Nevertheless, Feingold is confident that grassroots organizations such as Progressives United and efforts in other venues, including Congress and the Obama administration, will eventually see Citizens United overturned. For now, he quotes his campaign finance reform partner, Senator John McCain, who recently said, “I promise you there will be huge scandals” (see March 27, 2012). Feingold says, “There already is a scandal.” [Huffington Post, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: Russell D. Feingold, Constitutional Accountability Center, John G. Roberts, Jr, Progressives United, John McCain, Obama administration, US Chamber of Commerce, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A Fourth Circuit federal appeals court rules that while the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) allows corporations to make independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates for public office, corporations cannot make direct contributions to candidates. The court’s ruling strikes down an earlier judge’s finding that corporations have exactly the same political speech rights as individuals (see May 26, 2011 and After). [OMB Watch, 7/10/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senate Democrats try twice within a two-day period to bring the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would require the disclosure of the identities of political donors (see July 26-27, 2010), to the floor for a vote. If enacted, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would create new campaign finance disclosure requirements and make public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. The bill would also “prohibit foreign influence in federal elections [and] prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections.” Both Senate Democratic efforts are thwarted by a Republican filibuster. Democrats are unable to muster the 60 votes needed to grant “cloture,” which would break the filibuster and bring the bill to the floor to be voted up or down. The last vote supports cloture 53-45, not enough to invoke cloture; the first vote was 51-44 in favor. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is recovering from a seizure, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) do not vote. Democrats force an official recording of each senator’s vote, placing the names of senators voting for and against the bill in the public record. Democrats have tried since 2010 to pass the bill (see July 26-27, 2010). The bill, sponsored in its latest iteration by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would force unions, nonprofits, and corporate interest groups that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Whitehouse modified the original version of the bill to no longer require sponsors of “electioneering” ads to put a disclaimer at the end, and pushed the effective date of the bill to 2013, meaning it would not impact the 2012 presidential campaign. Whitehouse and 15 other senators take to the floor to press for its passage. “When somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent, a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution, they’re not doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” he tells the Senate. Democrats urge Republicans who have previously spoken out in favor of transparency and campaign finance reform to vote for the bill, targeting Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Scott Brown (R-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, none of them break ranks with their fellow Republicans. McCain, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill of 2002 (see March 27, 2002) and has spoken out against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to anonymously spend unlimited amounts on “electioneering” activities (see January 21, 2010), refuses to join Democrats in supporting the bill. He tells the Senate before the final vote, “The American people will see it for what it is—political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.” McCain asks Senate Democrats “to go back to the drawing board and bring back a bill that is truly fair, truly bipartisan, and requires true full disclosure for everyone.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the bill would “send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” and that it “amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” In his weekly press conference shortly before the floor votes, McConnell says of the bill: “This could best be described as a selective disclosure act. It has managed to generate opposition from everybody from the ACLU to [the] NRA. That’s quite an accomplishment.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says of the bill: “[I]n a post-Citizens United world, the least we should do is require groups spending millions on political attack ads to disclose their largest donors. We owe it to voters to let them judge for themselves the attacks—and the motivations behind them.” And Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation says that the Senate is “thumbing their noses at the very notion of democratic elections.” [Politico, 7/14/2012; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012] After the bill fails to pass, Reid says, “It is obvious Republicans’ priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires—billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.” [The Hill, 7/24/2012]

Entity Tags: Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Ellen Miller, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, John McCain, Mark Steven Kirk, Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, US Senate, Scott Brown, Richard Shelby, Sheldon Whitehouse

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A bar graph issued by the Center for Responsive Politics shows, in the words of the liberal news Web site Think Progress, why Republicans are so strongly in favor of the January 2010 Citizens United decision that lifted restrictions on corporate donations for election and campaign purposes (see January 21, 2010). In 2010, the first election cycle that the decision was in effect, conservative outside groups outpaced liberal/progressive outside groups in spending for the first time since 1996. The data, compiled by the Center, is as follows:
1990 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $3.2 million to $2.4 million.
1992 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $9.4 million to $7.1 million.
1994 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $6.3 million to $2.6 million.
1996 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $9.9 million to $6.5 million.
1998 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $7.5 million to $5.2 million.
2000 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $29 million to $17 million.
2002 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $17.9 million to $4.6 million (see March 27, 2002).
2004 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $121.3 million to $68.5 million (see January - November 2004).
2006 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $38.7 million to $19.6 million.
2008 - Liberal outside groups outspent conservative outside groups $159 million to $120.3 million.
2010 - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $183.3 million to $98.9 million (see January 21, 2010).
2012 (to date) - Conservative outside groups outspent liberal outside groups $166 million to $46.9 million.
The chart shows that outside spending was on the rise well before the Citizens United decision, but, as Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser wrote in May 2012: “[A]nother trend is also clear. Prior to Citizens United, which was decided in 2010, left-leaning groups held a moderate-to-significant advantage in election spending. After Citizens United, conservatives absolutely dominated the field.” Millhiser acknowledged that Republican primary spending in the first few months of 2012 played a significant role in the $119.1 million disparity. “Nevertheless, the last two election cycles suggest that conservatives will continue to benefit from Citizens United even once the general election kicks into full gear,” he wrote. ”Citizens United gave such a boost to Republican candidates that outside spending by conservatives grew by more than $70 million from 2008 to 2010, even though 2008 was a presidential election year and outside spending has historically been much higher in these cycles than in off-year [midterm] elections.” [Think Progress, 5/2/2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 8/2012]

Entity Tags: Ian Millhiser, Center for Responsive Politics, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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