Hypocrisy and smears typical of the Campaign Legal Center

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a lobbying and litigation front-group for wealthy foundation supporters seeking to restrict the First Amendment rights of American citizens, attacked the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and the James Madison Center for Free Speech Friday in a memo to reporters about campaign finance litigation.

“A great number of the challenges in recent years have been filed by two well funded organizations that reveal little to nothing about their sources of their funding: The James Madison Center for Free Speech and the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP),” wrote Campaign Legal Center officials J. Gerald Hebert and Tara Malloy. “Former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith is the President of the Center for Competitive Politics, which also reveals nothing regarding its sources of funding.”

A “well funded organization” that “reveal[s] little to nothing about their sources of funding”? Sounds more like the Campaign Legal Center, a “shadowy group” that does not disclose its donors. At least CCP stands on principle: we fight for the right of nonprofits to keep their donors private because of potential retaliation from opponents and powerful government officials. What’s CLC’s excuse? CCP would even protect CLC’s right to anonymity, yet CLC fights to expose all nonprofits to more of these types of smears.

According to GuideStar, which tracks nonprofit 990 forms required to be filed with the IRS, the Campaign Legal Center is awash in more cash than the Center for Competitive Politics.

Summary of the 2008 Form 990 CLC filed
The Campaign Legal Center took in $1.8 million in contributions and ended with $2.2 million in net assets. Their executive director earned $214,106, more than Members of Congress take home. CLC spent $91,722 from 2005-2008 to lobby Congress and administration officials. The group discloses no donors beyond a list of foundation supporters on its website (without details regarding dollar figures or dates of donations).

One of the foundations listed as supporting the Campaign Legal Center is the Open Society Institute, founded and chaired by liberal billionaire George Soros. Soros has spent millions of dollars to influence U.S. elections, but he apparently believes that average Americans should not have that same right. The Center for Competitive Politics helped represent SpeechNow.org in its challenge to government curbs on contributions to independent groups. The Campaign Legal Center filed a brief opposing the right of Americans to join together and speak effectively—a right Soros enjoys by virtue of his great wealth.

Summary of the 2008 From 990 CCP filed
The Center for Competitive Politics took in $1.4 million in contributions and ended with $411,067 in net assets. CCP spent nothing on lobbying, devoting the bulk of its resources to litigation and research. It has started lobbying on select issues recently, particularly on an effort in Congress to restrict free political speech and undo the Supreme Court’s January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Center for Competitive Politics is honest and upfront about our mission: we’re a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. We seek to deregulate the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy. We think campaign finance restrictions generally entrench incumbents and make campaigns less competitive and free.

In contrast, the Campaign Legal Center purports to be a “public interest” organization that protects democracy against “special interests.” They take secret, slush-fund contributions from billionaires like George Soros to enact and defend restrictive campaign finance laws that diminish First Amendment rights for the American public. They’re one of the most hypocritical and hysterical front-groups in Washington, D.C. They are losing campaign finance cases around the country as judges strike down clearly speech-infringing laws they helped write and pass. Their desperate strategy is now clear: they are losing in court, so they are smearing their opponents with ridiculous hyperbole and false attacks.

Self-styled reform groups such as the Campaign Legal Center should be ashamed of their spiteful smears against those seeking stronger First Amendment protections for grassroots groups.

In a 2007 Roll Call profile of the Center for Competitive Politics, Hebert dismissed Brad Smith with trademark Campaign Legal Center name-calling: “He’s annoying, like mosquitoes are annoying,” Hebert said. “Most people don’t take him seriously.”

It seems like Campaign Legal Center is taking us seriously now.

UPDATE: Perhaps it’s worth noting that we were being sarcastic in referring to CLC not disclosing their donors, calling them a “shadowy group” and such. Alas, sarcasm doesn’t always translate well online. Our criticism was of hypocrisy, not secrecy.

According to CLC’s Monday response to CCP’s Friday release, “CCP does not have any plausible denial or substantive response. They did not refute any of the facts presented.” Wrong. We weren’t trying to refute the fact that we’re actively challenging campaign finance laws. We’re pointing out the hypocrisy of CLC accusing a smaller organization, who they call “well funded,” of some nefarious plot to affect campaign finance laws while their own organization suffers from greater flaws under that framework. CLC says they have “always listed our funders on our website.” Not true. They list a few foundation donors. They do not list the amounts given, the dates of the donations or the amount given from individuals.

CLC attacked CCP for our “secret” donors while proudly proclaim that they disclose their foundation donors, which is true, and sort of besides the point since this information actually is public knowledge. CLC conveniently omits that there are also individuals in this great country of ours that, from time to time, find causes they believe in, and write checks out of their own personal accounts to groups as wide and varied as, say, CLC and CCP. CLC neglects to disclose these individual donors, of course.

To draw a rough analogy, CLC’s position would be like crediting a candidate for disclosing PAC contributions, but not contributions from individuals. They wouldn’t stand for it, yet here they are trying to pretend that they disclose their donors when all they really do is disclose those donors that are already publicly disclosed by law (foundations also file 990 forms, and those forms disclose what groups they give to).

A few minutes dug up the following numbers: CLC received $325,000 (approximately) in 2008 from entities or persons undisclosed, out of $1.83 million in revenue. Where did this money come from?

CLC need not answer that, because we really don’t care. We believe CLC is wrong on nearly everything, just as they no doubt believe the same about us. Do we really need to know much more? Perhaps instead of trying to sketch out whatever interests and inividuals the denizens of the “reform” community believe are behind CCP, they could instead stick with trying to argue why they’re right and we’re wrong?

Furthermore, CCP is not “thin-skinned” about the fact that we do not reveal our donors.  We’ve said it on national television, and in interviews with national and local print media.  We even noted it in our response to the Campaign Legal Center’s hypocrisy and tendency (habit?) of simply engaging in nasty personal attacks on all with whom they disagree. We just find it amusing, and worth pointing out, when a group with a budget substantially larger than ours denounces our efforts and suggest our success comes about only because we are a “well funded” organization.  And we also find it vaguely amusing -and an educational moment about the value of privacy and role of disclosure in combating political influence-when that same group, which does not disclose its donors, criticizes us for not disclosing our donors. That CLC has, as a major issue it promotes, requiring others to disclose their donors only adds even more to the irony.

“Thin-skinned” about not disclosing our donors?  Hardly.  At the Center for Competitive Politics, we have never hesitated to say it ourselves.  But frankly, we don’t know how those folks at CLC live with themselves…

[Note: This post has been updated to note a transcription error in CLC’s lobbying expenditures. This update does not change the meaning or the overall conclusion in the post. CLC spent a bit less on lobbying; they’re still a larger organization than CCP (not to mention their many allies in the self-styled reform community spending millions of dollars in soft money). This post has also been updated to respond to CLC’s reply to our original post, which took pains to ignore nearly every substantive issue CCP raised. CCP President Sean Parnell and CCP Chairman Brad Smith raised similar issues on the Election Law Listserv.]