In the News
Washington Examiner: Campaign finance law is too complex
By Joe TrotterWriting for the U.S. Supreme Court majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: “The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney, conduct demographic marketing research, or seek declaratory rulings before discussing the most salient political issues of our day.”Unfortunately, campaign finance laws and regulations are now so complex that retaining a practicing campaign finance lawyer doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay on the right side of the law.
Empower Texans: TEC Defies Supreme Court, Constitution
By Michael Quinn SullivanDespite a gubernatorial veto last year, the opposition of two-thirds of the state senate and the majority of the House Republican caucus, the Texas Ethics Commission has moved forward with unconstitutional rules that they were specifically warned against implementing by six incoming state senators.At today’s hearing, commissioners were warned by David Keating, a constitutional law expert who heads the Center for Competitive Politics, that this action defies current Supreme Court precedent.In his veto message of the same scheme last year, Gov. Rick Perry said the action would “expose more Texans to the risk of such harassment, regardless of political, organizational or party affiliation.” He also described it as having “a chilling effect” on the “[f]reedom of association and freedom of speech.”
By Gregory RobertsUntil then — beginning with post-Watergate reforms that included creation of the FEC in the 1970s, and continuing through the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 — the trend in federal law ran toward increasing regulation of money in politics. But those 2010 rulings, in both the Citizens United and SpeechNow cases, reversed that course and opened the floodgates for money to flow to political groups spending on campaigns.“We think that’s a pretty good deal,” said David Keating, president of the nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics in northern Virginia and a plaintiff on the winning side of the SpeechNow case. “More spending means more information, and more voters turning out.“The rise in spending is because the courts have recognized that the First Amendment means something when it says, ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,’ ” Keating said.
By David Saleh Rauf“I don’t think 25 percent will pass muster,” said David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics, noting that the regulation would appear “highly vulnerable in court.”
By Paul JosseyThe Vice Chair’s current bid to regulate internet political speech has also attracted stinging reviews from critics. And as Chairman Lee E. Goodman pointed out, the proposal would place the FEC in the ultra vires position of regulating speech itself, instead of political expenditures.Commissioner Ravel’s background foretold more than just her speech-stifling ambitions. She also revealed a penchant to cast herself in a starring role. In her last act as FPPC head, she triumphantly held a news conference to announce a settlement in a “dark money” case, and then promptly hit the media circuit.Now as Vice Chair, she recently completed a three-city “listening” tour. Her tour happened to coincide with the height of election season in the ambit of three hotly contested races. A Larry Lessig-backed group (one tentacle in his Less-Squid of “reformer” organizations) heavily promoted the tour and provided handy talking points to supporters attending the meetings.Unfortunately, Commissioner Ravel has carried over a final attribute from her Golden State days: a penchant for sloppiness.
By Eric CochlingThousands of non-profit groups could become caught in a tidal wave of proposed changes that might impact how local, state and national organizations can advocate for children’s welfare, education, health care and virtually any other policy. The concept of the “anonymous donor” who makes community projects and thinking happen could be derailed without considerable care to protect the rights individuals have to use their personal money as they desire.“Dark money” is the pejorative term opponents created to talk about corporate political action committee and super PAC spending. Ravel speaks openly about “problems we have with these dark money groups” and her view that “people are getting disgusted about what’s happening.” She says, “Polls have shown that elected officials are primarily serving their large contributors and not their constituents. That view is held equally by Republicans and Democrats.”The FEC vice chair was at Emory University in Atlanta last week on the final leg of a three-city swing described as a listening tour to gather public input before her 2015 planned initiative. Other stops were Denver in early October and the University of Chicago’s new Institute of Politics that was founded by President Barack Obama’s political operative David Axelrod.
By Derek WillisHow small is the field of competitive House races? So narrow that just 25 contests account for 80 percent of all reported outside spending in the general election.The Cook Political Report rates 38 seats either as tossups or leaning toward one party or the other, but among groups operating outside the district like super PACs, the concentration is even tighter: Half of all independent spending reported to the Federal Election Commission for general election races has gone to just a dozen seats, with two apiece in Arizona and Illinois.
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti
Prospective presidential candidates and their supporters are spending money like it’s 2016.Groups allied with 15 of the top presidential prospects have raised $89 million and spent $87 million this election cycle as they gear up for 2016, with a focus on building campaign infrastructure and making inroads in key primary states, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed this month with the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service.The groups connected to Hillary Clinton alone have brought in $25 million.
By Kenneth LovettALBANY — Mayor de Blasio steered at least one massive donation to an upstate Democratic committee that promptly funneled the money to two state Senate candidates — taking advantage of a huge loophole in campaign finance rules.The donation, for $50,000, was made by supermarket mogul and failed 2013 mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis to the Putnam County Democratic Committee on Oct. 14, records show.Catsimatidis said he made the contribution at the request of the mayor, after they spoke at the Al Smith Foundation dinner Oct. 1.
By Don WolfensbergerDueling duos of academic election experts kicked-off the former roundtable. Tom Mann and Anthony Corrado, governance studies fellows at the Brookings Institution, take issue with those who assert that campaign finance law restrictions have weakened the parties and strengthened outside groups that tend to support more extreme candidates. They maintain that parties are as strong as ever but that the Republican Party “has veered sharply right in recent decades” producing an “asymmetric polarization” characterized by an unwillingness to compromise and a set of “unusually confrontational tactics.”University of Massachusetts political scientists Ray LaRaja and Brian Schaffner say their research at the state level suggests Mann and Corrado “could be wrong.”Their study indicates that, “states with party-centered campaign finance laws tend to be less polarized than states that constrain how the parties can support candidates.” This is because party organizations tend to fund more moderate, pragmatic candidates. Both sides of the debate concur that recent campaign financing developments are not the overriding cause of increased polarization but have certainly exacerbated it.
By Eric LiptonWhen the executives who distribute 5-Hour Energy, the popular caffeinated drinks, learned that attorneys general in more than 30 states were investigating allegations of deceptive advertising — a serious financial threat to the company — they moved quickly to shut the investigations down, one state at a time.But success did not come in court or at a negotiating table.Instead, it came at the opulent Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, with its panoramic ocean views, where more than a dozen state attorneys general had gathered last year for cocktails, dinners and fund-raisers organized by the Democratic Attorneys General Association. A lawyer for 5-Hour Energy roamed the event, setting her sights on Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri, whose office was one of those investigating the company.