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Holier Than Thou

"Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine" – Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.

The recent flaps between John McCain and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over accepting public financing in the general election bring these words penned by Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago into renewed focus – only now instead of describing field-marshals and bishops the words can be applied to presidential candidates, male and female.

The flames ignited last Friday when McCain accused Obama of backing away from his pledge to accept public financing in the general election.  McCain, recently opted out of public-financing in the primary election only after his fundraising began to pick up, and not before he first used his donor list and then his pledge to enter the public financing system to help secure loans for his campaign.

Two days later, it was Senator Clinton’s (who never made the pledge)turn to attack Obama for hedging away from his public financing pledge.

Notably, none of the three candidates ultimately opted into the public-financing system for the primary campaign and as Brad Smith points out opting into the public financing system for the general election may be the savviest tactical move anyway.

The rhetoric of all three candidates reflects a holier-than-thou approach to First Amendment politics – only when you pull back the waistcoat all that is revealed is a disingenuous effort to use campaign finance issues for political gain. 

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Contribution Limits Shortcomings

In 2000 California voters passed Proposition 34 which set contribution limits for candidates running for state office.  Not surprisingly, with limits placed on contributions to candidates, citizens and advocacy groups quickly turned to other avenues through which to support preferred candidates. 

A report by the state’s "Fair Political Practices Commission" issued last week reveals that independent groups have spent $88 million on efforts to reach California’s voters since the contribution limits were first put in place.  The Commission’s "disinterested" Chairman, Russ Johnson, said that the independent spending is "thwarting the will of the people."

But no one should be surprised that citizens and citizens groups want to make their voices heard in an election.  Instead of "thwarting the will of the people," independent spending helps the people excercise and express their will.

California’s experience since enacting contribution limits closely mirrors that of Philadelphia which last year concluded its first ever election with strict contribution limits.  CCP has published a case study of Philadelphia’s experience which should provide some lessons for other jurisdictions considering strict contribution limits.

Click HERE to read the study.

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SpeechNow.org Files Lawsuit

SpeechNow.org is a new group of citizens formed to protect the First Amendment at the ballot box on Election Day 2008 and beyond.  But before it can advocate for or against candidates based on their stand on free speech, it must go to court to secure its own First Amendment rights.

Represented by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics, SpeechNow.org, along with members and supporters, will file a federal lawsuit today challenging the campaign finance law that requires SpeechNow.org to become a "political committee" in order to advocate for or against candidates.  So that SpeechNow.org can begin its advocacy as soon as possible, IJ and CCP will request a preliminary injunction and ask that an expedited hearing on that request be scheduled within 20 days.

More below the fold.

Filed Under: Blog

Independent Spending in the ’08 Race

As the campaigns await results from today’s "Potomac Primary", now may be as good a time as any to review the impact of independent spending on the presidential primary.

Voters have been inundated with floods of information from both candidate campaigns and outside advocacy groups.  These same voters may also have heard proponents of strict campaign finance laws, and even some candidates, decry the involvement of these groups in the political process.

Indeed, Republican frontrunner Senator John McCain has declared that independent advocacy groups are "a disgrace" that "have to be eliminated."  Meanwhile, Senator Obama’s campaign has made clear that "they do not think people should be donating to 527s."

Defenders of free speech and the First Amendment believe these groups play a vital role in ensuring a vibrant campaign and an informed electorate. Simply put, there can be no such thing as too much political speech and citizen-driven speech deserves the most protection of all.

So, as advocacy groups undoubtedly grow more active this year – always mirrored by louder denouncements of their activity – it is important to remember and recognize their valuable role in our democracy. 

More after the jump.

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Davis v. FEC

The Supreme Court last week set April 22 as the date for oral arguments in Davis v. FEC - the case challenging the Millionaires’ Amendment.

The challenge to the provision, part of the "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance law, exposes the dubious underlying rationale behind our campaign finance laws.

Advocates of strict campaign finance regulations have justified restrictions on political speech by arguing for years that campaign finance laws guard against corruption and the "appearance of corruption." Davis’s complaint brings to light the paradoxical defense of contribution limits and the Millionaires’ Amendment.

More after the jump.

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New York City Campaign Finance Law Challenged

A challenge to New York City’s campaign finance laws was filed today in U.S. District Court by attorney James Bopp Jr. representing various New York citizens.

The challenged law places uneven contribution limits on the amount of money an individual can contribute to a political candidate based on the individual’s occupation.

"New York’s law puts government in the role of ‘sound engineer,’ turning the volume of certain speakers up or down to achieve preferred outcomes," said Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP).  "That is a role that is wholly foreign to the First Amendment."

More after the jump.

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Congressman wants taxpayers to fund his campaign

Representative Chris Murphy (D, CT-5) is tired of asking citizens to support his campaign. So, in a recent op-ed Rep. Murphy advocates for Congress to pass an enormous "welfare for politicians" scheme to directly deposit taxpayer dollars into the campaign war chests of politicians like him.   The cost of this recurring earmark is estimated by its supporters to cost $1.8 billion per year.

In return for all this money, Rep. Murphy will be freed of all his fundraising chores while voters will be left with the status quo.  The only difference will be that incumbent officeholders are even more entrenched and citizen voices are cut out of the debate.

More after the jump.

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Legal Challenge to Lobbying Disclosure

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging disclosure provisions in the "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act" (HLOGA).

Specifically, the NAM is challenging Section 207 of the Act, which, according to BNA, "requires disclosure of organizational members of an association that contribute more than $5,000 annually to an association’s lobbying efforts and ‘actively participate’ in lobbying."

NAM president John Engler contends that the lawsuit is necessary because HLOGA "has a very powerful chilling affect on our members’ constitutional rights."

More after the jump.

 

Filed Under: Blog

What’s Good for American Apparel…

On Super Tuesday, the homepage for retailer American Apparel featured company "endorsements" of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

The website has since reverted back to a less political front page, but not before Politico questioned the applicability of campaign finance laws to American Apparel’s "endorsements."

More after the jump.

Filed Under: Blog

Amicus Brief: Shays and Meehan v. FEC — “Shays III”

Amicus brief of the Center for Competitive Politics

Filed Under: Blog, Completed Amicus Briefs, Amicus Briefs, Completed Cases (Amicus), Amicus Briefs, Completed Cases (Amicus)