By Joe Albanese and Brad Smith
“Money in politics” obsessives have long been frustrated at the lack of scholarly support for the notion that political spending directly alters legislative votes, which would help them to push for greater political speech restrictions. This complaint is a central theme of a new report by the progressive Roosevelt Institute, which the institute claims finally proves the link between money and policy.
The authors look at House Democrats who voted for financial regulations in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but then voted to amend it in later years. They claim that political spending by the “finance industry” caused these Democrats to suspiciously “change their minds” – as if nobody can support a law while hoping to improve parts of it. The study’s methods discredit its conclusion…
Restricting how campaigns are financed necessarily involves limiting the speech and political activity needed to bring about political change. If this is the best evidence for claiming systemic corruption, there is little corresponding benefit from regulating campaign finance.
Washington Examiner: New study fails to prove that money sways politicians, despite activists’ excitement (In the News)
By Joe Albanese and Brad Smith
Capital Research Center: “Dark Money” Funding Drops to 2.9% of All 2016 Campaign Spending (In the News)
By CRC Staff
In a new issue brief, the Center for Competitive Politics reveals that so-called “dark money” funding decreased to only 2.9% of all campaign spending during the 2016 general election. Further analysis shows that “dark money” from nonprofit groups has never exceeded 5% of campaign spending in the last six election cycles, and continues to decline.
A part of the larger debate on money in politics, “dark money” is election funds spent by politically active nonprofit groups that are not required by law to report the private information of donors for non-earmarked contributions.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
Undisclosed donors provided nearly half of the more than $20 million in outside campaign spending in three closely watched, current congressional election races, a Bloomberg BNA review of Federal Election Commission reports found…
In reality, the CCP study said, nonprofits that spend money in campaigns but disclose none of their donors consistently account for less than 5 percent of reported political spending. Regulated political committees and others, like the media, “continue to have the most prominent voices in elections” the CCP said.
Allowing a small role for nonprofits doesn’t “drown out” candidates or undermine disclosure but adds to the diversity of views necessary in a healthy democracy, the CCP said.
By Brad Smith
Buck’s proposal would give the president the power to choose the pivotal fifth vote. In theory, no more than two commissioners could be from the same party, so no party would have a majority. But that would be illusory. For example, a Democratic president could appoint Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders; Donald Trump could appoint a registered Independent, such as his daughter Ivanka. The president would also name one commissioner to a 10-year term as chairman, meaning the disadvantaged party will spend a full decade on the losing end, even if it managed to win the presidency in between. The result, before long, will be a partisan agency not trusted by roughly half of Americans.
Washington Examiner: Is the Supreme Court about to give state and local political parties a boost? (In the News)
By Bradley A. Smith
As part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” of 2002, virtually everything these local parties do was brought into the web of federal regulation, and their sources of funding largely cut off. A poorly-reasoned Supreme Court decision, McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, upheld these restrictions against a constitutional challenge in 2003. Cases decided since McConnell, however, have relied on traditional First Amendment reasoning to overturn many parts of that decision. One of the few parts that remains is the restrictions on state and local parties.
The Supreme Court now has a chance to rectify this element of the McConnell decision. Currently before the court is the case of Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, which challenges those legal restrictions on state and local party activity. The party’s position is simple: Why can super PACs, or a nonprofit like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, accept and spend unlimited sums from any source to influence elections, while political parties cannot? And how can parties corrupt their own candidates by trying to help them win elections?
By Chris Adams
David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, hears all about efforts to “reform” campaign finance and he asks, Why?
Reviewing the literature on electoral competitiveness, public corruption and the flow of money into campaigns, Keating finds no relationship between money spent and important indicators of robust politics or clean governance. Since adoption of the Federal Election Campaign Act in the 1970s, for example, the number of elections with double-digit shifts in Republican or Democratic seats in Congress has dropped. And over the past 40 years, trust in government has dropped as well.
“I think the impact of these contributions is way overblown,” said Keating.
Keating and his center work to promote and defend First Amendment rights to free political speech, engaging in litigation and training designed to ease restrictions on political donations. In a presentation with NPF Paul Miller fellows, Keating said he would like to get rid of contribution limits to campaigns; substantially raise the financial threshold for something being declared a political action committee; and raise the threshold for what constitutes a small donor who doesn’t have to be disclosed (right now, it’s $200; he would raise that to $1,000).
By Brad Smith
The Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency showed the dangers of allowing one party to use the power of government against the other. In the aftermath, the Federal Election Commission was created to make sure future administrations could not abuse campaign regulations to bludgeon their opponents.
But today the FEC is under attack from members of Congress whose misguided proposal to “reform” the agency could take us back to the Watergate era. A bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Renacci, an Ohio Republican, would shrink the agency from six commissioners to five…
Proponents justify this radical change by pointing to gridlock at the FEC. But in fact, the FEC usually reaches a majority vote except on controversial cases – The Center for Competitive Politics’ 2015 analysis found that 93 percent of FEC decisions were bipartisan. And not all gridlock is bad. A six-member commission with three votes on each side was designed to allow gridlock when the parties are in firm disagreement over whether campaign finance laws were violated.
By Renee Giachino
Bradley A. Smith, Chairman and Founder of the Center for Competitive Politics and Former FEC Chairman, discusses three significant victories for free speech rights that directly impact average Americans, including donor privacy and the elevation of Judge Gorsuch to Supreme Court Justice.
By Michael De Yoanna
Twelve members of Congress are supporting the Restoring Integrity to America’s Election Act, including two from Colorado: Reps. Ken Buck and Jared Polis, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively.
Buck said the commission was “set up in a way that invited deadlock, and that’s just what we’ve got.”…
The act seeks to reduce the number of commissioners from six to five. No more than two members of the commission could be from the same party. A fifth proposed commissioner would be the chairperson and nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a 10-year term.
Groups like Issue One, a bipartisan advocacy organization focused on government ethics and political reform, are supporting the legislation as a way to restore enforcement surrounding money in politics.
Other groups, like the Center for Competitive Politics, worry that the bill’s deciding presidential pick would create an ideological tilt on the commission.
“It would transform campaign finance law enforcement into a partisan exercise, no matter how the agency markets itself,” the group said in a press release.
By Joe Albanese
The way the term “special interests” is used in practice suggests that it’s simply shorthand for “bad thing my opponent supports.” After all, depending on one’s views, “special interests” may encompass big business or big labor, fossil fuel or green energy companies, and single-issue and ideological groups like the Club for Growth or EMILY’s List.
In fact, one can fairly say that all of those groups are “special interests.” And that’s okay.
“Special interests” – or the more fitting term, advocacy groups – simplify democracy rather than subvert it. Most Americans don’t have the time or ability to analyze legislation, organize grassroots activity, or follow the ins and outs of the political process. Advocacy groups bridge the gap between citizens and government. They communicate their members’ views to public officials and inform the public of important political developments. For every advocacy group with one viewpoint, there is almost certainly another one making the opposite case. Some groups you’ll support, and others you’ll oppose, but they all contribute to the exchange of ideas that makes democracy work.