By Editorial Board
Donor disclosure has become a weapon of political intimidation, and it could get worse. The Supreme Court will soon consider whether ads that discuss policy issues without advocating for a candidate can be regulated and the names of their financial backers disclosed under campaign-finance laws…
The 2002 McCain-Feingold Act says that any group that runs an ad including the name of a candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election must disclose its donors like a political-action committee. Yet the Independence Institute merely intended to communicate with voters on issues, not advocate for a candidate…
The Supreme Court will consider the Independence Institute appeal in a private conference Friday. If the Justices uphold the lower court, much more political speech will fall under the federal campaign-finance dragnet. Here’s hoping Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, will clarify that donor disclosure violates the Constitution when it imposes undue burdens on Americans who advocate for causes-especially those that might be unpopular.
By Editorial Board
Featuring Luke Wachob and Caleb O. Brown
Massive protests greeted Donald Trump upon his inauguration, but speaking out against the president will require a robust First Amendment. Will the American Left support it? Luke Wachob of the Center for Competitive Politics believes so.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
A filing due next month in a key Supreme Court case could provide the first indication of whether the Trump administration will seek to uphold or challenge longstanding campaign finance laws that restrict unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties (Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, U.S., No. 16-865, jurisdictional statement filed 1/6/17)…
The high court also has another pending campaign finance case challenging FEC disclosure rules for political ads known as “electioneering communications,” Independence Institute v. FEC. The justices are set to consider at their private conference Feb. 17 whether to accept the Independence Institute case for a full review and oral argument.
With the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court is now evenly divided between four justices who have voted consistently to roll back campaign finance rules and four justices who have generally supported current rules. Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Scalia’s death, has been criticized by supporters of strong campaign finance rules, who say that, like Scalia, Gorsuch is expected to continue on the path toward less regulation of money in politics.
By Eric Wang
Senate Bill 255 appears to require an “independent expenditure committee” to file ongoing campaign finance reports as a political “committee” – commonly known as “PAC.” The bill’s extreme ambiguity on this point is, in and of itself, a fatal flaw. What is clear is that the bill intends to publicly out the donors to such groups – even if their donations were completely unrelated to any political purpose. Names, addresses and employer information would have to be reported not only for donors, but also for a group’s employees and vendors.
“Not surprisingly,” the Post and Courier editorial noted approvingly, the state officials pushing this bill are ones whose legislative initiatives advocacy groups have opposed. We fail to see the virtue here. Yes, it is “not surprising” that certain public officials would lash out at citizen groups that do not fall in line with those officials’ agendas. But far from promoting ethics, a bill to intimidate those groups into silence is a recipe for more corruption.
Citizens who want to know donors’ identities are free to discount messages from groups that do not provide that information. Forcing disclosure, however, deprives citizens of the chance to hear from groups that would be silenced by bills like SB 255.
Pillar of Law: Common Cause Wary of Judge Who Cleaned Up Part of Their Mess in Colorado (In the News)
By Stephen Klein
Rather than acknowledge its goof in helping create the “ill-advised Colorado statute” that led to the Riddle case, Common Cause now warns of the level of scrutiny Judge Gorsuch might apply generally to campaign finance limits. But the problems with Amendment 27 did not end with Riddle: Common Cause’s jewel is in many other ways the antithesis to “a functioning democracy to debate our differences” and one of the main reasons we need judges like Gorsuch who should apply the strictest First Amendment scrutiny to campaign finance regimes.
Thanks to Amendment 27, grassroots speakers in Colorado have had to go to federal court to fight off campaign finance requirements over raising just a few thousand dollars to fight a local annexation effort. To comply with registration and reporting requirements to raise and spend so little money would eat up most of the budget. More recently, another group had to bring a similar suit just to publish a policy paper. The cases took years to resolve, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
The Supreme Court is set to decide soon whether to review the latest challenge to disclosure requirements for political ads, which was rejected by a lower court last year (Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission, U.S., No. 16-743, cert. petition filed 12/8/16)…
Lawyers for the Independence Institute, led by Allen Dickerson of the nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics, have acknowledged in court filings that previous rulings have “routinely” upheld FEC disclosure requirements. But, the challengers argued that this case “presents an opportunity to reverse this trend and broadly safeguard” a right to fund some political messages anonymously.
In a brief opposing the government’s motion filed with the Supreme Court, the institute’s lawyers said the government’s “informational interest is particularly weak” in this case because it involved a radio ad focused on a legislative issue and didn’t mention anything about an election.
By Dave Levinthal
In its latest “Principles of Corporate Governance” report, the Business Roundtable encourages corporate members to decide for themselves whether to publicly disclose political activities, such as contributing cash to so-called “dark money” nonprofit groups…
But David Keating, president of the nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates for political speech rights, disagrees, calling the Business Roundtable’s latest statement on political disclosure “unremarkable.”
Keating – whose legal efforts led to the creation of super PACs – noted that the Business Roundtable’s Principles of Corporate Governance document scolds corporate shareholders who attempt “to use the public companies in which they invest as platforms for the advancement of their personal agendas or for the promotion of general political or social causes.”…
In sum, the Business Roundtable “does not appear to have softened its stance on voluntary disclosure,” Keating said. “Disclosing one’s affiliations with trade associations and nonprofits creates a roadmap for activists to pressure corporations in an attempt to starve [politically active nonprofit] groups of support and silence their voices.”
By Kate Howard
Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission
Issue: Whether Congress may require organizations engaged in the genuine discussion of policy issues, unconnected to any campaign for office, to report to the Federal Election Commission, and publicly disclose their donors, pursuant to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
By Luke Wachob
For eight years, left-leaning groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, and the Brennan Center for Justice pressured President Obama to do something, anything about “money in politics.” Despite their pleas, he never took direct action.
They told him to stack the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with pro-regulation commissioners. Instead, he had just two confirmed nominations to the six-member FEC, and one was a Republican. They told him to issue an executive order forcing government contractors to report their donations to advocacy groups and nonprofits. He never did. They told him to prioritize legislation regulating speech by nonprofits, but when the bill died in the Senate, he did not fight to resurrect it.
Both the right and the left expected President Obama to do more to regulate the political process. Instead what emerged was a significant divide between the “reform” community and the Obama administration. That divide illustrates a reality the pro-regulation lobby would rather obscure-that even critics of the current campaign finance system cannot agree on a better alternative.
Concurring Opinions: FAN 141 (First Amendment News) Judge Neil Gorsuch – the Scholarly First Amendment Jurist (In the News)
By Ronald K.L. Collins
“Judge Gorsuch is a serious, accomplished jurist who will defend a robust First Amendment.” There is truth there, in David Keating’s assessment of the First Amendment opinions of Judge Neil Gorsuch…
If one scans what we now know of the arc of Judge Gorsuch’s views on the First Amendment and free expression, it is readily apparent than he has long and informed commitment to the First Amendment. Should that continue, and it seems likely to, he could well become the First Amendment point-person on the Court.
David Keating: “Judge Gorsuch’s record suggests he will be a strong defender of free speech rights if confirmed to the Supreme Court. He wrote or joined opinions on a wide variety of topics related to free speech, including campaign finance, petition clause and defamation cases. Each time, he ruled for free speech. He applies real scrutiny in constitutional challenges and is a terrific writer. Not only are his opinions a joy to read, they are clear.”
“It’s ironic that President Trump nominated a judge who wrote or joined four opinions in cases brought against the media. Each time Gorsuch ruled for the media defendants.”