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
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 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.
By Bradley Smith
In Holmes v. FEC, my organization, the Center for Competitive Politics, represents plaintiffs who are challenging the timing of contribution limits in federal races, but not the limits themselves. Federal law limits donors to contributing $2,700 to a candidate for the primary election, and another $2,700 for the general election. Many incumbents, however, do not face a primary challenger. They can raise $5,400 per donor and effectively spend it all on the general…
This is not fair to donors, it’s not fair to challengers, and it serves no anti-corruption purpose. As President Barack Obama’s former White House Counsel Bob Bauer writes, “donors do not potentially corrupt candidates in the primary, or the general, or a run-off: the corruption, if it occurs, is the result of the amounts given through the date that the candidate is elected to office.”…
It wouldn’t be hard to make the insensible sensible here. Contribution limits should be apportioned by election cycle, rather than split between the general and the primary. A win for the petitioners in Holmes would make the law simpler and fairer, and that’s something we should all get behind.
By Trip Jennings
The governor vetoed Senate Bill 96…
“While I support efforts to make political process more transparent, the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances,” Martinez wrote in her veto message…
Critics of the legislation, however, celebrated Martinez’s decision to kill the legislation, saying it preserved contributors’ privacy when they donate money to nonprofits involved in the political process.
Bradley A. Smith, chairman of The Center for Competitive Politics, which touts itself as the country’s largest nonprofit defending First Amendment political speech rights, lauded Martinez for siding “with the First Amendment by vetoing this poorly written bill.”
“The purpose of disclosure laws is to allow people to monitor their government, not the other way around,” he said in a statement. “If this complex bill would have become law, only groups that could afford lawyers could safely speak out about elected officials. We should make it easy for groups of all sizes to exercise their free speech rights.”
By Trip Jennings
Senate Bill 96 would have required nonprofit groups that pay more than $1,000 for political advertising or campaigning to file a report with the Secretary of State’s Office detailing the expense and the organization’s donors. The bill would also have required that political advertisements include a disclaimer identifying the buyer…
In her veto message, Martinez echoed the concerns of critics who argued the bill would chill political advocacy, saddle nonprofit organizations with reporting requirements and drive donors away from some charities.
National groups on both sides of the issue lobbied on the bill to the end.
“The purpose of disclosure laws is to allow people to monitor their government, not the other way around,” said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, a Virginia-based group that opposes transparency in campaign finance laws.