Campaign finance

  • June 25, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down Montana’s 100-year-old anti-corruption law without ever hearing arguments in the case. Although Montana’s law was intended to combat corruption in election spending, the five-justice majority held in a paragraph-long decision that this case was controlled by Citizens United, which found that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption.”

    A supermajority of Montanans thought otherwise when they passed the Corrupt Practices Act in 1912. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, “Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

    Montanans have been battling corruption from outside interests looking to exploit the territory's vast natural resources since before they became a state, University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnstone explained during the American Constitution Society’s 2012 National Convention this month. To Montanans fighting to retain control of their democracy, the corruption was obvious, and they "called it as they saw it," Johnstone said. Here's how they did it:

    Rather than looking to far-off courts or congressmen, they said enough is enough. And a supermajority of miners and farmers and businessmen, a Republican newspaperman from the small town of Fort Benton, who also happens to be my great great grandfather, got together and said, wait a second … this is popular sovereignty here.

    You, our politicians in our corrupted capital do not govern us. You, our courts sworn to uphold our Constitution do not govern us. You, copper kings in your far-away mansions certainly do not govern us. We govern us. And so they did.

  • June 1, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly and retired Sixth Circuit Judge James L. Ryan. Justice Kelly will participate in a panel on judicial campaigns and public confidence in the courts during the American Constitution Society’s National Convention in June.


    Since the turn of the century, Michigan has gained a reputation for Supreme Court election campaigns that are among the most expensive, least transparent and most partisan in the country. Our campaign ads have been among the most offensive. That is why we convened a bipartisan task force of prominent Michiganders to study how Supreme Court justices are selected across the nation and recommended improvements to Michigan’s Supreme Court selection process.

    The 2010 candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court raised a total of $2.6 million. The political parties and state-based interest groups reported spending another $2.5 million. But data collected from the public files of state television broadcasters and cable systems showed that an additional $6.3 million was spent by the political parties and interest groups. Michigan law does not require this candidate-focused “issue” advertising to be reported in the state campaign finance disclosure system.

    This was not the first time that the majority of money spent in a Michigan Supreme Court campaign was undisclosed to the public. For the elections from 2000 through 2010, $21.5 million was reported and $20.8 million was paid for undisclosed television advertising.

  • May 31, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    At some point perhaps soon the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative wing will have to reckon with some of its sweeping assertions in its controversial 2010 Citizens United v. FEC majority opinion.

    Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a methodical, thoughtful speech at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Services detailed why he thinks some of the holding in Citizens United is due for reconsideration.

    Stevens’ former colleague Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” during President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address when the president said Citizens United could “open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without fault in our elections.”

    But the majority opinion, Stevens said “placed such heavy emphasis on ‘the premise that the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity.’”

    “Indeed,” Stevens continued, “the opinion expressly stated, ‘We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.’”

    Stevens said:

    Given the fact that the basic proposition that undergirded the majority’s analysis is that the First Amendment does not permit the regulation of speech – or of expenditures supporting speech – to be based on the identity of the speaker or his patron, it is easy to understand why the president would not have understood that ambiguous response to foreclose First Amendment protection for propaganda financed by foreign entities.

    But Justice Alito’s reaction does persuade me that in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion. For his statement that it is ‘not true’ that foreign entities will be among the beneficiaries of Citizens United offers good reason to predict there will not be five votes for such a result when a case arises that requires the Court to address the issue in a full opinion.

    The former justice, the third longest serving justice on the high court, also pointed to an opinion, one he joined, that followed Citizens United. In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the majority held that Congress can bar material support of terrorist groups, even if that support is advice on how to conduct peaceful protests.

  • May 31, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For low-taxes, weak safety nets for the most vulnerable and tattered corporate campaign finance regulations to remain the status quo, right-wing policy makers in a slew of states are feverishly working to suppress the votes of students, minorities and others typically not inclined to support regressive policies. 

    Florida perhaps provides the most egregious example of attempts to enact voter suppression policy, with new onerous restrictions on voter-registration drives and early voting opportunities. The ACLU of Florida and the U.S. Department of Justice have fought the efforts of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and to alter voting practices in a state with a history of efforts to suppress minority voters. In March, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon blasted the governor, saying he was “so intent on suppressing the right to vote that he’s even taken the extreme step of launching a challenge to the Voting Rights Act itself because that landmark of the Civil Rights Movement stands in the way of implementing his voter suppression agenda.”

    The Miami Herald reported yesterday that Scott was also ordering county officials statewide to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls. A list of more than 2,600 voters to be purged was created by the state’s Division of Elections, and according to analysis by the Herald was “dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. The largest numbers were from Miami-Dade home to the state’s highest foreign-born population.”

    The Florida list, as the newspaper, notes was based on outdated information provided by the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) and Alcee Hastings (D-Miramar) sent a letter earlier this week to Scott urging him to halt the purging of voters.

    “Providing a list of names of questionable validity – created with absolutely no oversight – to county supervisors and asking them to purge their rolls will create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections.” the lawmakers’ letter states.

    Deutch and Hastings at a May 29 press conference in Davie, Fla., highlighted the state’s faulty removal of Bill Internicola, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, from the voting rolls. State election officials claimed they had information that Internicola born in Brooklyn was not a citizen.   

  • May 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Montana Supreme Court late last year pushed back against the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly unpopular and wobbly reasoned opinion in Citizens United v. FEC, when it upheld the state’s longtime regulation of corporate financing of elections.

    Not surprisingly a cabal of corporations quickly asked the high court to overturn the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana, which concluded the Roberts Court’s Citizens United opinion was not going to stand in the state’s way of ensuring that corporations do not overtake its elections.

    Writing for the majority upholding the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, Chief Justice Mike McGrath stated “when in the last 99 years did Montana lose the power or interest sufficient to support the statute, if it ever did. If the statute has worked to preserve a degree of political and social autonomy is the State required to throw away its protections because shadowy backers of WTP [Western Tradition Partnership] seek to promote their interests? Does a state have to repeal or invalidate its murder prohibition if the homicide rate declines? We think not.”

    Even the dissenting justice in the Montana case blasted the Supreme Court’s “corporate personhood” reasoning of Citizens United, writing, “Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people – human beings – to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creations of government.” 

    Then earlier this week came Jeffrey Toobin’s extensive piece for The New Yorker revealing the machinations of the Roberts Court to tear down the tradition of campaign finance regulation, and in the process provide yet another victory for corporate America. As Toobin writes Chief Justice John Roberts craftily took a case with a narrow question before the justices and expanded it allowing the Court’s right-wing bloc to overturn a long tradition of regulating corporate financing of campaigns. The outcome in Citizens United concluded that corporate entities have First Amendment rights to spend whatever they want on electioneering, and in the process ushered in the era of the “super PAC.”