Campaign finance

  • April 23, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A renowned social justice leader Bob Edgar died today at age 69. Edgar was a U.S. congressman for 12 years, leader of the National Council of Churches and since 2007 the president and CEO of Common Cause. While in Congress, he served on the committee that investigated the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Edgar, who the Religion News Service’s Adelle M. Banks reports died of a heart attack, was also a “bridge builder.” As head of the National Council of Churches he helped bring together an array of faith groups to advance social justice causes. “Early on,” Banks writes, “Edgar sensed that the venerable ecumenical agency was losing its public voice, and was one of the early supporters of Christian Churches Together in the USA, which brought the NCC’s mainline Protestant, Orthodox and black churches together with evangelicals and Catholics for the first time.”

    U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, worked with Edgar during his time in the Congress and noted that he was the “principal co-author of legislation that updated the G.I. bill following the abolition of the draft ….” Edgar, Conyers noted, also served on the Veterans Affairs Committee, where he worked to address concerns over the deployment of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

    Edgar led Common Cause a nonpartisan group devoted to ensuring Congress works efficiently and is accountable to citizens. Last year the group lodged a federal lawsuit against the use of the filibuster, which has been used primarily and with increasing frequency by Republican senators to scuttle judicial nominations and thwart popular legislation, such as modest measures to promote gun safety. Edgar in a press release about the lawsuit said the filibuster had been used to “pretty much shut the place down.” He noted that far too often it would take a supermajority or 60 senators to allow much of any action to occur.

  • February 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If you thought the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing justices were finished tackling the scope and reach of campaign finance law with its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, you were wrong.

    The high court, with its announcement today to review limits on contributions to candidates during two-year election cycles, could be ready to extend even more leeway to the nation’s most powerful to influence elections.

    The justices, as The Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal reports, agreed to review a case called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which will provide the opportunity to overturn the limits. As Blumenthal notes the limits on contributions were upheld in the Court’s Buckley v. Valeo case, but campaign finance regulations took a major hit with the Court’s Citizens United opinion, which gave corporations greater power to spend freely to influence elections.

    SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston reports that a more pressing concern than tinkering with limits on campaign donations may be lurking in the background. “Since the Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, it has always given government more leeway to control contributions to candidates or political organizations than over spending by candidates or by independent political activists.  That differing constitutional treatment potentially is at stake in the new case ….”

    Denniston continues, “What is at stake directly is the constitutionality of the two-year ceilings that federal law sets on what an individual can give during a campaign for the presidency or Congress, in donations to candidates, to political parties, or to other political committees.

    Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group working to “eliminate undue influence of big money in American politics,” said the outcome of the case could have “enormous consequences for the country."

    The group’s president, Fred Wertheimer, in a press statement, said the “aggregate limit on contributions by individuals is necessary to prevent circumvention of the limits on contributions to candidates and political parties and the prohibition on federal officeholders soliciting huge corrupting contributions.”

    Wertheimer and the group's counsel, Don Simon, also exmaine in a new ACS Issue Brief the extensive problems with the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with enforcing the nation's campaign finance laws. The two write that the president has failed to appoint commissioners to the six-member entity and that the FEC is now controlled by members who are "ideologically opposed to the campaign finance laws."

    If the high court were to gut or weaken the limit on contributions it would “open the door to $1 million and $2 million dollar contributions from an individual buying corrupting influence with a powerful officeholder soliciting these contributions, and with the political party and federal candidates benefiting from these seven figure contributions.”

  • January 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Nearly a week after providing a staunchly liberal vision for a second term –– leading law professors, attorneys and other advocates are providing via an ACS project ideas and proposals for the administration’s second term. (Regarding the tone and vision of the president’s second Inaugural Address, some apparently believe the president was merely defending New Deal programs and policy the Clinton administration had supposedly advanced.)

    The ACS project, “Toward a More Perfect Union: A Progressive Blueprint for the Second Term,” was recently launched with three Issue Briefs:

    Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love looks at why the presidential pardon power “has lost its vigor, its integrity, and its sense of purpose,” and argues why it should be reinvigorated, as well as offering examples, many from the states, for reforming the process.

    Brookings Visiting Fellow Russell Wheeler examines the Obama administration’s record of filling federal judgeships during his first term and puts forth ideas for fixing a judicial nominations process that has become increasingly rancorous and ineffective. In a Brookings’ Up Frontblog post, Wheeler, a leading expert on the federal bench, explains, in part, why the process needs reforming. “First, judicial vacancies, which declined in Clinton’s and Bush’s first terms, increased during Obama’s. Empty judgeships hamper the federal courts’ ability to do their jobs – to sort out contractual disputes and other matters that, left unresolved, contribute to economic uncertainty, as well dispose of criminal complaints and adjudicate claims of discrimination and civil liberties violations.”

    University of Michigan Law School Professor David M. Uhlmann urges the Obama administration to exert great presidential leadership on climate change. Uhlmann, director of the law school’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, noted the small steps the Obama administration took during its first term. But, citing the work of climate scientists, Uhlmann warns that if our country fails “to limit greenhouse gas emissions, searing heat, widespread drought, destructive storms, and massive flooding will become commonplace.” Moreover, Uhlmann argues that climate change will be a “legacy issue” for the president – “either because he helped chart a course toward a sustainable future or because America failed to act while it was still possible to prevent catastrophic climate change. Uhlmann’s Issue Brief goes on to provide ways for the president to act, even without the help of Congress, to put the nation on a path toward sustainable resources.

    During his second inaugural, the president reminded us that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and unlike too many of his predecessors lauded the noble goal of advancing equality. Obama also took a shot at right-wing economic policy that is all about coddling the superwealthy at the expense of everyone else.

    The president also called for collective action on climate change.

  • December 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a robust defense of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the claim that the law’s integral enforcement provision is outdated and said it was time the nation updated the way voters are registered.

    Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Holder said, “President Kennedy recognized that no force in our history has been more powerful than the continued expansion of what’s been called the lifeblood of our representative democracy, the cornerstone of our system of government, and the ‘most basic’ right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”

    That basic right has been under attack on several fronts. First Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act continues to be challenged as unconstitutional by some lawmakers in the South who argue that discrimination against minorities is a thing of the past and therefore they should not be required to get federal preclearance for changes to their voting procedures. The Supreme Court will review a challenge to Sec. 5 brought by Shelby County, Ala. officials who are seeking the demise of Sec. 5.

    Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act, has, Holder noted, enjoyed “broad, bipartisan support – including, most recently, in 2006, when an overwhelming congressional majority joined with President Bush to reauthorize its protections. It’s also been upheld as constitution in each of the eight court challenges that the law’s opponents filed between 1965 and 2010 – during the first 45 years after it took effect. Over the last two years alone, however, we’ve seen at least 10 lawsuits – more than in the first four decades of the statute’s existence – arguing that Section 5 is no longer constitutional, and that our nation has moved far beyond the challenges that prompted both its passage and its recent renewal.”

  • December 11, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Dan Mayer, Legal Fellow at Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign, which is working towards a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC and limiting the influence of corporations and money in elections.

    Six billion dollars. That’s just the reported amount spent to elect or defeat the entire slate of federal candidates in the 2012 cycle.

    To be sure, some of the biggest players in the super PAC game weren’t very efficient about how they used the unlimited contributions they took from their ultra-wealthy individual and corporate patrons. Court rulings in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania put some of the most egregious voter suppression efforts on hold while invigorated civil rights groups worked to turn out every eligible voter they could find. Several prominent candidates suffered “legitimate” humiliation and defeat. And apparently, 47 percent of America wasn’t going to vote for Mitt Romney anyway (or so we hear). 

    Does any of that mean that money doesn’t matter, that the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission era is over as quickly as it began? Don’t bet your democracy on it.

    The Obama campaign outspent the Romney campaign, $549 million to $336 million. The national party committees were close in fundraising (a mere $50 million GOP advantage), but Democrats actually outspent Republicans $814 to $776 million. Outside groups, some disclosing their donors, some not, favored conservatives by $855 million to $406 million in “independent” spending. For all that, in the first full-scale conflagration since Citizen United, the great powers basically fought to a draw, barely moving the lines in Congress.