Campaign finance

  • September 18, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Gene R. Nichol, Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity, UNC School of Law. This post is part of our 2013 Constitution Day symposium.

    In October, the Roberts Court will hear yet another case designed to allow it to work its unfettered magic on American campaign finance. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission will consider whether to unleash billions more dollars into the political system. As Ron White would put it, “now there’s some good news.”  

    McCutcheon asks, specifically, whether the almost forty-year-old aggregate limit on the amount any contributor can give directly to federal candidates and parties – now set at $123,200 – must fall. In what will likely be the Court’s most fateful campaign reform decision since Citizens United, there’s little doubt the cap will go. Who could possibly endure a political system that limits a person’s direct contributions to a measly one-eighth of a million dollars per cycle?   

    Having already laid waste to expenditure limitations in Citizens United, McCutcheon will, for the first time, invalidate a federal campaign contribution limit. It won’t be the last.

    Charles Fried, Ronald Reagan’s Solicitor General, has written that the McCutcheon case is “a not very thinly disguised first step to try to get an absolute, anything goes, no limits, regime on campaign contributions.” One could quibble, perhaps, with “first step’ moniker. But you get the point.

    It’s hard to believe, to be candid, that the uber-rich have a lot more they want to say politically. But apparently there is a good deal more they seek to buy. And on this potent and democracy-debilitating mission, John Roberts and The Four are just their huckleberry.

    One might think the purveyors of cash register politics would be satisfied with a system that allows private equity titans to pay half the income tax rate of fire fighters; gives massive subsidies to corporate farms as it slashes food stamps; and bails out Wall Street while it increases the payroll tax; but not so. More is, after all, better. And all is, apparently, best.

  • September 17, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Robert A.G. Monks and Jeff Clements. Mr. Monks is author of Citizens Disunited: Passive Investors, Drone CEOs, and the Corporate Capture of the American Dream, a corporate governance adviser and shareholder activist. He serves on the legal advisory committee of Free Speech For People. Mr. Clements is the co-founder and president of Free Speech For People and the author of Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About it. This post is part of our 2013 Constitution Day symposium.

    September 17 is Constitution Day in America; an ideal time to reflect on the challenges our Constitution faces today.  

    Two hundred and twenty six years ago, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the proposed Constitution and left Independence Hall. Outside, a passerby asked a delegate, Ben Franklin, what kind of government had emerged. The 81 year-old Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” 

    Will we be able to keep it? In our time, the answer to that question largely depends on addressing the problem of our government’s capture by the largest corporations and the extraordinarily wealthy who participate in our corrupt and dangerous pay-to-play political system.

    With the infamous Citizens United v. FEC opinion, a narrow but determined ideological majority on the U.S. Supreme Court challenges the foundation of the American Republic: According to the Court, the political equality of every citizen is not a legitimate interest to be served by campaign finance laws. 

    Now here comes another challenge in the Court’s new term, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The McCutcheon case seeks to dismantle the $123,000 limit on total contributions to federal candidates. Who has a spare $123,000 a year to buy fidelity from politicians? Not too many.

    Between 2010 and 2012, a small group of people poured more than $18 billion into state and federal elections. How small a group? According to a report issued by Demos and the US Public Interest Research Group, just “47 individuals, donating $1 million or more, were responsible for more than half the individual contributions to Super PACs -- and only 6 percent came from donations under $10,000.” 

  • September 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    This post originally appeared on SCOTUSblog as part of its online symposium on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

    by Justin Levitt. Professor Levitt, on loan from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, is a visiting associate professor of law at Yale Law School. He focuses on constitutional law and the law of the political process.

    Photographs purport to show objective facts.  But whether they illuminate or distort our understanding of the world depends entirely on choices — of lens, of frame — that the photographer has made.

    Much of constitutional law is the same: the choice of lens and frame drives the Supreme Court’s understanding of our rights and obligations.  Without recognizing this truth, it is virtually impossible to understand the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence.

    McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission offers a dizzying fight over lens and frame. The briefs presented to the Court zoom from micro to macro and back, often within sentences of the same brief.

  • June 17, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Liz Seaton, Acting Executive Director, Justice at StakeJustice at Stake is a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial.

    With its new “Justice at Risk” report, the American Constitution Society documents a correlation between big judicial election spending by U.S. businesses and favorable rulings from elected state courts. The report raises questions that are familiar, and they are troubling.
     
    The American public insists that courts be impartial, with no special favors for campaign spenders, so that everyone gets a fair day in court. But confidence in the impartiality of our courts has eroded as business and special interest spending on judicial elections soared in the last decade.
     
    “Justice at Risk” offers a statistical analysis that updates what we know about business interest donations to state supreme court candidates and judicial decisions that followed, specifically in the years since Citizens United:
     

    - “The more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court.”

    - If a justice’s campaign gets half of its contributions from business groups, then the justice would be expected to favor business interests by voting their way almost two-thirds of the time.

    - The empirical relationship identified in the study between campaign contributions and justices’ voting exists “only in partisan and nonpartisan systems; there is no statistically significant relationship between money and voting in retention election systems,” when a justice stands in a yes-or-no contest with no opponent.

    - For justices affiliated with the Democratic Party, the relationship between business contributions and voting is stronger than for justices affiliated with the GOP.

     
    These results add to the debate about the critical need for reforms to keep the influence of campaign cash out of the courtroom.
     
  • 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.