Editor's Note: This post was updated Oct. 20 with a mention of a recently published piece by The New York Times on the Koch brothers' efforts to fund political causes.
Recently the group Free Speech for People urged top congressional lawmakers to get behind a constitutional amendment that would nullify the Supreme Court's opinion of last term that overturned longstanding corporate campaign finance laws, holding that corporations have similar free speech rights as individuals to spend on elections. In its letter to Congress, the group, representing 50 law professors, attorneys and public servants across the political spectrum, said the high court's decision poses a "deep danger to our democracy and self-government."
As election season dwindles, there has been increasing attention from policymakers and the media to the large sums of money flowing anonymously into election efforts nationwide. As The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported recently, former Virginia governor Tim Kaine, and DNC chair, said the anonymous dollars shaping the 2010 midterm elections could be the biggest political scandal since Watergate. "I think this is a huge story, it might end up being - I'm not in the business - one of the biggest political process stories since Watergate. As we see this trend toward funding campaigns through non-reportable entities, the Democrats stand squarely for requiring disclosure of who is funding campaigns," Kaine told a gathering hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
The New York Times reports on the new set up spurred by Citizens United v. FEC, noting that before the decision, nonprofit groups were "limited to broadcasting ‘issue ads' and barred from ‘express advocacy,' advertisements that directly urge voters to elect or defeat specific candidates.'" But in the "aftermath" of Citizens United, the newspaper, maintains that the nonprofits are moving toward a much "sharper form of messaging in the closing weeks of the campaign."
And the amount of money the nonprofits are dumping into the elections are spurring calls for the IRS to investigate whether they've crossed the line from being so-called social welfare entities to purely political animals, which could result in the loss of their tax privileges.
The Times also reports on the plans of Kansas billionarie brothers Charles and David Koch, funders of efforts to undermine Obama administration policy, to conduct a "confidental meeting at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa to ... 'develop startegies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity.'" The invitation to the gathering, the newspaper says, is "a rare peek at the Koch network of the ultrawealthy and the politically well-connected, its far-reaching agenda to enlist ordinary Americans to its cause, and its desire for the utmost secrecy."
Earlier this year, in an extensive piece for The New Yorker, Jane Mayer reported on the under-the-radar offensive the borthers have waged against the Obama administration. The brothers have also funneled large sums of money into defeating California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which is intended to curb pollutants.
In an interview with ACSblog, Jeff Clements, general counsel for Free Speech for People, said that amending the Constitution to restore the ability of lawmakers to regulate corporate spending on elections was not necessarily the easiest approach, but the one likely to correct the situation. Watch Clements' interview here.