Campaign Finance

  • April 10, 2017

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN)—a conservative secret-money group that spends millions of dollars on ads attacking judges—promised to spend up to $10 million in support of his nomination. Representing a major attack on the fairness and impartiality of our judicial branch, this same group, among many other organizations, has been increasingly involved with big-money efforts to help elect or attack their favored state supreme court judges—all behind a curtain of secrecy.

    When asked directly by Sen. Whitehouse about why these groups are so interested in supporting his nomination, Gorsuch responded, “You’d have to ask them.” For a Supreme Court candidate, this betrays an inexcusable lack of understanding and concern for the menacing role that secret money has played in this Supreme Court nomination process and in many of our state judicial elections. “We don’t know because it is dark money,” Sen. Whitehouse countered a frustrated Judge Gorsuch about the secret money group, “I can’t [ask them]. I don’t know who they are. It’s just a front group.”

    The $10 million was in addition to the $7 million that JCN already spent in its effort to distort the record of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee who Republicans and JCN itself previously praised.

    At the state level, the group recently spent big to help persuade Arkansas voters to reject judicial candidates who JCN argued would favor injured individuals over corporate defendants. JCN spent far more money than any of the candidates. One of its ads criticized the Arkansas Chief Justice for a unanimous ruling to strike down a voter ID law, which JCN claimed could lead to “illegal immigrants voting.” Arkansas Business said the JCN ads should be “categorized as lies.” And in 2012, JCN ran a revolting last-minute ad attacking a Michigan Supreme Court candidate, exploiting the tragic death of a U.S. soldier to lie about the judicial candidate’s record. A recent report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network found that $3.4 million was spent on the 2016 supreme court race there, with 50 percent of the money from secret sources.

  • March 20, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on the Campaign Legal Center's blog

    by Tara Malloy, Deputy Executive Director, Campaign Legal Center

    In 2016, voters across the political spectrum cast ballots for change—and to protest the rising influence of big money in our politics. But in Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill the late Justice Scalia’s vacant seat, voters worry they are getting a justice who will simply perpetuate the corrupting influence of money on government. The majority of voters in 2016 said the system was broken—particularly Trump voters, although this sentiment was consistent across all groups. Voters indicated that “can bring change” was the candidate attribute that mattered most to their decision on November 8; in fact, it was the deciding attribute in CNN exit polling. In poll after poll prior to the election, voters also repeatedly identified unchecked political spending as a principal cause of their dissatisfaction.

    Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 decision that overturned the 60-year-old ban on corporate expenditures in elections and reversed decades of standing Supreme Court precedent, is reviled by voters of all stripes. As many as 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats believe Citizens United was wrongly decided and that corporations should not be campaigning for candidates. Campaign finance might be the last overwhelmingly bipartisan issue in these divided times.

    This is all a long way of returning to the question: how exactly have we ended up with Trump’s nominee, Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals?  His past decisions confirm he is a friend to big money. He has even hinted that laws that limit direct contributions to candidates—literally, dollars going directly into politicians’ pockets—are constitutionally suspect.  It seems all but certain that he would cast another vote to affirm Citizens United.

    He is the opposite of protest.

  • March 17, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Christopher Kang, ACS Board Member and National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

    In November 2004, Neil Gorsuch oversaw legal teams in Eastern and Central Ohio for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In an email to President George W. Bush’s Political Director Matt Schlapp, he cheered, “What a magnificent result for the country. For me personally, the experience was invigorating and a great deal of fun.” (The experience for up to 15,000 people unable to vote in Columbus, Ohio because lines stretched for hours was probably less invigorating or fun.)

    Gorsuch continued, “While I’ve spent considerable time trying to help the cause on a volunteer basis in various roles, I concluded that I’d really like to be a full-time member of the team.” 

    His resume describes the various roles in which he was politically active to “help the cause,” with greater specificity than his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire—Co-Director of Virginia Lawyers for Bush-Cheney; Bush-Cheney Marshal; RNC Bronco; and Co-Chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association Judicial Nominations Task Force—for which the Senate Republican Conference cited his Distinguished Service to the United States Senate for his work in support of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

    As Gorsuch began his effort to “be a full-time member of the team,” the way he started and then advanced his public service career raises troubling concerns regarding his nomination to the Supreme Court. 

  • March 16, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on Demos' PolicyShop

    by Adam Lioz, Counsel and Senior Advisor, Policy & Outreach, Demos

    Hearings on Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch are less than a week away—and whomever is confirmed to the lifetime appointment will have a decisive vote on whose voices carry weight in our democracy. 

    In a new report released today, Court Cash: 2016 Election Money Resulting Directly from Supreme Court Rulings, Demos demonstrates exactly what is at stake by quantifying—for the first time—the direct impact of four of the Supreme Court’s most significant money in politics cases on 2016 election spending.

    The Supreme Court’s rulings in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. FEC (1996) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) led to more than $3 billion in spending on the 2016 elections, which is equivalent to 45 percent of the total cost of the elections.

  • March 1, 2017

    by Katie O’Connor

    In an era of record political polarization, there are still a handful of issues on which Americans seem to agree. One such issue is the need to implement serious campaign finance reform and drastically reduce the amount of money in politics. According to a 2015 New York Times/CBS News poll, 84 percent of respondents thought that money has too much influence in American political campaigns. 39 percent of respondents said the system for funding political campaigns needs fundamental changes, and another 46 percent said the system needs to be completely rebuilt. Over three-quarters of respondents were in favor of limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

    Despite a near consensus on the need for change, little has been done to slow the flood of money into politics in recent years. In fact, it has only hastened, with some help from the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential election is estimated to have cost $6.9 billion, up from $4.3 billion in 2000. Part of the blame for the impasse lies with Congress, which has been growing increasingly gridlocked for decades. But Congressional deadlock is not a total bar to campaign finance reform.

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the agency whose mission is to enforce and administer campaign finance laws. Specifically, the FEC enforces laws which seek to “limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections; regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.” Despite its bipartisan and overwhelmingly popular mission and its distance from a dysfunctional Congress, the FEC is not immune to gridlock. In fact, it has come to be referred to, in some circles, as the Failure to Enforce Commission.