Campaign Finance

  • 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.

  • October 6, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Ron Fein, Legal Director at Free Speech For People

    Why do we want to limit the influence of money in politics and what do we tell the courts? For 40 years, since the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the legal arguments for limiting big money in politics have been compelled to focus on “corruption” as the only reason.

    Not anymore. On Wednesday, Free Speech For People (along with partners Indian Law Resource Center, American Independent Business Alliance, American Sustainable Business Council and retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson) filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of the state of Montana’s campaign contribution limits against a challenge led by noted campaign finance reform opponent James Bopp. The amicus brief advances a political equality argument. The district court had chastised Montana’s voters, who passed the contribution limits by a 1994 ballot initiative, for trying to achieve political equality.

    As background, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance precedent has long insisted that limits on political contributions must be grounded in concern about “corruption” and its appearance. In years past, justices with a pragmatic sense of political reality understood “corruption” to include broader concerns of influence and access; more recently, the Roberts Court constrained it to just mean “quid pro quo” corruption, not much more than bribery. And certainly corruption is one legitimate concern.

    But that is not the only, or perhaps even the main, reason that Americans want to limit the influence of big money. A more fundamental principle is political equality. This concept has been part of our constitutional history since before we had a Constitution. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” not equal in assets or abilities but in their unalienable right “to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” So wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. And when the Constitution was submitted for ratification by the states, James Madison assured hesitant readers, worried that Congress would be dominated by the wealthy, thus: “Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune.”