- Jun 16, 2010
An army of influential Washington, D.C., players is busy working the phones and making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week trying to scuttle the DISCLOSE Act. The question now facing Members of the House is whether the DISCLOSE Act is worth voting for now that the "NRA fix" has been added. The answer is yes. Here’s why.
- Jun 17, 2010
The DISCLOSE Act most certainly should be signed into law this year and there are encouraging signs that it will be. Despite the recent hubbub made by special interests from across the political spectrum over the “NRA fix”, the bill remains a strong and necessary piece of legislation that will require accurate and timely disclosure of the big money being spent to influence elections.
- Oct 1, 2010
Reports of the DISCLOSE Act’s death are greatly exaggerated. Certainly, the current version is unlikely to recover from again falling one vote short of the 60 needed to obtain cloture. But the upcoming election is bound to breathe new life into the legislative effort to provide the American people with information about the flood of money -- much of it completely anonymous -- that is pouring into key races. The flood comes courtesy of the Supreme Court’s shocking decision earlier this year in the Citizens United v. FEC.
- Oct 19, 2010
Too many times, the political operatives, pundits and politicians in Washington,D.C., dismiss questions about ethics as “inside baseball” and claim that nobody outside the Beltway cares. This ethics-arrow-in-quiver development is a counterargument to that jaded viewpoint
- Jun 16, 2011
The 2012 elections may still be 18 months away, but the political attack ads are already hitting the airwaves. And because the Supreme Court has now green-lighted corporations and unions to use their treasury funds to pay for ads supporting or opposing political candidates, expect to see a steady and increasing diet of attacks ads -- many run by unaccountable, anonymously funded groups.
- Jul 22, 2011
There is good news and bad news today in the House's vote to defeat the amendment offered by Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to gut the funding of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The good news is that it went down to defeat with 302 Members voting against it. The bad news is that there are at least 102 Members who are totally clueless about public perception and apparently about the facts of what has been occurring in the House ethics process.
- Sep 7, 2011
Congressional Republicans are shedding “crocodile tears” about the supposed politicization of government contracting that could result from a draft executive order requiring contractors to disclose political contributions.
Since this spring, the White House has let the leaked executive order twist slowly in the wind and done little to counter the bogus claims being made about it.
- Sep 21, 2011
Attack ads will once again be a primary source for public information in the 2012 election. Just as the new media conglomerates are putting their pieces in place for their election teams, a new report commissioned by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission concludes that the media scene is increasingly bereft of real investigative journalism, especially at the local level.
- Mar 14, 2012
Usually Members of Congress compete with each other to claim the mantle of “pro-law-enforcement politician.” But when it comes to laws that might be used by prosecutors to hold Members of Congress accountable, the House leadership’s pro-law-enforcement stance apparently flags. That is the message being sent by its decision to strip out the anti-corruption provisions included by unanimous vote in the Senate-passed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. These provisions should be restored in a House-Senate conference committee on the bill.
- May 29, 2012
The jury considering the charges against former Senator John Edwards has already surprised many observers by taking more time to consider the case than it took the Edwards lawyers to put on their defense. There is speculation that the case will be appealed if Edwards is convicted, raising questions about the judge’s instructions to the jury about the evidence and applicable standards of law.
One of the most interesting aspects of the case has been the disagreements about whether the case should have been brought in the first place - disagreements that are not falling along party or ideological lines. Those speaking out against the prosecution include Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and former Federal Election Commissioner Scott Thomas, who testified in the case (with the jury out of the room).
- Jun 1, 2012
Super PACs are a blight on America's political landscape. They provide a means for very wealthy individuals and corporate special interests to evade anti-corruption laws that have been on the books for decades.
The courts have long recognized that large contributions to political candidates can corrupt and reduce public confidence in our democratic system. So courts have upheld limits on how much individuals may contribute to candidates, as well as outright bans on corporate and union contributions to candidates. But today, Super PACs are operating as de facto campaigns unrestricted by such limits.
Super PACs have the ability to both distort the political process and to affect the outcome of a federal election. Super PAC spending buys access and influence for the Super PAC funders.
- Jun 14, 2012
Has the coverage of super PACs, and Adelson's donation specifically, been warranted? Absolutely! Citizens United and its progeny, SpeechNow, have created an Orwellian world in which money is speech and corporations are people. it defies common sense.
New avenues created by Citizens United allow billionaires like Adelson to spend unlimited money to influence candidates -and the elections themselves. This avenue for big money-influence is nothing less than a seismic shift in the democratic process.
Before 2010, gifts to PACs (groups that influence federal elections) had limits. If Sheldon Adelson wanted to give to organized political entities, there were caps in place to limit his personal influence. Individuals could make independent expenditures, but they had proved both cumbersome and had limited effectiveness for a number of reasons.
- Jun 19, 2012
On the surface, a Constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United might seem like a golden ticket for those who were stunned by the Court's decision. An amendment would appear to respond to the problem of huge corporate expenditures and contributions often made with anonymous funds, and would place such restrictions beyond the reach of the heavy-handed Roberts Court. But while an effort the likes of Rep. Schiff’s is admirable, it is not necessarily the best answer.
It is certainly understandable why many favor a Constitutional amendment to counter Citizens United, which overturned nearly 100 years of laws. But Constitutional amendments are nearly impossible to pass - according to C-SPAN, up to 200 amendments are proposed every term of Congress - and even once that mountain is scaled, are often possible to circumvent.
- Jun 27, 2012
When it comes to changing his tune on disclosure, the rank hypocrisy of Senator Mitch McConnell is not that surprising. The audacity of it is breathtaking, but the swing was predictable. After all, Senator McConnell is first and foremost a politician who, as Senate Minority Leader, is doing everything he can for his party to gain control of the government. If anonymous funding appears at this point to benefit his party, disclosure is bad. If the shoe were on the other foot - if the Democrats seemed to be gaining advantage at the moment from opaque spending - you can be assured he would be harping against secret money.
- Jun 28, 2012
Disclosure about money in politics is as American as apple pie. When Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he expressed the fundamental notion that American democracy is best served by having citizens who are informed about the message and the messenger.
Currently, the problem in our political system is too little disclosure. Groups such as Crossroads GPS (run by Republican operative Karl Rove) and Priorities USA (run by Democratic operative Bill Burton) are spending massive amounts to influence the outcome of the 2012 elections. Yet they are able to keep the sources of their money hidden, providing donors with anonymity.
- Oct 10, 2012
You can’t even watch the playoffs these days without being bombarded by political attack ads by groups who won’t say where they get their money. Some political operatives now tell us if party committees could just take unlimited donations, the ads by these outside groups will go away. If you’re buying that, I bet they’ve got a bridge to sell you as well.
Unlimited contributions to political parties would be a huge mistake. All this proposed “reform” would do is give wealthy donors who are currently financing independent expenditures yet another avenue to buy access and influence with candidates and officeholders.
Large contributions to candidates and political parties corrupt and create the appearance of corruption, decreasing public confidence in government and our democratic process.
- Oct 18, 2012
“One person, one vote” is a bedrock of our democracy. From the beginning, this nation explicitly rejected the plutocracy the Founding Fathers knew so well. That each citizen’s vote counts the same as any other citizen’s—regardless of wealth or social status—remains an ideal that continues to inspire around the world, even when we fall short.
- Nov 15, 2012
The airwaves and the newspapers have been peppered with reports belittling the impact of outside groups on the 2012 election. Many have taken it a step further and concluded that super-PACs and “dark money” groups — the groups that don’t disclose their donors — are not the threat to our democracy that many had feared. That is where they are wrong.
Outside groups spent $1 billion dollars on the 2012 election, with $400 million of that coming from “dark money” groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In one Senate race alone, Virginia, outside groups pumped in $37 million; the candidates themselves, by contrast, spent $30 million.
- Mar 19, 2013
Not surprisingly, the Office of Congressional Ethics is under attack yet again. The office, which helped bring some accountability and transparency to the House ethics process, has not been popular since its creation. This time the offensive is coming from a group of defense attorneys who represent members of Congress and their staffs against allegations of ethics violations.
It is also not surprising to see high-dollar, white-collar defense attorneys pressing for advantages for their clients. They see an advantage in creating at the OCE the kind of adversarial process where they excel. The changes they are seeking are designed to give their clients an undue advantage in an ethics investigation: the right to see reports before they are made public, access to all the evidence that’s favorable to the member of Congress, and a “heads up” before the OCE asks the member of Congress for information and documents.
- Jul 10, 2013
CBS profit will climb by $180 million this year from political advertising, Chief Executive Officer Les Moonves said, exceeding the amount received by the company in the last presidential election year. Political action committees are boosting the amount of money being spent on television and radio commercials in support of candidates and issues, Moonves said today at an entertainment law conference at the University of California, Los Angeles. CBS will take in more political ads than the 2008 presidential election year, he said. “Super PACs may be bad for America,” Moonves said, “but they’re very good for CBS.”
Bloomberg News, March 10, 2012
- Oct 2, 2013
Are you worried that millionaires don't have enough influence in our elections? If you can't contribute more than $123,000 to politicians, are your free speech rights harmed?
At least 99% of Americans would laugh at the absurdity of these questions, but not Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama political donor. McCutcheon v. FEC, his court challenge to the $123,200 aggregate contribution limit, has made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where it will be heard on October 8.
Aggregate limits -- or the total someone can contribute to federal candidates and committees each two-year election cycle -- was previously before the Supreme Court.
Poster Boy For Dysfunction: Redistricting and Citizens United in the Texas 27th (The Huffington Post)Nov 27, 2013
Texas' 27th Congressional District offers a perfect rebuttal to those trying to pretend that gerrymandering and big money did not play a huge role in the recent government shutdown and gridlock in Washington in general.
There is no doubt that our nation remains closely and starkly divided in our political views. Certainly "demographic sorting," partisan news outlets, and north/south and urban/rural divides are among the factors playing significant roles in the current polarized politics but redistricting and the flood of money unleashed by the Supreme Court's ill-advised Citizen United decision are key contributors to the dysfunction that has gripped Washington by the throat.
- Dec 18, 2013
For television viewers living in the Northern Virginia suburbs this past fall, it was hard to miss one particular ad because it ran in a saturation rotation in the Washington D.C. media market hammering Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli. The ads run by Independence USA PAC attacked Cuccinelli on his stance on guns, accusing him of “voting against closing the gun show loophole,” “endangering our families” and “undermining law enforcement and calling Cuccinelli “too extreme for Virginia.” Notably, this ad had little, if any, rotation in downstate Virginia.
By its own admission, Independence USA PAC spent more than $1 million on ads to support the Democratic candidate – and eventual winner – Terry McAuliffe.
- Jan 14, 2014
The growth of the Internet notwithstanding, television advertising continues to be the dominant means used during U.S. political campaigns to communicate with voters -- the "nuclear weapon" of campaigns as Obama advisor David Axelrod once described it.
- Jan 22, 2014
It has now been four years and two election cycles since the Supreme Court delivered its bombshell decision in the Citizens United case, and the damage to our democracy and to the public’s faith in its elected officials has been staggering. At a time when the Roberts court is poised to do even more damage in its forthcoming McCutcheon v. FEC decision – involving a challenge to the long-standing aggregate contribution limits – it’s worth reflecting on how we got here.
The most common – and understandable – complaint about the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision is that it treated corporations the same as individuals for purposes of campaign spending. As distressing as that is, there are other serious flaws in the decision that, until reversed, will continue to haunt and undermine our electoral process in the coming years.
- Mar 13, 2014
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision so radically changed the rules of our country’s political process that updating the 50-year-old IRS regulations governing 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations has jumped from long overdue to critically important. The announcement that the IRS would finally launch a rule-making to update those regulations is welcome news. While the initial IRS proposal clearly needs work, the Campaign Legal Center is actively participating in the regulatory process to significantly improve it. But the efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Ways and Means Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., are way off base when they attempt to paint the process as a partisan witch hunt.
- Mar 26, 2014
This past Sunday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by one of their editors, Hilary Krieger, asking whether "a little corruption should matter to voters." She reported that D.C. incumbent mayoral candidate Vincent Gray has won her over, despite his ethical and campaign finance challenges. And she goes on to make the case that we may have tipped too far toward concern about ethical standards for public officials at the expense of good stewardship and the ability to "getting results in a fractious system."
- Apr 14, 2014The problem isn’t that members of Congress travel too much. In fact, they probably should travel more. The issue is who pays for the travel.
The usual defense of privately financed travel is that it saves taxpayer money. Think again. As any experienced Washington hand can tell you, all of us pay. And pay, and pay again. The special interests that can afford to underwrite the trips get “face time” with members of Congress and their staff. This “face time” is golden and translates into valuable access-and-influence. This, in turn, translates into skewed public policies that too often favor those who pay for the travel.
That is the reason private interests forked over more than $3.7 million for free “educational opportunities” last year, a 10-year high. It is an effective lobbying tool.
- Apr 22, 2014Were you impressed over the winter when hotelier George Tsunis, nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Norway, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had never been to Norway and confused a moderate political party with a “fringe” party?
Were you proud to be an American when the responses by the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, “The Bold and the Beautiful” producer Colleen Bell, were universally described as stammering and that the other nominees for Argentina and Iceland were labeled similarly unimpressive?
Even the nominee to head up the U.S. Embassy in one of the world’s most sensitive super powers, longtime Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), volunteered, “I’m no real expert on China.”
- Aug 12, 2014
For many years, opponents of restrictions on the role of money in politics have held out the state of Virginia to legitimize their opposition to campaign finance reform. A state with few restrictions on money in campaigns, not much disclosure, and few ethics laws, Virginia has been heralded by reform opponents as showing what politics at the national level could look like if the federal campaign finance laws were repealed. The picture they painted was of patrician politicians above it all, incorruptible by plebian concerns of money, legislating for the Commonwealth on purely ideological grounds...
- Sep 19, 2014
The constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision came up short in the Senate. Such things are no easy lift. But while it failed to garner the supermajority vote, the Senate's consideration and debate provided an avenue to keep people who are appalled by the current campaign finance system energized and engaged.
- Oct 14, 2014
"... [A]s far back as the Radio Act of 1927 and continuing with Section 317 of the Communications Act of 1934 there has been an unvarying requirement that all matter broadcast by any station for a valuable consideration is to be announced as paid for or furnished, and by whom." -- Federal Communications Commission, Sponsorship Identification Rules, 1975
Want to know who is attempting to influence your vote?
- Oct 22, 2014
Remedial action is necessary if the U.S. Senate has any interest in becoming relevant again to our nation's political discourse...
- Nov 26, 2014
Broadcast stations made money hand-over-fist this year on political advertisements even though it was a non-presidential election year. Spending on TV ads in federal and gubernatorial races topped $1 billion, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.
- Jan 21, 2015
The Chinese government hacked into U.S. defense systems. What makes Americans think that the Chinese — or the Russians, the Iranians or other foreign interests — are not also hacking into U.S. elections?
- Apr 7, 2015
When Congress returns from recess next week, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who resigned after Politico raised questions about his mileage reimbursements, will not return with it...
- Jun 1, 2015
Even though the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has done much over the past seven years to bolster the integrity and credibility of the House ethics process, some members of the House have resented the office since its inception. Created after a series of scandals shamed the House, OCE is charged with determining if an allegation of an ethics violation by a House member or staffer warrants further investigation by the House Ethics Committee. OCE has an established record of fair investigations and bipartisan cooperation that have made House members wary of condemning OCE publicly. However, their surrogates and white-collar defense attorneys have attacked the office with increased vehemence. Take, for example, the most recent salvo against OCE.
The Rise and Fall of Mario Biaggi: Reminder of Why the Illegal Gratuities Statute Should be Revived (The Huffington Post)Jul 6, 2015
Many readers probably overlooked the recent obituary of disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-NY). But the rise and fall of this former policeman who died at the age of 97 serves as an object lesson for aspiring politicians and makes a compelling case for resurrecting one of the most useful tools to fight political corruption--the illegal gratuities statute.
- Sep 17, 2015
On June 25, 2015, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Jim Renacci (R-OH), John Carney (D-DE) and Lou Barletta (R-PA) introduced H.R. 2931, “Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act,” a bill that seeks to restructure the FEC.
- Oct 30, 2015
Dennis Hastert’s professional legacy, like his personal one, is in tatters. His time on Capitol Hill helped to undermine the reputation of the body he led as Speaker and the reverberations are still being felt today. The so-called “Hastert Rule” is inextricably linked to the chaos currently engulfing the House Republican caucus and the blind eye he turned toward ethical abuses continues to dog his fellow Representatives. These legacies have damaged the House as an institution but can and should be repaired by the new Speaker.
- Jan 8, 2016
During consideration of the 2015 Omnibus budget bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unsuccessfully tried to insert a rider to eliminate coordinated spending limits for political parties. He lost because of opposition from an unlikely coalition -- most (though not all) Democrats and some Tea Party Republicans who don't trust their party's establishment. Sen. McConnell made this move under the guise of "strengthening the political parties but in reality, it would have provided yet another avenue for big money to enter into American campaigns.
- Jan 11, 2016
In these days, when there seems to be almost limitless information available at the tap of your finger, what would drive anyone to try to hide information that is required to be in plain sight?
- Jan 27, 2016
Last week, before the snow storm brought Washington, DC to a halt, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by the Sunlight Foundation and Common Cause, filed reply comments at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to urge the agency to expeditiously adopt new rules extending the online public file requirements to cable operators, DBS providers, and radio and satellite radio licensees. The comments were filed in response to some last minute issues raised by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the American Cable Association (ACA).
Jim Renacci's bipartisan Federal Election Commission reform effort is sorely needed (Cleveland Plain Dealer)Jan 29, 2016
Is it a waste of taxpayer money for an agency to exist, but so seriously fail in its mission that its own chair described it as "worse than dysfunctional?" Yes, it is—and American taxpayers deserve better. The Federal Election Commission is failing to fulfill even the basic functions of its job.
- Feb 10, 2016
As 2015 came to a close, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — the agency charged with enforcing federal campaign finance laws — finally fined "Restore Our Future" super PAC $50,000 for violating laws restricting coordination with candidate campaigns, in response to a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center in 2012. Not only did it take the FEC nearly four years to resolve the matter, but the fine amounted to a slap on the wrist for the more than $4 million in illegal spending by the super PAC.
- Feb 17, 2016
Stations violate the law when they don't disclose political ads' true sponsors. Americans deserve to know who is behind the flood of political ads saturating the airwaves these days.
- Mar 1, 2016
On February 11, CLC Policy Director Meredith McGehee spoke at the National Archive's panel on "Finance on Political Campaigns." Joining in the discussion for were former Senators Bill Brock (R-TN), Bennett Johnston (D-LA), Tom Petri (R-WI) and Tim Roemer (D-IN).
To watch the video, click here.
- Mar 21, 2016
With the presidential primaries in full swing, outside groups regularly outspend candidates' national campaigns in advertising and advocacy. Super PACs and "dark money" groups are running ever-increasing numbers of television ads - without having to reveal to viewers the sources of their money.
- Apr 12, 2016
Christian Berg and Meredith McGehee talked about the role of money in U.S. politics, efforts to reform the campaign finance system, and the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.
- Apr 26, 2016
This past Sunday, the TV show “60 Minutes” featured a segment on the fundraising demands facing members of Congress. In sum, how a member of Congress actually spends his or her time makes for a depressing job description.
- Jun 10, 2016
The Office of Congressional Ethics has helped bring accountability and transparency to the House Ethics process. Not surprisingly, it has been unpopular since its creation, as members of Congress don’t like to be investigated.
- Jun 16, 2016
Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) introduce the Election Protection and Integrity Certification Act (EPIC) to prevent the increasing chance for foreign money to infiltrate American elections.
- Aug 9, 2016
On August 9, 2016 CLC Policy Director Meredith McGehee spoke at NCSL's Legislative Summit on the “Campaign Finance: What It All Means” session.
- Aug 30, 2016
Even if everything the Associated Press has reported so far about the link between donations to the Clinton Foundation and access to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is confirmed—including the most damning allegations—nothing that has been revealed to date is likely ever to be prosecuted.
- Sep 13, 2016
Rachelle Akuffo and CLC Policy Director Meredith McGehee talked about transparency and conflicts on interested regarding the 2016 presidential candidates.
- Sep 16, 2016
Meredith McGehee talked about rules and regulations governing disclosure of campaign donations, as well as the tax and personal financial records of the presidential candidates.
- Sep 26, 2016
The Campaign Legal Center looked at whether the latest FCC’s action to illuminate sponsorship identification, the Online Public Inspection Files (OPIF), lives up to reasonable expectations of transparency, including whether the database is in fact a useful tool for public transparency.
- Jan 18, 2017
While Washington and social media are all atwitter over the STOCK Act and the confirmation hearing of Health and Human Services secretary nominee, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), it is a provision in the House ethics rules that should receive attention today.
- Apr 14, 2017
Imagine for a moment that a presidential candidate benefited from a $1 million donation made anonymously by a shell company explicitly created to mask the identity of the donor. Also imagine that the government agency responsible for policing premeditated campaign finance violations like this was nowhere to be found...
- Feb 9, 2018
The tales of unethical behavior and secret “hush money” deals have rightly spurred the U.S. House of Representatives to overhaul sexual harassment and discrimination oversight in the legislative branch. As an advocate who worked to enact the original Congressional Accountability Act, I knew the final legislation was less than perfect in 1995. But it established an enormously important precedent: Congress should live by the laws it applies to others. It’s time to end the Capitol Hill culture that often only seeks to protect itself and has been hiding unethical behavior behind closed doors to the detriment of the public trust placed in our nation’s elected leaders.