Legal Center Weekly Report: December 11, 2012

Watchdogs File in Defense of Vermont’s Disclosure Laws in 2nd Circuit / Watchdogs Question IRS Priority List Which Continues to Ignore Abuse of Tax Laws by 501(c)(4)s for Partisan Politics / Legal Center Urges Members to Support the Empowering Citizens Act to Overhaul Broken Campaign Finance System / Trevor Potter Delivers Keynote Address at Annenberg Public Policy Center Conference / Moyers & Company Airs Interview with Trevor Potter / Policy Director Meredith McGehee Featured Speaker at American League of Lobbyists Annual Meeting / Executive Director Gerry Hebert Speaks at NCSL Conference / Paul Ryan and Trevor Potter Address Annual COGEL Conference / Trevor Potter Speaks at World Forum on Governance / National Press Club Panel Features Trevor Potter / Trevor Potter Joins Panel Discussion at UCLA Law School / Reddit Features Trevor Potter Ask Me Anything Session / New York Fair Elections Panel Features Trevor Potter / Trevor Potter Speaks to Notre Dame Law Student

Watchdogs File in Defense of Vermont’s Disclosure Laws in 2nd Circuit

On December 6, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici curiae brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, defending the disclosure provisions and contribution limits of the State of Vermont’s campaign finance law in Vermont Right to Life Committee (VRLC) v. Sorrell. The suit is one of many pending challenges to state disclosure laws.

“This is suit is just the latest case to ask yet another federal court to ignore legal precedent in order to gut the type of disclosure law that has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court and appellate courts,” said Tara Malloy, Legal Center Senior Counsel. “The clear goal is to keep anonymous the buying of selling of influence with elected officials.  Fortunately, the courts have long recognized that disclosure laws serve the vital public interest in preventing corruption of public officials and ensuring that voters can make informed decisions at the polls.”   

In recent years the disclosure laws in nearly two dozen states have been challenged, and the vast majority of these challenges have been turned away by the courts. More than half of these challenges have been brought by groups represented by James Bopp, the former Republican National Committeeman from Indiana who originally brought the Citizens United case exclusively as a challenge to federal disclosure laws. Despite other aspects of the controversial decision, the Supreme Court in Citizens United turned away the disclosure challenge by an overwhelming 8-1 majority.

To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.

Watchdogs Question IRS Priority List Which Continues to Ignore Abuse of Tax Laws by 501(c)(4)s for Partisan Politics

On December 3, The Campaign Legal Center joined Democracy 21 in sending a letter to the IRS questioning why the agency’s lengthy list of priorities for the coming year does not include any reference to addressing the widespread abuse of privileged 501(c)(4) tax status by organizations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on attack ads during the 2012 campaign.

Since 2010, Legal Center and Democracy 21 have jointly sent more than a dozen letters to the IRS outlining abuses of 501(c)(4) tax status by organizations like Crossroads GPS, and urging the agency to take action against them. The letters also urged the IRS to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to clarify and bring into compliance with the law IRS regulations governing campaign activities by groups claiming status as “social welfare” organizations. The letter sent on December 3 echoes those calls and requests a meeting with the Acting Commissioner and the Director of the Exempt Organization Division.

In a July 17, 2012 letter to the Legal Center and Democracy 21, the had agency announced that it would consider proposed regulatory changes in the area of political activity by 501(c)(4) organizations.

To read the full letter sent today to the IRS, click here.

Legal Center Urges Members to Support the Empowering Citizens Act to Overhaul Broken Campaign Finance System

On December 4, the Campaign Legal Center urged Members to support The Empowering Citizens Act (ECA), introduced in the 112th Congress by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to overhaul the way federal campaigns are financed.  In a letter to the House of Representatives, Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert and Policy Director Meredith McGehee  touted the bill as the best measure currently pending in Congress that uses federal matching money to encourage small contributions to presidential and Congressional candidates.   The legislation also contains comprehensive reforms to reign in Super PACs.

The letter noted that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – which created a constitutional right for corporations to spend unlimited amounts independently of federal candidates or party committees – has been rightly criticized for its legal incoherence, judicial activism, naiveté of disclosure requirements for campaign spending, and equating of corporations with individuals.  It is therefore understandable, the letter stated, that there is some support for efforts to overrule the decision through a constitutional amendment. Yet, the process for an amendment is arduous and long, and such an amendment is extremely difficult to write so that it indeed achieves its goals. 

The letter acknowledged that many have advocated amending the Constitution to offset the damage done by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, but pointed out that such an effort is difficult to achieve in the short term and laden with difficulties.  In contrast, “the ECA can be enacted quickly to address some of the most egregious problems in the system – both those created by the Court decision and those that have existed for years.”

To see the full text of the letter, click here.

Trevor Potter Delivers Keynote Address at Annenberg Public Policy Center Conference

On November 28, Legal Center President Trevor Potter was the keynote speaker at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Potter spoke at the opening reception of the event: “Professors and Practitioners Pontificate on Political Parody and Persuasion.” Potter spoke to the group about his work with Stephen Colbert, and the significant policy issues raised by the Colbert Report.

Moyers & Company Airs Interview with Trevor Potter

On November 18, Legal Center President Trevor Potter again appeared on Moyers & Company, this time to dissect the funding and the takeaways from the most expensive election in American history. Host Bill Moyers asked Potter to respond to the argument that the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision really didn’t make much difference and the record spending it helped unleash really didn’t matter.

“Super PACs just upped the ante,” Potter told Moyers. “If you’re a senator and you have just been elected, or heaven forbid you’re up in two years, you’re thinking I don’t have time to worry about deficit reduction and the fiscal cliff. I have to raise tens of thousands of dollars every day to have enough money to compete with these new super PACs… And that means I need to be nice to a lot of billionaires who often want something from me in order to find the funding for my campaign.”

To watch the interview or read the transcript, click here.

Policy Director Meredith McGehee Featured Speaker at American League of Lobbyists Annual Meeting

On November 27, Legal Center Policy Director Meredith McGehee participated in a panel on “Ethics for Today’s Challenges,” at the American League of Lobbyists Annual Meeting.  The program held at the Capital Hilton Hotel also included Keith Morgan, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, John Sassaman, Staff Director of the Senate Ethics Committee, Barbara Fredericks, Designated Agency Ethics Officer at the Department of Commerce and Kate Keane of Perkins Coie.  McGehee focused on the impact of Super PACs and "dark money" groups on lobbying campaigns and on the demand for campaign contributions.

Executive Director Gerry Hebert Speaks at NCSL Conference

On December 6, Executive Director Gerry Hebert was a featured panelist at the 2012 Fall Conference of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The panel discussed the flood of redistricting litigation in the wake of the 2010 Census - 193 different cases filed across the country with 68 still pending in the courts. Hebert was asked to discuss how these cases will likely play out, and their impact on future redistricting decisions. Other panelists included Mark Braden from Baker & Hostetler, and Gilda Daniels from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The Fall Conference is held each year and focuses on the divergence between State agendas and complex policy issues.

Paul Ryan and Trevor Potter Address Annual COGEL Conference

On December 3, Legal Center President Trevor Potter and Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan both spoke at the annual Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference in Columbus, OH.  Potter was a plenary luncheon speaker on a panel entitled “Super PACs: Expert Analysis,” joined by FEC Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly, Mike Wittenwyler of the law firm Godfrey & Kahn, moderated by Darrin Lim of the law firm Nielson Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni.  Ryan spoke on two panels regarding campaign finance law, one regarding recent developments in campaign finance litigation and another regarding recent developments in campaign finance legislation and policy.

Trevor Potter Speaks at World Forum on Governance

On December 5-7, Legal Center President Trevor Potter traveled to Prague, Czech Republic for the World Forum on Governance. The theme for this year was “Countering Corruption.” Potter moderated a session focused on politics and money, speaking about possible reforms to protect fairness and freedom in the funding of campaigns. The Forum featured a long list of prominent guests from around the world, including ambassadors, government and elected officials, journalists, and experts including Legal Center Board members Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.

National Press Club Panel Features Trevor Potter

On December 4, Legal Center President Trevor Potter participated in a panel discussion at the National Press Club. The event for journalists was a post-mortem on the 2012 election and a look at what is to come for campaign finance in future elections. Panelists discussed troubling developments and trends, topics journalists missed or underreported and plans for future campaign finance reform. In addition to Potter, other panelists included Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, Shelia Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, and Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg News. 

Trevor Potter Joins Panel Discussion at UCLA Law School

On November 17, Legal Center President Trevor Potter was a featured panelist at UCLA Law School’s conference entitled “A 28th Amendment?  Legal Issues, Remedies and Strategies to Get the Money out of Politics.”  Potter discussed the potential and limits of a legislative solution to the curb the influence of money on a panel with Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School and Josh Silver of United Republic. The conference was billed as a rally for “participants to do everything possible to ensure that future elections will not be financed like the 2012 election.”

To watch the panel discussion, click here

Reddit Features Trevor Potter Ask Me Anything Session

On November 27, Legal Center President Trevor Potter traded his usual on camera appearances for an internet public forum. Potter participated in an “Ask Me Anything” session on the social network website Reddit. The session was followed by almost 4,000 people. Potter responded to a wide range of questions from working with Stephen Colbert, to questions about the consequences of Super PACs and dark money.

To read the full AMA, click here.

To watch behind the scenes video of Trevor’s Reddit debut, click here.

New York Fair Elections Panel Discussion Features Trevor Potter

On November 27th, Legal Center President Trevor Potter participated in a panel discussion hosted by groups involved in the Fair Elections of New York Campaign. The event included a screening of the documentary PRICELESS which “explores the corrosive role that money plays in our political system, and how small donor citizen funded elections can help to restore our democracy.” After the screening, Potter and other panelists discussed which reforms would be most effective in maintaining the integrity of the democratic process. The panel at the City University of New York was moderated by Bloomberg News National Political Director Jeanne Cummings and included Mark McKinnon of No Labels and Rich Davis of the NYC Campaign Finance Board.

Trevor Potter Speaks to Notre Dame Law Students

On November 29, Legal Center President Trevor Potter spoke to an election law class of Notre Dame Law School of Professor and Associate Dean Lloyd Mayer via video link.  Potter addressed the current state of campaign finance law and how it played out in the 2012 election, and then took questions from students.

 
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