CLC Update February 2, 2015

CLC Staff
Feb 2, 2015
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  1. D.C. Circuit Court Urged to Uphold SEC's Pay-to-Play Rules for State Investment Funds
  2. Groups Support Voter-Passed Arizona Redistricting Commission in Supreme Court Challenge by Legislature
  3. D.C. Federal Court Grants Summary Judgment Striking Down FEC Disclosure Rules That Spurred ‘Dark Money’ Abuses
  4. Colorado Federal Court Denies Preliminary Injunction & Temporary Restraining Order in Challenge to Electioneering Communications Disclosure Provisions
  5. Plaintiffs Seek Expedited Appeal in Texas Voter ID Case to Restore Right to Vote for Hundreds of Thousands in 2015 Elections
  6. Brief Challenges Sanctions in New Mexico Voting Rights Appeal Before Tenth Circuit
  7. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Challenge to Florida Law Barring Campaign Solicitations by Judges
  8. Appellate Court Denies Rehearing in Challenge to Texas Campaign Finance Law
  9. Legal Center and America Bid Farewell to The Colbert Report
  10. Former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas Joins Campaign Legal Center Board
  11. Legal Center Executive Director Begins Teaching Voting Rights Course at New York Law School
  12. Election Law Practicum at Georgetown University Law Center Will Aid Campaign Legal Center Litigation
  13. Watchdogs File Comments in Post-McCutcheon FEC Rulemaking 
  14. FCC Launches Political File Rulemaking for Cable, Satellite and Radio in Response to Reform Groups’ Petition
  15. Watchdogs Urge New Jersey Ethics Commission to Investigate Gov. Christie’s Free Flights & Tickets to Cowboys Games
  16. Campaign Legal Center Files Comments on Candidate Debate Rulemaking Petition 
  17. Congress Reopens Soft Money Loophole Through Spending Bill Rider
  18. Legal Center Senior Counsel Addresses Annual COGEL Conference

 

D.C. Circuit Court Urged to Uphold SEC's Pay-to-Play Rules for State Investment Funds

On January 28, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief in New York Republican State Committee v. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), urging the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject the latest challenge to pay-to-play laws brought by the state Republican parties of New York and Tennessee. 

On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the challenge brought by the state Republican parties for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, agreeing with the SEC that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was vested with jurisdiction to hear the challenge to the play-to-play rule.  The political parties have now filed a petition challenging the SEC rule with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The SEC rule being challenged bars investment firms from managing state assets, like pension funds, for two years after a firm or its associates make more than de minimis contributions to officeholders or candidates who have or would have power to award investment contracts. 

“The courts have long recognized the danger of quid pro quo corruption inherent in the awarding of government contracts and has upheld pay-to-play laws against a variety of challenges over the decades,” said Tara Malloy, Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “The extensive list of pay-to-play corruption in the awarding of exactly these types of state investment contracts is jaw-dropping in both its scale and geographic distribution, despite the claims of the state parties that the SEC cannot provide extensive evidence of quid pro quo arrangements between government officials and investment advisers.”  

To read the brief, click here.

To read the District Court’s memorandum opinion and order dismissing the case, click here and here.

 

Groups Support Voter-Passed Arizona Redistricting Commission in Supreme Court Challenge by Legislature

On January 23, in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Legal Center and other groups advocating representative democracy filed an amici brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of an Arizona state constitutional amendment passed by voters giving an independent commission responsibility over congressional redistricting. The law is being challenged by the Arizona State Legislature, which engaged in a series of extreme political gerrymanders that led voters to approve the creation of an independent redistricting commission.

“The fact that this law is being challenged by legislators who desire to rig the process once again speaks volumes about why Arizonans voted to put that responsibility into the hands of an independent commission,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Legal Center Executive Director. “The Constitution guarantees that Members of Congress will be chosen ‘by the People of the several States’ -- not that Members of Congress or legislators will handpick their constituents in the several States.”

The challenge is being brought under the elections-clause of the U.S. Constitution which states in part that ‘[t]he times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.’  In February 2014, a three-judge federal court in Arizona ruled that when voters acted to amend the state’s constitution and create the commission, they were acting in the capacity of the Legislature.

While the case could be decided narrowly, a broader ruling could impact a number of similar state redistricting commissions across the country. Redistricting commissions in some states were created by the legislatures, but in California voters, like AZ voters, passed a similar state constitutional amendment in the face of stiff opposition from legislators.

The groups joining in the brief in support of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission include the Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations, Common Cause and Democracy 21. The Campaign Legal Center gratefully acknowledges the work of attorneys at Jenner & Block LLP, who serve as lead counsel for our amici group.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case on March 2, 2015.

To read the brief, click here.

 

D.C. Federal Court Grants Summary Judgment Striking Down FEC Disclosure Rules That Spurred ‘Dark Money’ Abuses

On November 25, in Van Hollen v. FEC, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that a Federal Election Commission (FEC) rule improperly narrowed the scope of the McCain-Feingold law’s disclosure requirements and that the FEC rule allowed nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, 501(c)(6) business associations, and others to spend millions on “electioneering communications” without disclosing their donors.

The suit was brought by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in an effort to ensure that the “dark money” outside groups that have become increasingly active in federal elections are required to disclose their donors to the public.  The Campaign Legal Center is part of the legal team representing Rep. Van Hollen in this case, which is led by Roger Witten of WilmerHale and also includes lawyers from WilmerHale, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen. 

“The loophole opened by the FEC gutted the law passed by Congress and encouraged widespread abuse in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of undisclosed ‘dark money’ ads,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. 

In a 46-page opinion, Judge Amy Berman Jackson deemed the rule promulgated by the FEC “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law” and an “unreasonable interpretation” of the McCain-Feingold law.  

To read the opinion, click here.

 

Colorado Federal Court Denies Preliminary Injunction & Temporary Restraining Order in Challenge to Electioneering Communications Disclosure Provisions

On December 16, in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) v. Gessler, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado denied a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction stemming from a challenge to the state’s electioneering communications disclosure provisions. The federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the claims, ruling instead that the issues should be addressed in state administrative and/or state court proceedings.

In November, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21 and Public Citizen, filed an amici brief urging the court to reject the constitutional challenge and deny a preliminary injunction. The brief emphasized that the state law is materially identical to the federal “electioneering communications” disclosure statute, which has been repeatedly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court has been steadfast in its support for this type of electioneering communications disclosure provision,” said Megan P. McAllen, Legal Center Associate Counsel. “These provisions require nothing more than transparency. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed, the electorate has a keen informational interest in knowing who is speaking about candidates shortly before an election.”

In June 2014, within the thirty-day electioneering communications window for primary elections, plaintiffs RMGO and Colorado Campaign for Life each spent more than $1,000 sending mailers to voters identifying candidates and their policy positions, thus triggering Colorado’s electioneering communications disclosure provisions.

The Legal Center was assisted in the filing of the amici brief by Steven K. Imig of Lewis, Bess, Williams & Weese P.C.

To read the order, click here.

To read the Legal Center’s amici brief, click here.

 

Plaintiffs Seek Expedited Appeal in Texas Voter ID Case to Restore Right to Vote for Hundreds of Thousands in 2015 Elections

On November 26, attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center, who serve as co-counsel for plaintiffs Congressman Marc Veasey and LULAC, filed a motion to expedite a pending appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Veasey v. Perry—the challenge to Texas’ overly restrictive photo ID law (SB 14).  The motion was granted in part by the court of appeals, which expedited the setting of the oral argument (which is expected to be held in March or April). 

“This motion to expedite the appeal seeks to minimize the damage that SB 14 continues to cause,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of The Campaign Legal Center.  “Despite successfully overturning the law, eligible Texas voters already lost one election to disenfranchisement and they should not lose another.”

The motion asked the court of appeals to resolve this appeal as promptly as possible in order to ensure that a constitutional system of voter identification is implemented for future elections. 

The first challenge to the Texas photo ID law was filed by the Campaign Legal Center in the summer of 2013 claiming that SB 14 violates the 1st, 14th, 15th and 24th Amendments to the Constitution, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  All of the cases were consolidated in the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi. Following a two-week trial last fall, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos enjoined SB 14 as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, finding that it had “an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”  Further, Judge Ramos held that the law constituted an “unconstitutional poll tax.”  The defendants, including the State of Texas, immediately appealed Judge Ramos’ decision. In mid-October, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that decision and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay, thus permitting Texas to impose the unconstitutional voter photo ID law in the recent November 2014 general election. 

The Campaign Legal Center is part of the legal team representing the Veasey-LULAC plaintiffs that includes Chad Dunn and K. Scott Brazil (Brazil & Dunn), Neil G. Baron, David Richards (Richards, Rodriguez & Skeith), Armand Derfner (Derfner, Altman & Wilborn), Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. (LULAC).   To read the motion to expedite, click here.

 

Brief Challenges Sanctions in New Mexico Voting Rights Appeal Before Tenth Circuit

On December 8, attorneys who had represented Latino voters in an Albuquerque voting rights case, Baca v. Berry, filed their opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, challenging a District Court order imposing sanctions on them for unduly prolonging court proceedings after they had already moved to dismiss the case.  The voters originally brought the case to challenge the City of Albuquerque’s redistricting plan for city council districts.  After the case was brought, Albuquerque voters passed a referendum that altered the way the city council is elected.  In light of this change in the law, the voters sought to dismiss their suit without prejudice, which would have allowed them to bring another lawsuit if the new voting law failed to fix problems with the map. But the city sought to have the case dismissed with prejudice, which would have prevented plaintiffs from filing another challenge. The judge declined to dismiss the case, instead putting it on hold until the results of several upcoming city council elections were known.  Subsequently, the judge dismissed the case with prejudice and granted the city’s motion to sanction plaintiffs’ attorneys for prolonging the case, ordering them to pay $48,000.  The attorneys are appealing, and the city is also appealing, seeking additional monetary sanctions against the individual voters who brought the case. 

“The District Court’s decision was outrageous in itself but if it is not overturned, its impact will be disastrous for voting rights in the country because voters will be afraid to turn to the courts to fight discriminatory voting practices for fear of sanctions,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Legal Center Executive Director.  “To attempt to make citizens fear their recourse to the courts is government intimidation at its worst.  This case threatens to turn back the clock on voting rights in this country.”      

The Campaign Legal Center is representing the plaintiff voters in the city’s appeal and the law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP, is representing the plaintiffs’ attorneys in their appeal.

To read the brief, click here.

 

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Challenge to Florida Law Barring Campaign Solicitations by Judges

January 20, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, a challenge to the State of Florida’s law barring the personal solicitation of contributions by judicial candidates. 

On December 24, the Campaign Legal Center and other groups concerned about impartial justice filed an amici brief in the United States Supreme Court in support of the Florida law.  The brief argues that personal solicitations by candidates undermine public faith in the judicial process and that the state has a duty to safeguard judicial integrity through a reasonable and targeted response like the ban on those solicitations.

“Allowing judicial candidates to personally solicit campaign contributions undermines public confidence in the judicial process, and makes litigants question whether judges can remain impartial before those they have asked for money in order to gain office,” said Megan P. McAllen, Campaign Legal Center Associate Counsel.  “States have a duty to protect judicial integrity and the public’s faith in fair courts, and the state of Florida’s solicitation ban is a reasonable and targeted bulwark to safeguard the public trust.”

Currently, Florida judicial candidates must create a committee to solicit contributions on their behalf.  The brief argues that personal solicitations by judicial candidates create the perception that judges may favor their contributors in court.  The brief also emphasizes that under Florida’s rule, judicial candidates are in no way inhibited from communicating about their fitness for office or speaking on issues of public concern. The rule thus protects a vital interest in judicial impartiality but imposes only a minor restriction on the conduct of judicial candidates. 

The groups joining in the brief in support of the solicitation ban included the Campaign Legal Center, Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Demos.  The Campaign Legal Center gratefully acknowledges the work of the attorneys of Kaye Scholer LLP in preparing this brief.

To read the brief, click here.

 

Appellate Court Denies Rehearing in Challenge to Texas Campaign Finance Law

On December 8, the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District denied the King Street Patriots’ motion for a rehearing en banc in Texas Democratic Party v. King Street Patriots, a long-running challenge to Texas campaign finance law.  This action leaves standing the Court of Appeals’ earlier decision to uphold the state’s prohibition on corporate contributions and its disclosure requirements applicable to political committees.

The lawsuit began as a private action filed by the Texas Democratic Party against the King Street Patriots that alleged that the non-profit 501(c)(4) corporation made illegal in-kind contributions to the state Republican Party, and failed to register as a “political committee” and comply with state disclosure law.  The King Street Patriots, in response, filed a broad counterclaim challenging as unconstitutional these provisions of Texas law.

The Campaign Legal Center filed amicus briefs in both the district court and the Court of Appeals defending the constitutionality of Texas’s campaign finance law.   

To read district court brief, click here

To read the Appeals Court brief, click here.

 

Legal Center and America Bid Farewell to The Colbert Report 

On December 18, the final episode of The Colbert Report aired on Comedy Central.  After nine years, host Stephen Colbert is moving on to succeed David Letterman as the host of the Late Show on CBS.  But before he left, Colbert held a memorable signoff episode featuring many of his most popular guests, including Legal Center President Trevor Potter and Big Bird (photo below).

Trevor Potter with Big Bird and others during the final episode of The Colbert Report and during a memorable visit to the FEC with host Stephen Colbert. 

In multiple appearances, Potter served as Colbert’s campaign finance attorney helping Colbert form a PAC, a Super PAC and ultimately a two 501(c)(4)s.  Colbert’s political committees and ‘social welfare’ groups walked viewers through the full extent of the disastrous impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The series of segments featuring Potter and these groups earned Colbert a prestigious Peabody Award for Journalism.  

The funds raised from viewers for Colbert Super PAC were ultimately distributed to charities and nonprofits, including the Campaign Legal Center.      

To watch the final episode’s “We’ll Meet Again” segment featuring Trevor Potter,click here

To read Trevor Potter’s op-ed in Time, “How Stephen Colbert Schooled Americans in Campaign Finance”, click here

To read the farewell blog by Beverly Hudnut, click here.

 

Former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas Joins Campaign Legal Center Board

On January 9, the Legal Center announced that Scott Thomas, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), was joining the organization’s Board of Directors.  Mr. Thomas is currently co-leader of the Public Policy and Political Law Practice at the law firm Dickstein Shapiro.

First appointed to the FEC by President Reagan in 1986, Mr. Thomas was reappointed by President Bush in 1991 and by President Clinton in 1997 and served until 2006.  While at the FEC, Mr. Thomas was involved with efforts to require disclosure of party soft money and to strengthen the Commission’s enforcement process. 

“Scott brings to our board a wealth of experience and expertise from his decades in the field of campaign finance, including twenty years as an FEC Commissioner where it was my great pleasure to serve with him in the 1990s,” said Trevor Potter, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and president of the Campaign Legal Center. 

“I look forward to serving on the Board,” said Mr. Thomas.  “The Campaign Legal Center has provided a valuable service to the public over the years by promoting transparency in government and laws that encourage broad participation in our democratic process.”

Mr. Thomas served for nine years as an attorney in various capacities at the FEC before his appointment as a Commissioner.  He has served on the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Election Law as well as the Elections Committee of the ABA’s Section on Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice.  A native of Wyoming, Mr. Thomas graduated from Stanford University and received his J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.  

 

Legal Center Executive Director Begins Teaching Voting Rights Course at New York Law School

On January 12, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert began teaching a semester-long voting rights class at New York Law School (NYLS).  Through the study of constitutional amendments, Supreme Court jurisprudence and legislative action, including the Voting Rights Act, the course will trace the history of voting rights in the United States.  The course will also examine federal, state and local efforts to restrict voting rights, including new laws passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.  Under Mr. Hebert’s guidance, students in the class will evaluate pending court cases involving voting rights and determine whether participation in the litigation is appropriate.

"I am honored to be a part of New York Law School with its long and rich tradition of bold and innovative academic excellence,” said Hebert.  “I look forward to providing students with practical experience in actual pending cases to advance the cause of justice in the field of voting rights."

 

Election Law Practicum at Georgetown University Law Center Will Aid Campaign Legal Center Litigation

On January 15, Georgetown University law students began a semester of hands-on legal work in pending election law and voting rights cases through a practicum course for credit.  The election law class is co-taught by Paul M. Smith, the Chair of Jenner & Block’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice, and J. Gerald Hebert, the Legal Center’s Executive Director and Director of Litigation.

The course will review campaign finance and voting rights cases, and will provide students opportunities to prepare legal memoranda and briefs in pending cases.  Students may also review proposed legislative materials, at a time when voting rights and campaign finance reforms are facing new challenges across the country.

“Voting rights and campaign finance litigation is highly specialized but vitally important work for the health of our democracy, and this course allows students to get under the hood and get their hands dirty in pending cases,” said J. Gerald Hebert of the Legal Center.  “Our goal is to help prepare students to make an impact in these fields at a watershed moment.  The U.S. Supreme Court has drastically altered voting rights and campaign finance law under Chief Justice John Roberts, making the coming years a critical period in the courts for both fields.”

The semester-long course consists of a weekly two-hour seminar and ten-hours of supervised work per week.

 

Watchdogs File Comments in Post-McCutcheon FEC Rulemaking

On January 15, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed rulemaking comments urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to follow the Supreme Court’s recommendations in McCutcheon v. FEC to prevent corruption of candidates and circumvention of the base contribution limits after the Court struck down the aggregate cap on contributions.  The watchdog groups pressed the FEC to strengthen and enforce regulations cited by the Court as preventing corruption, covering disclosure, earmarking, affiliation and joint fundraising committees, and also to close regulatory loopholes regarding coordination and the new party accounts created by the omnibus appropriations bill passed in December.

“The Supreme Court was very clear in stating that base contribution limits serve a vital government interest by preventing corruption of public officials and went on to cite FEC rules that ensure those limits are not circumvented,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “Unfortunately, the Court didn’t realize that the FEC hasn’t been enforcing some of the rules, and other rules cited by the Court are riddled with loopholes.  The FEC must fix and enforce the corruption-preventing rules cited by the Court.  Additionally, the Commission should strengthen the coordination rules and issue rules for the new party accounts that were slipped into the omnibus appropriations bill at the end of the last Congress.”

In December, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that included a completely unrelated amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act to raise the contribution limit to party committees exponentially for specific activities, but its language is broad and ripe for abuse.  The outstanding coordination issues relate to extensive cooperation between candidates and outside groups that is allowed by the current ineffective coordination regulations—at odds with recent Supreme Court decisions promising that outside group spending would be totally independent of candidates.

Both the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 requested an opportunity to testify at the FEC’s February 11 hearing on the matter.

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

 

FCC Launches Political File Rulemaking for Cable, Satellite and Radio in Response to Reform Groups’ Petition

On December 18, in response to a petition filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to require cable, satellite and radio outlets to post online the political file the providers are already required to maintain on paper.

“The FCC is getting serious about dragging the television and radio industry into the 21st Century with regard to their political files,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director.  “The public has a right to this information and these outlets should not be allowed to hide it from them in corporate offices in distant locales.  We hope the Commission will move forward to finalize the rule as soon as possible and we are also are urging the Commission to now take the next logical step and require that the information submitted online is in a uniform format which is searchable, sortable and downloadable.”

A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule will begin as soon the notice is published in the Federal Register.

To read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, click here.

To read the Legal Center’s petition for rulemaking, click here

 

Watchdogs Urge New Jersey Ethics Commission to Investigate Gov. Christie’s Free Flights & Tickets to Cowboys Games

On January 12, 2015, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21 and Public Citizen, urged the State Ethics Commission of New Jersey to investigate possible violations of the state’s ethics and conflict of interest laws by Governor Chris Christie.  The Governor accepted chartered flights and free tickets to games from Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who is a significant stakeholder in a company which was awarded lucrative contracts with the Port Authority.  According to press reports, Governor Christie personally pushed for the Port Authority to award the contract to Legends Hospitality LLC to operate the observation deck on the top floor of One World Trade Center.  Further, the Governor has extensive dealings with the National Football League, including the granting of more than seventeen million dollars in state funds in the form of sales tax breaks and security costs surrounding the State’s hosting of the 2014 Super Bowl.

“There’s no doubt that once he became governor, a lot of people looking to do business with New Jersey wanted to be Chris Christie's friend,” said Larry Noble, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “But that’s not the type of friendship that justifies lavishing gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars on the governor.  The ‘personal friendship’ exemption is understood to mean longstanding friendships, not ones cultivated after one is elected to high public office and with those who have a business relationship with the government.”

New Jersey ethics laws prohibit public officials and their families from accepting any gifts offered in an attempt to influence them in the performance of the public duties and responsibilities.  

The letter urges the commission to address the claimed “personal friendship” exemption and determine whether Gov. Christie and Mr. Jones’ friendship stemming from the performance of the former’s official duties is sufficient grounds for accepting the gifts under the exemption.

To read the letter to the State Ethics Commission of New Jersey, click here.

 

Campaign Legal Center Files Comments on Candidate Debate Rulemaking Petition 

On December 15, the Campaign Legal Center filed comments in response to a petition urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to initiate a rulemaking and revise its regulations governing the inclusion of candidates in presidential and vice presidential debates. The petition for rulemaking was filed by the organization Level the Playing Field.

The current FEC regulations require the organizations staging the debate to use “pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate.” This vague rule has effectively allowed the Commission on Presidential debates, a corporation run by the Republican and Democratic Parties, to limit the participation in presidential debates to candidates for the two major parties through the use of polling data as one of the criteria for participation. It has been more than 20 years since the FEC has revised its candidate debate regulations, during which time much has changed. The Campaign Legal Center’s comments urged the FEC to conduct an in-depth review of its regulation to determine what is and is not an “objective” standard.

To read the comments, click here.

 

Congress Reopens Soft Money Loophole Through Spending Bill Rider

In December, the new Republican-controlled Congress reopened the soft money loophole in a rider attached to an omnibus appropriations bill.  The Campaign Legal Center and other reform groups (including Democracy 21, Common Cause and Public Citizen) joined together to oppose the rider (attached to the bill by Senator Mitch McConnell) when it  was publicly identified.  In addition to urging Members of Congress to oppose the rider , the groups sent six letters to Congress and President Obama urging them to either oppose the bill or change the campaign finance provisions in the bill.  Despite this opposition, Congress approved the bill with the rider and President Obama signed it.

The omnibus appropriations bill authorizes massive increases in the allowable contributions to political parties that can only be made by the wealthiest Americans.  These huge contributions are solicited by federal officeholders with the ability to provide access, influence and results to the donors.  A single individual is now authorized under the provisions in the bill to give a total of $777,600 to the three committees of a national party per year or a total of $1,555,200 in a two-year election cycle.  Such massive federal contributions have been prohibited for more than four decades to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.

“The backroom deal in the Omnibus Appropriations bill eviscerates important campaign finance limits and puts Members of Congress in the business of directly soliciting a wealthy donor for more than $1.5 million per election cycle,” said Meredith McGehee policy director of the Campaign Legal Center.  “It is both the solicitation by the Member and the corresponding contributions that are corrupting and/or create the appearance of corruption.  One need look no further than the special-interest perks in this spending bill to know that money buys favors in Washington.”

To read the letter from December 12 urging President Obama to veto the bill, click here.

 

Legal Center Senior Counsel Addresses Annual COGEL Conference

On December 8-9, Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan spoke on two panels at the annual Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference in Pittsburgh, PA.  Ryan spoke on one panel regarding recent developments in campaign finance litigation and another regarding recent developments in campaign finance legislation and policy.

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