Citizens United v. FEC

Dirty Money Underwriting Pro-Romney Super PAC?

Although he voted to block the Senate from considering the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Senator John McCain is usually a supporter of campaign finance reform. In an interview on PBS Newshour, McCain said that the astronomical contributions of Mitt Romney’s major financier, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are particularly problematic because those contributions amount to foreign money influencing U.S. elections:

MCCAIN: Mr. Adeleson [sic], who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign and much of Mr. Adeleson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau.

WOODRUFF: Which says what?

MCCAIN: This which says that obviously, maybe in a round-about way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.

Regardless of where Adelson acquired his billions, a new report by ProPublica and PBS reveals that Adelson’s business dealings may have been improper or even illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, complete with shady dealings with the Chinese mob and crooked politicians. As Think Progress summarizes, Adelson’s operation in Macau may have been made possible because of payments to Chinese organized crime figures:

Among the junket companies under scrutiny is a concern that records show was financed by Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong businessman.

Cheung was named in a 1992 U.S. Senate report as a leader of a Chinese organized crime gang, or triad. A casino in Macau owned by Las Vegas Sands granted tens of millions of dollars in credit to a junket backed by Cheung, documents show.

Cheung did not respond to requests for comment.

Another document says that a Las Vegas Sands subsidiary did business with Charles Heung, a well-known Hong Kong film producer who was identified as an office holder in the Sun Yee On triad in the same 1992 Senate report. Heung, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in organized crime, did not return phone calls.

Because Nevada gambling authorities forbid doing any business with organized crime, Sands’s Las Vegas gambling licenses could hang in the balance. (Adelson and his company refused to comment for the PBS story.) But Adelson has other issues with his China operations.

Sheldon Adelson has pledged to give up to $100 million to unseat President Obama. But according to one of Adelson’s friends, he could spend far more than that: “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to [Adelson].”

The system we have today allows for single individuals to give as much potentially money – clean or dirty – as they want to buy an election. This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work. Some sunlight is beginning to shine through on how Mitt Romney is benefitting from Sheldon Adelson’s shadowy dealings, but the extent of unaccountable money in our elections runs even deeper. Without a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the people will be unable to stop secret contributions by special interests, no matter where the money comes from.

PFAW

Republicans Put Big Money First, Continue to Block Transparency in Elections

Today, Senate Republicans voted to block the DISCLOSE Act, legislation designed to bring some basic but essential transparency to the electoral system in response to the Supreme Court’s flawed Citizens United decision. First proposed in 2010, the DISCLOSE Act would shed light on the secretive outside groups who aim to influence our elections. The Act would require the identification of individuals who give over $10,000 to outside groups that spend money on politics.

“The DISCLOSE Act would help the American people understand who is behind the political messages we’re bombarded with every day,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way.“Apparently, GOP senators would rather keep the public in the dark about who is bankrolling their campaigns. What do they have to hide? It’s telling that even Senators who previously supported strong disclosure laws would today let special interests buy our elections from the shadows instead of standing up for open and honest elections.

Citizens United opened up the floodgates to unaccountable, unrestricted spending by corporations and special interests to influence our elections. But even the conservative Supreme Court majority that gave us that decision acknowledged that robust disclosure is necessary to preserve the integrity of our elections.

“Today, the Senate had a chance to protect the American people’s right to know who is trying to sway their vote. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans chose to protect the anonymity of the wealthy few at the expense of the American public. Considering Mitt Romney’s refusal to release years of tax returns and his secret foreign bank accounts, it’s beginning to look like the GOP’s top priority is keeping money in the shadows. Instead, the Republican Party should embrace transparency – from personal records to political contributions – and bring greater integrity to the democratic process. ”

###

For DISCLOSE Before They Were Against It

The DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a simple and seemingly-unobjectionable proposal that would require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors and help inform the American people as to who is trying to sway their votes. Yet the proposal faces a slim (read: zero) chance of passage in the Senate this week. It even had partisan support when it was introduced first introduced in 2010 as a response to the Supreme Court’s flawed Citizens United decision, and Republican support for general campaign-related expenditures dates back many years.

Not anymore. The Huffington Post notes that there are 14 Republican senators serving since 2000 who previously voted for disclosure, but today would rather protect the anonymity of wealthy special interests and corporations than shed light on the funders of today’s endless barrage of attack ads.

These Senators have been whipped into line by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who was undoubtedly whipped into line by wealthy special interests and corporations who write big checks to Republicans, and would prefer to continue to do so in secret). Senator McConnell himself has flip-flopped on the issue:

Sen. McConnell in 2000: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

Sen. McConnell in 2012: “[Disclosure is] a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

The Sunlight Foundation has put together a video “depicting” other Republicans’ contradictory statements on the DISCLOSE Act. Watch it here:

 

PFAW

Obstruction to Election Spending Disclosure: Welcome to 2012 America

Today, Monday July 16th 2012, the U.S. Senate will vote on whether to end the filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, and more likely than not, the effort to bring the popular bill to a final floor vote will fail. Yet the DISCLOSE Act is a bill so fundamentally logical and conspicuously necessary for the health of our democracy, it is mind boggling that even one U.S. Senator would dare to not support it - let alone label it so extreme that the Senate should not even be allowed to vote on it.

The bill is about transparency, and the American people’s right to know who’s funding the campaign ads that are flooding our airwaves and influencing our opinions.

Here’s a brief history on how we got here:

On January 21st, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, overturning key provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act, creating a new campaign finance system in which corporations and unions could use treasury funds to influence elections.

Three months later, the D.C. Court of appeals struck down federal law limiting contributions to entities engaged in independent expenditures in the case SpeechNOW v. FEC. To reach their decision, the lower court relied upon the rationale put forth in Citizens United, particularly that “independent expenditures … do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The Roberts Court declined to consider an appeal of the lower court’s ruling in SpeechNOW, and thus ushered in the era of the super PAC.

Yet anonymous spending was not supposed to be the result of these rulings.

In the opinion of Justice Kennedy, writing for eight of the nine justices on the Court, it was assumed that disclosure requirements were constitutionally permissible and would serve as a check in this new I.E. spending reality.

Kennedy wrote:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.

… citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.

… disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.


But that transparency has not been codified into law.  At present, there is no law or statute that requires entities that make independent expenditures to disclose to the general public the identities of those who gave money to the entity specifically for political ads and other spending.

Following Citizens United in 2010, Congress came close to mandating disclosure when the House passed the DISCLOSE act. The bill had strong majority support in the Senate, so the Republicans filibustered it. Unfortunately, the effort to end the filibuster failed in the Senate by one vote. It died on the Senate floor with a 59 to 39 split on a cloture motion, presciently extending what historian Robert Caro wrote about the Senate of the late 1950’s to the present day, that “For almost a century, [the Senate] had not merely embodied but had empowered, with an immense power, the forces of conservatism and reaction in America.”

Yet disclosure should not be a conservative issue or a liberal issue. This is a democratic issue, with the fundamentals of our democracy at stake. In 2012 America however, Republican political partisanship and hunger for power at all costs have taken precedent over the need for reform; and Republican Senate leadership is holding firm. Issues vital to the health of our democracy - whether they be voting rights or campaign finance rules - are now warped into partisan issues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and opponents of the DISCLOSE act are desperate to find ways to discredit it and justify their unjustifiable opposition.

Take for example, McConnell’s piece in the USA Today, "Disclose Act is un-American," where he writes:

The Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. the FEC, correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. (sic)

The Disclose Act would make this and any future administration's ability to punish and intimidate its political enemies even easier. It is the Democrats' attempt to get around the court by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same.

While Senator McConnell cries out "un-American" and "unions" to scare his base - like Senator McCarthy once cried out "communists" on the Senate floor - the facts are irrefutable. Under the bill’s provisions, unions are treated equally to for-profit corporations. Case closed.

Furthermore, supporting the DISCLOSE Act is not a political power grab; however to reject it is, since the majority of the undisclosed money is benefiting the Republican party. So it goes for the bill’s opponents. Take reality and turn it on its head.

McConnell then declares:

This bill calls for government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents admit.

The Supreme Court addressed this issue in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama, ruling that forced disclosure of the NAACP's member lists by Alabama would discourage people from freely associating with a cause or group.

Once again, McConnell has to obfuscate the truth to hide the fact that he has no real argument.

The bill requires organizations (corporations, unions, super PACs, non-profits) to report within 24 hours of making an election expenditure of $10,000 or more. Donors that give $10,000 or more to the organization would be made public, unless they specify that their contributions to the organization cannot be used for election spending. The idea that every grassroots group will have to turn in their membership lists to the evil federal government is a scare tactic, and unsubstantiated.

The bill is designed to remove the added layer of anonymity ‘speakers’ are currently hiding behind by donating to nondescript (c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations that – unlike for-profit corporations, advocacy groups, and unions – do not operate in the public sphere, and whose purpose generally is unknown to the public.

One would imagine that halting this egregious process would be a quick fix. But one would also imagine the same for voting on judicial nominations, or extending the debt ceiling, or allowing Americans to cast a vote on Election Day. Unfortunately, that’s not how 2012 America functions.

The most unbelievable part of McConnell’s and Republican obstruction is that this DISCLOSE act is a watered-down version of its original. The 2010 provisions that would have required funders to “Stand By Their Ads” has been removed, as have the prohibition on electoral advocacy participation by corporations that received TARP funds. The bill will not be effective until 2013, so would not even affect this election cycle. But in the end, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and should be a no brainer for any elected official committed to the integrity of our elections.

Yet we are bound to hear the absurd cry of “union carve-out” tonight on the Senate floor when the bill is debated, and all the other diversionary arguments. The obstructionists need straw men, since without them, there could only be silence.

PFAW

A Romney Supreme Court – The Dream of Corporate Special Interests

For the mega-corporations and wealthy ideologues bankrolling Romney's campaign, a Romney-nominated Supreme Court would be a dream come true.
PFAW

DISCLOSE Act to Get Senate Vote

Next week, the Senate will vote on the DISCLOSE Act, which would bring much needed transparency to the corporate and special interest money that allows the wealthiest few to take over our airways and coöpt our elections. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations have been able to spend freely from their treasuries to overpower the voice of the American people.

While a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United or a change to the composition of the Supreme Court are the only ways to completely reverse that decision, the DISCLOSE Act is a strong step in the right direction.

It’s not a new idea. First introduced in 2010 in response to Citizens United, the bill would require groups airing election ads to disclose the source of the money. Because ads can be misleading, it is essential to for voters to know who is behind them in order to properly evaluate the constant inundation of political messages. It is a simple step to increase transparency in our elections.

Of course, the GOP blocked it.

Republicans in Congress weren’t always opposed to disclosure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once said, way back in 2000, “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?” Yet after Citizens United, he’s dramatically changed his tune, calling disclousre “a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

The Republicans’ change in tune isn’t surprising, considering that outside spending overwhelmingly favors the GOP.

PFAW

Republican Fundraiser Illustrates the Sham of "Non-Coordination"

Mitt Romney raised a lot of money this weekend at a gala fundraiser in the Hamptons, where guests such as the Koch brothers paid up to $50,000 to attend. But according to the Huffington Post, one particular presence that weekend was not on the official guest list: Karl Rove.

Rove was in town to speak at a luncheon promoting his super PAC, American Crossroads, and his affiliated nonprofit group. Because American Crossroads spends its contributors’ unlimited donations on ads supporting Mitt Romney (or attacking President Obama), the Romney campaign and Rove are prohibited by law from “coordinating” with each other.

As far as the law is concerned, however, “coordination” is defined narrowly at best. With the Romney event unable to sponsor Rove’s luncheon, Solamere Capital, a private equity firm founded by Romney’s son Tagg along with Romney’s chief fundraiser Spencer Zwick, footed the bill. Many of the attendees at Rove’s luncheon, scheduled the day before the official retreat weekend, were also at the campaign fundraiser. As one fundraiser who was at the retreat noted, “It was not a coincidence that the Solamere conference took place in the same city just before the retreat began.”

Thanks to Citizens United, corporations and wealthy individuals and special interests can bypass the $2,500 maximum that campaign committees can accept and instead give unlimited amounts to super PACs like American Crossroads, which in turn spent about $300 million this year to support the GOP. Although in its flawed ruling the Court may have intended such outside groups to be independent, the facts just don’t support that notion:

"This kind of activity [by Rove] is the last thing the Supreme Court had in mind when it ruled that spending by an outside group had to be 'totally independent' and 'wholly independent' from a candidate the group is supporting with expenditures," Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, said in an interview. "The FEC lives in a pure fantasy world in the way it attempts to define coordinated activities as not being coordinated activities."

Citizens United has left us in quite a campaign finance mess – and a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision and related cases is the only path forward to fairer and more transparent elections.

PFAW

PFAW Staff Video on PeoplesTestimony.com

Under the banner of United For the People, a new web platform launched today to collect and amplify the growing grassroots movement in America that is calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision in Citizens United and restore the balance of influence in our elections to the people.

At www.peoplestestimony.com, the American people, good government organizations and elected officials can record a short video about how their lives are affected by money in politics and the outsized influence in our elections enjoyed by corporations and wealthy special interests – and what we can do about it.

Here is one such video, by PFAW staff:

 

To see the rest, and to find out how to submit your own video, visit www.peoplestestimony.com.

PFAW

United Conference of Mayors Calls for Overturning Citizens United

At their annual conference in Orlando, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and special interest spending on elections. Citing Justice John Paul Stevens and the dissenters in the Citizens United case, the mayors’ resolution declares the need to “broaden the corruption rationale for campaign finance reform to facilitate regulation of independent expenditures regardless of the source of the money for this spending, for or against a candidate.” Finding compelling “fundamental interests” in “creating a level playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard,” the Conference of Mayors resolves that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons and that “urgent action” be taken to reverse the impacts of Citizens United in opening the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by corporations that undermines “free and fair elections and effective self-governance.”

The resolution calls on other communities, jurisdictions and organizations to pass similar resolutions. So far over, over 250 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases and returning the power to influence our elections to the people. And more than 1600 public officials have gone on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn the decision. More than 100 organizations have come together under the umbrella of United For the People to press for amending the Constitution to address the harm caused by Citizens United and related cases.

PFAW

Split Decisions Impact Immigration and Unions

Here’s a quick recap of the Supreme Court’s decisions during the past week: Unions are now further disadvantaged and despite some important changes to the state’s immigration law, racial profiling remains a viable option for Arizona law enforcement.

On June 21, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000. The case dealt with a labor policy several states have, known as agency shops, in which employees are not required to become members of the union representing their place of employment, but must pay dues since they benefit from the work the union does. At the point in which all employees working at an establishment that has a union presence are receiving higher wages, more vacation days, and overall better working conditions, it is only fair that all employees pay union dues and not free-ride off of just the union members who pay.

However, in the case of public sector unions, the Supreme Court held a generation ago that non-members have the right to opt out of having their dues used for political activity by the union, effectively weakening the union’s ability to operate on its members’ behalf. In Knox, the Court criticized the balance struck in 1986 and ruled that when the union has a mid-year special assessment or dues increase, it cannot collect any money at all from non-union members unless they affirmatively opt-in (rather than opt-out). This ruling addressed an issue that wasn’t raised by the parties and that the union never had a chance to address, furthering the Right Wing’s goal to hamper a union’s ability to collect dues and make it harder for unions to have a voice in a post-Citizens United political environment. To add insult to injury, Justice Alito let his ideological leanings shine through when he essentially claimed right-to-work laws are good policy.

After the Knox v. SEIU decision, the court released its ruling on the highly contentious 2010 Arizona anti-immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down the majority of the southwestern state’s draconian immigration policy. The court ruled that much of the state’s law unconstitutionally affected areas of law preempted by the federal government, acknowledging the impracticality of each state having its own immigration policy. Oppressive anti-immigrant provisions were struck down, such as one criminalizing the failure to carry proof of citizenship at all times, and a provision making it illegal under state law for an undocumented immigrant to apply for or hold a job. The decision also recognized that merely being eligible for removal is not in itself criminal, and thus the suspicion of being eligible for removal is not sufficient cause for arrest.

Although the majority of S.B. 1070 was overturned by the Supreme Court this week, one component remains, at least for the moment. Officers can still check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the individual may be undocumented. This keeps the door wide open for racial profiling. Arresting an individual is not the same as being convicted for a crime. Latinos and other minority groups can be stopped for a crime as simple as jaywalking and “appear” suspicious enough to warrant an immigration background check. By leaving this portion of the law, the US Supreme Court has, for the time being, allowed the potential profiling of thousands of Arizona residents, regardless of whether they are immigrants or US citizens, but has left open the ability to challenge the manner in which this provision is put into practice.

PFAW

US Rep joins Citizens United fight after Phila. passes resolution

A recently passed resolution in Philadelphia that calls for a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people sparked a federal figure to declare his support.
PFAW

Supreme Court Reverses MT Court, Affirms Flawed Citizens United Decision

Any hope that the Supreme Court would reconsider the disastrous Citizens United decision was dashed this morning, when the Court in a 5-4 decision summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court decision on campaign finance without even hearing oral arguments. Rather than acknowledge the obvious damage done to our democracy in the 2½ years since Citizens United was decided, the five arch-conservatives solidified the distorted electoral playing field they created that lets the powerful few overwhelm the rest of America in deciding our elections.

Citizens United struck down federal restrictions on corporate independent expenditures to support or defeat a candidate based on two premises: (1) the First Amendment gives corporations the same First Amendment right as people to make independent expenditures to influence elections; and (2) independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. But late last year, the Montana Supreme Court upheld that state’s restrictions on corporate independent expenditures, citing its unique history of political corruption and the many factors that distinguish state and local races from the federal races at issue in Citizens United.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court quickly granted a request to stay that decision as likely at odds with Citizens United, two Justices pointed out the opportunity the Montana case raised to re-examine Citizens United’s faulty factual assumptions:

Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since [Citizens United] make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.

Today, due to Citizens United and its progeny, political candidates’ top staffers go off to form purportedly independent “super PACs” to accept the multi-million dollar checks that the formal campaign cannot legally accept. Karl Rove and his allies are planning to raise $1 billion, much of it anonymously given, to impose Republican control over all levers of the federal government. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce funnel millions upon millions of dollars from corporate coffers to buy up the airwaves, refusing to disclose to the American people who is paying for the political advertising they are bombarded with.

Even when wealthy donors hide their identity from the American people, they make themselves known to the candidates who benefit from their largesse. No one doubts their influence over the officials who they put into office – and who they could turn their millions of dollars against if crossed.

No one who has seen the transformation in our democracy in the past 29 months could possibly believe that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” This basic factual assumption underlying Citizens United has been shown to be incorrect.

As Justice Breyer said in his dissent from the Court’s decision:

“[M]ontana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

The Montana case was the Court’s chance to right a terrible wrong and take our country off a dangerously anti-democratic path. History will remember this as a great opportunity lost to the American people.

PFAW

PFAW: US Supreme Court Doubles Down on Citizens United Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning refused to reconsider its flawed Citizens United decision and summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court decision by a 5-4 majority. The ruling struck down the state’s century-old Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibited corporate spending in elections. The Montana court had defended the constitutionality of its longstanding law, citing the state’s unique history of political corruption, the many factors that distinguish state and local races from the federal races, and the overwhelming power of corporate election spending to corrupt or create the appearance of corruption.

“In the two years since the Citizens United decision, the damage our democracy has suffered has been obvious,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “The decision has profoundly distorted our electoral system and handed unprecedented power to corporate interests. The Court’s insistence that unlimited corporate spending doesn’t create the appearance of corruption flies in the face of common sense, the opinion of the American people and the facts. Aside from the five people who wrote the original decision two years ago, it’s difficult to find anyone who thinks that candidates can benefit from million dollar checks written to their SuperPACs without the ‘appearance of corruption.’ When faced with facts that clearly disprove a central premise of Citizens United, it’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court chose to double down on its error.

“Today’s decision affirms the need to reverse Citizens United by amending the Constitution. I’m proud of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have joined our movement to do just that.”

Americans overwhelmingly support constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. Under the banner of United For the People, more than 100 organizations, over 250 states and localities, and nearly 1700 public officials have officially endorsed amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.

###

PFAW Panel on Constitutional Amendment at Take Back the Dream

At this week’s “Take Back the American Dream” conference, Representative Keith Ellison, Missoula City Councilman Jason Weiner, Rev. Barry Hargrove, and Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamie Raskin joined PFAW’s Marge Baker for a panel discussion entitled “Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Mandate,” to discuss the growing grassroots momentum at the local, state and federal levels for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision.

The standing-room only audience heard about a groundbreaking statewide ballot initiative in Montana calling for overturning the Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution, as well the pending Supreme Court decision on whether to hear the Montana State Supreme Court case giving the high court the opportunity to reconsider its decision. Panelists discussed the underlying need for amending the Constitution as the only effective way to reverse the harm caused by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. As put by Jamie Raskin, who is also a PFAW Senior Fellow, “For the sake of ‘We the People’ and our democracy, all corporate money is foreign money.”

The panel examined how this fight has galvanized the progressive movement as a whole, from jumpstarting voter registration drives to increasing general interest in politics and civic engagement.

PFAW

Context for the Effects of Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is commonly criticized by good government advocates because it has led to countless wealthy individuals and corporations making unlimited contributions in unprecedented amounts to groups attempting to sway electoral outcomes, often anonymously. As a result, those with means are able unfairly amplify their voices above that of average Americans.

To appreciate the magnitude of the ruling’s anti-democratic effects, it is important to consider the sheer amount of money that it takes to be a player in the Super-PAC game.

Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s richest men with a far-right personal political agenda, plans to contribute upwards of $71 million in this election cycle, according to the Huffington Post. He is so determined to unseat the president that, after sinking $21.5 million on Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich’s failed run, he is ready to refocus his efforts and spend similarly astronomical sums to support groups in favor of Mitt Romney and Republican congressional candidates.

His influence is real – $71 million can buy a lot of TV advertising, and ads funded by Super PACs and 501c4 groups can be particularly nasty because they are not officially “accountable” to a candidate. Average Americans, even those who can afford to contribute toward their preferred candidate, simply cannot compete on this scale. According to a friend of Adelson, “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to him.”

In an interview with Forbes, Adelson acknowledged the reality that his extraordinary wealth allows him to influence elections in ways he otherwise couldn’t, in ways which ordinary Americans cannot. He doesn’t even think it’s a good thing, but that hasn’t stopped him: "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he said. "But as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it."

The only way to make hijacking our elections no longer “doable” is with a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. To anyone without a spare $100 million, the need couldn’t be clearer.

PFAW

Citizens United Continues to Stack the Deck

Two short paragraphs from a Wall Street Journal article about billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s political contributions vividly illustrate the damage to democracy done by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision:

Mr. Adelson has told friends that he intends to give at least $100 million to conservative causes and candidates this election cycle. He contributed some $250,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who just won against a labor union-forced recall election there.

But he has also told his friends and colleagues that he would prefer to keep his contributions under wraps in order to avoid controversy, and will likely focus donations mostly on non-profits affiliated with political PACS, which don’t have to disclose the names of donors. He is expected to donate to the conservative non-profit Crossroads GPS, which was founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, a longtime friend of Mr. Adelson, according to Republican fundraisers.

The article was prompted by recent revelations that Mr. Adelson donated $10 million – the largest amount single donation so far – to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.

Adelson is credited for single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign afloat (for a while, at least), and he has long been pressured by Republican fundraisers to support Mr. Romney. Thanks to Citizens United, one very wealthy individual has the power to donate unlimited amounts to super PACS that are unaccountable to the public. And, as is the case with special interests who try to use their enormous wealth to skew elections, Adelson would prefer to keep his activities a secret so no one even knows who’s buying the race. Thanks to Citizens United, he can do exactly that.

PFAW

New Report Grades States' Response to Citizens United

A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition released this morning grades each state's response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the flawed decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited, undisclosed spending by corporations and special interests to influence our elections. The decision forced 22 states to reexamine their laws on the books that limited such expenditures.

The report, "Sunlight State By State After Citizens United," examines how many states either repealed their corporate expenditure bans or declared them unenforceable in the wake of Citizens United. Montana is the notable exception, claiming that its law is still valid. That claim will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Other states have adopted more creative approaches to ensure that the public is informed about the outsized influence in our elections that corporations try to buy with their vast treasuries. For example, Alaska, California and North Carolina require the disclosure of the top contributors to political ads, and Iowa requires that shareholders be directly informed of corporate political spending.

The Corporate Reform Coalition, which is composed of more than 75 good-government groups seeking to combat undisclosed money in elections, evaluated each state's response to the Citizens United decision by scoring disclosure requirements related to political spending. While only a constitutional amendment to reverse the Court's decision can undo the damage of Citizens United, disclosure requirements are an important step toward a more transparent democracy.

AK, CA, CO, HI IA, IL, MA, NC, SD, VT, WA, WI and WV all received the top score. IN, SC, WY, NY and ND received the lowest scores.

You can read the report here.

PFAW

Justice Stevens: A Crack in the Foundation of the Citizens United Majority Opinion is Inevitable

One of the last acts of Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court bench that he sat on for nearly thirty-five years was to read a summary of his scathing dissent of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, aloud, stating repeatedly, in one form or another that corporations “are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.” Unfortunately, this view, which the vast majority of Americans agree with, and which seems so self-evident, was not held by the majority of the court.

To read the decision aloud was noteworthy; justices typically do so on cases they believe have special merit. And Justice Stevens correctly understood then that Citizens United was just that.

Over two years later, as the effects of Citizens United take hold, as corporate and special interest spending flood the 2012 elections and overwhelm the political process, Justice Stevens revisited the topic at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton Schools of Public Service. As reported by the Huffington Post, Justice Stevens took to the lectern Wednesday to address the inherent legal contradictions that are still outstanding under Justice Kennedy’s lead opinion.

Stevens alluded to President Obama’s apprehension, voiced in his 2010 State of the Union Speech, that the decision would “open the floodgates to special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections.” Stevens stated (emphasis added):

… the former professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School [President Obama] made three important and accurate observations about the Supreme Court majority's opinion …

… third, the logic of the opinion extends to money spent by foreign entities. That is so because the Court placed such heavy emphasis on the premise that the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity. Indeed, the opinion expressly stated, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Justice Stevens is correct that the logic of the Court’s opinion in Citizens United extends to permitting foreign corporations to make independent expenditures to influence U.S. elections. As he pointed out in his Citizens United dissent, the majority opinion’s failure to take on the issue of foreign corporate spending when striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold Act is a glaring omission, one that exposes the logical flaws in Kennedy’s argument. And as more cases like Bluman v. FEC arise – in which foreign nationals sought, and were denied the right to make electoral contributions and expenditures – the court will need to further clarify its position on why domestic corporations, and not other “speakers” have the right “to speak.” On the subject, Stevens reasoned:

in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion. For [Justice Alito's] statement that it is "not true" that foreign entities will be among the beneficiaries of Citizens United offers good reason to predict there will not be five votes for such a result when a case arises that requires the Court to address the issue in a full opinion. And, if so, the Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech. It will be necessary to' explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.

It is very possible that a plethora of cases like Bluman v. FEC will reach the district courts. And it’s very possible that the lower courts will begin to poke so many holes in the Citizens United rationale that the Supreme Court will have no choice but to revisit the case.

PFAW Foundation

Super PACs Make 2008 Look Like Child's Play

In total, the candidates in the 2008 presidential election spent just over $1 billion on their campaigns. Just four years ago, President Obama raised $750 million, primarily via small donations from grassroots supporters. But the landscape looks pretty different in 2012: that amount will be surpassed by just a handful of GOP patrons and super PACs alone.

Made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, dark money organizations like Restore Our Future and American Crossroads will raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts to prop up Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket. Politico notes that American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, a Karl Rove brainchild, is expected to spend up to $300 million. That’s almost as much as John McCain spent on his entire 2008 run.

The bulk of campaign expenditures go to advertising – and $1 billion certainly buys a lot of airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, this elite group of financiers can buy the loudest, most far-reaching voice in the 2012 elections. The amount collected by Super PACs and 501 c(4)s dramatically dwarfs traditional party and direct-campaign fundraising, which is the mechanism by which the grassroots are able to contribute to the process. The contrast is stark:

Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.

In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.

The Citizens United decision has granted the 0.01% more leeway to try to buy our democracy than ever before. The sheer numbers make the need for constitutional remedies to overturn that decision and restore the balance of influence in our elections to everyday Americans is more apparent than ever.

PFAW
Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious