The GOP war on campaign finance reforms

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Money_gavel_275 Not satisfied by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that opened the floodgates to corporate-sponsored election ads, conservative opponents of campaign finance regulations have opened up a series of new legal fronts in their effort to eliminate the remaining laws restricting the flow of money into politics. To right, Citizens United just a start –

They have taken to Congress, state legislatures and the lower courts to target almost every type of regulation on the books: disclosure requirements, bans on foreign and corporate contributions and – in a pair of cases the Supreme Court will consider this month – party spending limits and public financing of campaigns.

The sustained assault, combined with the Supreme Court’s rightward tilt on the issue, has some advocates for reducing the role of money in politics fretting about the possibility of an irreversible shift in the way campaigns are regulated and funded that would favor Republicans and corporate interests in the 2012 presidential race and beyond.

“We’ve already passed the danger point, and if you put all (the challenges) together, we could lose almost all of what we’ve had historically as campaign finance reform,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the non-profit group Public Citizen, which pushes to protect or expand campaign restrictions in Congress, at the Federal Election Commission and in the courts.

“These types of lawsuits against campaign finance measures have been flooding the courts for years,” said Holman, “but now they’re finding more success with these five justices on the Supreme Court taking very anti-campaign finance reform stands – or, more appropriately, pro-corporate stances – and so the cases are reaching further than they ever did before.”

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But, perhaps more significantly, Citizens United emboldened increasingly well-funded conservative small-government groups to pursue more aggressive attacks on other regulations that were previously considered beyond reach.

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The outcome of a case challenging Arizona’s public financing system, which is scheduled for a March 28 argument before the Supreme Court, “will be the first big play on this,” Smith predicted. “It could set the tone on whether the Supreme Court is still moving in the deregulatory direction and it could indicate new targets to go after.”

Brought by a pair of small government groups – the Washington-based Institute for Justice and the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute – on behalf of an Arizona state lawmaker who rejected public funds, the case, McComish v. Bennett, only challenges a specific provision in the Arizona system.

But it could have wide-ranging implications, particularly since it comes as advocates for reducing the flow of money into politics have been placing their hopes for dialing back the impact of Citizens United on proposals to publicly fund political races, including a bill that would set up such a system for congressional campaigns.

“Depending on its scope, an adverse ruling from the high court could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections,” warns a memo by Gerry Hebert and Tara Malloy, lawyers at the pro-regulation Campaign Legal Center, which filed a brief defending the Arizona law.

“Just a year after the controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Court is once again poised to issue a ruling that could make it harder for ordinary citizens to compete with big money in our democracy,” their memo predicted.

Opponents of campaign rules… have a slew of other suits pending that could dramatically alter the political money landscape, including one challenging a rule that limited how much the Republican National Committee could spend supporting the unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign of former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.). [See Update]

The Supreme Court is set to decide on Friday whether to hear the case which is being handled by Jim Bopp, a Republican lawyer and leading opponent of campaign restrictions. The impact of the Cao case “could be real big,” if the court overturns the so-called coordination limits at issue, predicted Bopp, who has dozens of cases pending in courts around the country.  

One seeks to advance the Citizens United ruling by challenging an Iowa law banning direct corporate contributions to state candidates, while a pair of others dispute whether non-profit groups called the Committee for Truth in Politics and The Real Truth About Obama that aired ads critical of then-candidate Barack Obama had to disclose their donors or activity.

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And a suit challenging the foreign contribution ban is being brought on behalf of a Canadian who wants to support President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen who wants to contribute to Obama’s opponent and also to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), to help prevent a “government-takeover of the health-care system in the United States,” according to the suit. It says both plaintiffs are legally authorized to live and work in the United States, but are not permanent residents.

Then there’s the ACLU, often a leading champion of liberal causes which nonetheless over the years has been among the most effective and best funded opponents of many campaign finance restrictions, deeming them unconstitutional infringements on free speech.

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But less than three months after the Citizens United decision, the ACLU hosted a vigorous debate on its campaign finance stances, ultimately voting to continue its support for the ruling, but to relax its opposition to certain types of public financing programs and to drop its opposition to contribution limits.

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Nonetheless, the ACLU’s shift is significant in that, in some cases, it could deprive campaign regulation opponents of a key ally that gave their effort a veneer of ideological diversity that sometimes made it an easier sell in the court of public opinion.

In the post-Citizens United world, though, opposition to campaign regulations is starting to come almost exclusively from the right, asserted Fred Wertheimer, president of the non-profit group Democracy 21, which filed briefs opposing the Citizen United and Arizona public financing challenges.

Calling out Republican congressional leaders who blocked proposed disclosure enhancements after Citizens United, the Republican appointees to the FEC, who have generally opposed vigorous enforcement of campaign rules, and Bopp, Wertheimer said “the longtime opponents of campaign finance laws are going to test as far as they can go, but we are going to be on the battleground at every stage.”

For supporters of campaign finance reform and publicly financed campaigns, I have told you before that, due to U.S. Supreme Court precedents, you are going to have to successfully adopt a constitutional amendment for public financing of campaigns. It cannot be accomplished by legislation.

This poses a serious hurdle to overcoming a Congress that is bought by corporate interests, and if one can overcome that hurdle, you will still face 50 state legislatures also bought by corporate interests in your effort to convince 38 states to approve the amendment.

Our political system has been broken ever since Chief Justice William Rehnquist formulated that "money equals speech" — spoken like a true plutocrat. Buckley v. Valeo (1976). There are no easy answers to fix this problem.

h/t Daily Kos for the graphic

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by former Louisiana Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao and the Republican National Committee. Supreme Court Won't Hear Campaign Finance Rules Challenge. Cao wanted the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the $42,000 federal limit on what state and national parties could spend in 2010 in coordinated efforts on behalf of a candidate in his race. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the campaign finance limit was constitutional.

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