Category Archives: Citizens United

Montana, WTP, and the Supreme Court: A Tale of Irony — Part 2

by Kellye

In Part 1 on this subject (here), the history behind Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, which made corporate contributions in state elections illegal, and the Montana Supreme Court case involving Western Tradition Partnership (WTP), which upheld Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, are discussed.

Since the decision of the Montana Supreme Court contradicted the Citizens United ruling, WTP (now American Tradition Partnership, Inc. or ATP) appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in American Tradition Partnership, Inc., v. Bullock, via a per curiam opinion (without hearing testimony) that the state of Montana had to accept the Citizens United decision. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court majority said that there was no evidence of anything corrupting about independent spending. In the absence of evidence that WTP was coordinating with the candidates, there was nothing that Montana could do.

But here is where the irony comes into play, in the form of boxes found in a Colorado meth house. Continue reading

Montana, WTP, and the Supreme Court: A Tale of Irony – Part 1

by Kellye

This blog is about big money in politics and the corruption that follows it. Citizens for Truth was started as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. This ruling effectively removed limits on the amount of money corporations and unions can spend in elections. The only requirement is that the expenditures must be independent of the candidate’s own campaign — there can be no coordination or other collaboration between the candidate or political party and the outside group.

Since that decision, the number of outside groups has increased exponentially. Each election seems to involve more money than the one before it. National elections, but also state and local, are heavily influenced by big money donors. It is often the case that big money donors in state and local elections don’t even live in the state, let alone the local areas. As a result, outside groups, along with their corporate and out-of-state donors, are calling the shots in state and local elections, not the people who actually live there. The two primary types of big money outside groups are SuperPACS and 501(c)4 “social welfare” organizations (for more information see these posts: 501(c)4sPACs, SuperPACS, 501(c)4s).

The key difference between these two groups is disclosure. SuperPACs are required to disclose donations, while 501(c)4s are not. The latter is often referred to as “dark money.”

Let’s switch gears for a moment and discuss Montana’s importance in campaign finance. Continue reading

SJR 19 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Summary

On June 3, 2014, the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights held its first hearing on SJR 19 (the proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would allow Congress the ability to regulate all money in elections). With a packed hearing room, several senators made their cases both for and against SJR 19 (also referred to as SJRes 19). There were 3 knowledgeable and accomplished panelists invited to answer questions and give input at the hearing. Key portions of that 3-hour hearing are summarized below, along with some additional background information (indicated in blue).

One of the senators speaking at the hearing was Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He began by quoting statistics on the growth in spending by outside groups since the Citizens United decision. He stated that spending by outside groups in mid-term elections has tripled from $27.6 million in 2010 to $97.7 million so far in 2014. In the 2006 midterm elections, prior to Citizens United, outside groups spent a mere $3.5 million in comparison. Super PACs spent more than $130 million on federal elections in 2012, with 60% of all Super PAC donations coming from just 159 Americans. Continue reading

Republicans Who’ve Spoken Out Against Money in Politics

Last month, Texans United to Amend set up an exhibition table at the Texas State Republican Convention in Ft. Worth (thanks to Mike Badzioch). On one of the days, I helped out. We were all glad to hear that Republican delegates shared the same concerns we had about the influence of too much money in politics. It’s hard to say what percentage of all the delegates agreed with us, but of the delegates who stopped at our table to talk, 95% of them agreed with us on the 2 issues that we discussed with them.

Besides the issue of too much money influencing our political process, the other issue we discussed with them was our belief that corporations are not people and should not have the same constitutional rights as individuals. From what I could tell, none of them had heard of a constitutional amendment to solve these 2 issues. However, those in agreement with us, did not seem adverse to a constitutional amendment.

None of this should be too surprising. Republicans and Republican leaders, past and present, have spoken out against money in politics, the Citizens United decision, and corporate personhood. Here is a sampling: Continue reading

Republican Support Grows Against Citizens United and Dark Money

In case you didn’t know, there have been 5 states in 2013 that have passed resolutions calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision. These 5 states are Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Oregon, and West Virginia. This makes a total of 16 states that have passed resolutions so far. That is close to one-third of all 50 states.

Prior to 2013, the state resolution effort was supported primarily by Democratic legislators. That is beginning to change. In the 5 states passing resolutions this year, there was significant Republican support. For example, the majority of Oregon’s Republican House members voted for the resolution.

The support garnered from Republican state lawmakers on this issue is reflective of the support two ballot initiatives received from Republican voters on Election Day 2012. Continue reading

McCutcheon v. FEC — the next Citizens United?

Stephen Spaulding, of Common Cause and the Hill’s Congress blog, recently addressed the latest threat to the fight to get money out of politics.

On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC . Shaun McCutcheon, the lead plaintiff, is challenging the $123,200 limit on contributions a single donor may make to federal candidates and political party committees during any two-year election cycle… If McCutcheon prevails, he and similarly wealthy donors soon will be able to write campaign checks of up to $3.6 million a pop.

McCutcheon, in a July interview, said that he believes individuals should have “more influence” (What?! Is this a democracy or an oligarchy?). He also stated that there needs to be a “real, real good reason” to limit individuals’ ability to give to campaigns.

In fact, there is a very good reason, and it was identified by the Supreme Court in prior rulings: to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. In Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), the Court concluded that large contributions do represent corruptions or at least the appearance of corruption. Earlier, the decisions in  Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) presented the argument that even the appearance of corruption can be devastating, as citizens begin to lose faith in the democratic process.

All three of these precedents, however, have already been challenged by the current Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). The February blog post, Citizens United Ruling Part 3, detailed the arguments of each side. Will the Citizens United precedent stand, or will the Court go back to previous arguments to find a good reason to limit campaign contributions? The next few months will tell.

Highlights of Campaign Finance History – Part 3

by Kellye

Before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) was passed in 2002, both political parties were diverting unlimited “soft money” donations into federal elections. This was in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) which stipulated that “soft money” be used for “party-building” activities and not on federal elections. Furthermore, FECA placed limits on the amount of money that could be given to political parties for use in federal elections. Since there were no limits on “soft money” donations from any source, this not only allowed individuals and any entity to circumvent the limits on political contributions but, in particular, allowed corporations and unions to circumvent the law and use their treasuries to fund federal elections. BCRA put an end to the abuse of “soft money” by political parties.

After BCRA was enacted, it didn’t take long before someone thought of a way to get around that law. Continue reading