Shaun McCutcheon never thought the case that bears his name would make it this far. But Tuesday, the 46-year-old electrical engineer, conservative activist and donor will watch the Supreme Court hear the case that could erase Watergate-era caps on campaign donations. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the lawsuit challenging the total amount of money a single donor can give to all federal candidates could have far-reaching implications for the way campaigns and political parties are financed. The court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has entered the vernacular as shorthand for the explosion of money in politics. That case, along with another that allowed the creation of super PACs, led to donors writing multimillion-dollar checks. Because of the way modern campaigns are financed — by candidates partnering with federal, state and local parties — McCutcheon’s lawsuit could have the consequence of allowing politicians to ask a single donor for $1 million a pop, or more. To McCutcheon, the lawsuit is over a fundamental matter of freedom. He argues the government has no right to set overall caps on donations in the first place. To campaign-finance reformers and government watchdogs, it’s a potential nightmare — the latest in a long series of Supreme Court cases that have allowed Big Money to dominate politics.
The U.S. Supreme Court will this week step into the politically charged debate over campaign finance for the first time since its controversial ruling three years ago paved the way for corporations and unions to spend more on political candidates and causes. The case has the potential to weaken a key element of the federal campaign finance regulations remaining after the 2010 ruling, and it could pave the way for challenges to the restrictions on contributions that remain. Supporters say those laws are key to preventing wealthy donors from exerting an undue and potentially corrupting influence on the political process, while opponents say the laws choke free speech. In the 2010 case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the high court, split 5-4, lifted limits on independent expenditures, not coordinated with individual politicians or parties, by corporations and unions during federal election campaigns. This time, in a case to be argued on Tuesday, the nine justices will consider a challenge by Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republican National Committee to the overall limit on campaign contributions that donors can make to individual candidates and committees over a two-year federal election cycle.
Editorials: Voter ID Proponents Muddy the Waters With Misleading Georgia and North Carolina Turnout Numbers | Rob Richie/Huffington Post
The Justice Department announced this week that it will sue North Carolina over its new restrictive voting law. Although the law wiped out a range of pro-democracy measures, including FairVote priorities like instant runoff voting for judicial vacancies and voter pre-registration for young people, the lawsuit will focus specifically on the shortening of early voting periods and the requiring of government-issued photo identification in order to vote, policies the Justice Department claims illegally discriminate against racial minorities. The Civitas Institute, a North Carolina group founded by the controversial Art Pope, which had great influence in designing the law and has long pushed for strict voter ID requirements, has been highly critical of the prospective lawsuit. In a blog post this week, the organization’s election policy analyst Susan Myrick (not to be confused with former North Carolina Congresswoman Sue Myrick) claimed that the effects of restrictive voting laws on racial minorities are overblown. Unfortunately Myrick used a misleading statistic in her blog post and ignored many others that contradict her argument, just as Civitas president Francis De Luca did when he testified last spring before the North Carolina state legislature in favor of voter ID.
The U.S. Supreme Court term that opens next week gives the Republican-appointed majority a chance to undercut decades-old precedents in clashes over campaign finance, racial discrimination and legislative prayer. While the nine-month term lacks the blockbusters of recent years, it features “an unusually large number of cases in which the decision under review relies on a Supreme Court precedent that may be vulnerable,” said Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University. “This term is deeper in important cases than either of the prior two terms,” Gornstein said. The court’s four Democratic appointees won major rulings in each of the last two terms, upholding President Barack Obama’s health-care law and buttressing gay marriage.
For almost 40 years, since the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court has treated limits on campaign contributions to candidates, parties and committees more permissibly than limits on independent campaign spending when challenged on First Amendment grounds. As to contribution limits, the court’s “standard of review” has been rather lax, and most contribution limits are upheld. Spending limits are subject to “strict scrutiny,” and courts usually strike them down. Senator Mitch McConnell wants the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. F.E.C. to overturn part of Buckley and to apply that strict standard to review of contribution limits, meaning most of them would fall too. It’s a bad idea. The closer the money comes to the hands of members of Congress, the greater the danger of corruption and undue influence of big donors.
As a businessman from Birmingham, Ala., I could never imagine winding up where I am today. Yet here I am, the lead plaintiff in a case going before the U.S. Supreme Court this week — McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. I expected to be focused more than full time on growing the electrical engineering firm I started from scratch 17 years ago. But when the federal government threatens your most fundamental constitutional rights — and your freedom of speech — it’s time to take a stand and get into politics. Here’s what happened: As an activist, I naturally want to donate to candidates who share my views. I was doing just that during the 2010 election cycle when an Alabama GOP committee warned I might be nearing my contribution limit. Contribution limit? That was news to me. It turns out that decades ago, Congress put a cap on two kinds of campaign giving: how much you can donate to individual candidates and committees and how much you can give in total when you add all your donations to various candidates and committees, the so-called aggregate limit. Since then, aggregate limits have become too complex and time consuming to understand, both in terms of what they are and what they really do — help incumbents self-regulate and get perpetually reelected.
Ten years ago, California erupted in an anti-government, anti-establishment convulsion unlike any ever seen. Disgruntled voters seized the chance for a rare do-over, recalling their staid and serious governor, Gray Davis, and replacing him less than a year after his reelection with one of the most famous and exuberant personalities on the planet. It was only the second time in U.S. history a sitting governor was booted from office. The spectacle — a snap election featuring a color wheel of 135 candidates, including a former child actor, a porn star and a handful of professional politicians — shook California from its usual political slumber and captivated an audience that watched from around the world. A decade on, the effects are still being felt, albeit subtly, and not the way proponents imagined, or the way actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the chief beneficiary, so grandly promised.
In a rare display of contrition coming to a Florida city near you, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is acknowledging what civil rights groups and local elections officials had already been saying: Last year’s attempted purge of noncitizens from voter rolls was fundamentally flawed. “I accept responsibility for the effort,” Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told the Herald/Times. “It could have been better. It should have been better.” Detzner, who serves as Scott’s top elections official, is repeating the mea culpa during a five-day road tour that concludes this week in Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale. The apology is part of a sales pitch to the public and supervisors of elections that a second attempt to remove noncitizens from voter rolls, “Project Integrity”, will be better. “We learned from the mistakes we made,” Detzner said. “We won’t make the same mistakes.” But forgiveness is hardly automatic. While encouraged that the admission was made, some said they are hesitant to trust state officials.
Gov. Pat McCrory says Attorney General Roy Cooper could wind up a witness against the state of North Carolina in a lawsuit the US Department of Justice filed against the state’s new voter ID law. “Political statements by an attorney general of any lawyer can have a detriment(al) impact on their ability to defend our state,” McCrory said. During a visit to Cape Fear Community College, McCrory, a Republican, was asked if he agrees with the opinion of one of his legal advisers that Cooper, a Democrat, compromised his ability to represent the state in the lawsuit.
Azerbaijanis will go the polls on Oct. 9 in an atmosphere marked by a general sense of fear combined with deep apathy. Although there were signs of discontent earlier this year with a riot in a provincial town – as well as occasional unsanctioned opposition rallies in the capital Baku – these expressions of discontent with corruption and power abuse as well as grievances over rising material inequalities did not develop into a sustained popular mobilization movement. Most experts predict that the outcome of the upcoming vote is predetermined in favor of the incumbent president, Illham Aliyev, who has been in office for 10 years already. If elected, this will be his third term – a term made possible through a controversial 2009 constitutional amendment. What makes President Aliyev’s reelection an almost foregone conclusion is a reflection of the resources held by the current regime, the uncompetitive nature of the electoral process, and repression and intimidation used against regime critics.
Before the September 22 parliamentary elections, much of the foreign coverage of German politics described Angela Merkel, the incumbent candidate for chancellor, as widely tipped to win reelection. Her broad popularity among German voters seemed to exceed many observers’ ability to understand her appeal, but Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, won a sweeping 41.5% of the vote, appearing to confirm pre-election predictions of success. However, the reporting on her and her opponents’ campaigns often deployed a rather simplified account of the German electoral system that has obscured the actual election outcome. It is true that Merkel won big. Her party even came close to an absolute majority in the Bundestag, which has only ever happened during the tenure of Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-war chancellor and another three-term conservative legend. Merkel and her party were not expecting to reach an absolute majority, so falling short of it was not a loss for her. The disastrous defeat of her coalition partner over the last four years, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), however, will have a real effect on her next term. The FDP’s belly-flop, which resulted in its expulsion from the Bundestag for the first time in post-war history having failed to reach the necessary 5% threshhold, must have been hugely disappointing for Merkel. Then again, during the campaign season there was hushed, and sometimes explicit, speculation about the FDP’s weakness, and what political compromises Merkel would prefer to make if that party did not make it into the Bundestag. Now, Merkel’s CDU and its potential coalition partners have each held internal meetings, and while Merkel’s party is still ostensibly considering whether it would rather govern with the Social Democrats (SPD) or the Greens, it will begin preliminary discussions with the SPD this Friday.
Irish voters decided to retain the upper house of the country’s legislature, dealing a surprise blow to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who had called for its closure on the grounds that it cost too much to run and did too little. At the completion of a count of votes cast in a referendum held Friday, referendum officials said 51.7% of voters decided to reject the government’s proposal to close the Senate. Mr. Kenny had cast the closure of the body as a way of ensuring politicians shared the pain of addressing Ireland’s economic problems after six years of austerity that have involved pay cuts for many public-sector workers, as well as tax hikes and a reduction in benefits and services provided by the state. It was a rare opportunity for voters in a euro-zone country to add politicians to the numbers of those who had lost their jobs, since closure of the body would have affected 60 senators. But with all declarations made late Saturday, the populous Dublin City region and eastern districts had mostly voted to reject Mr. Kenny’s proposal, with only some western electoral districts voting decisively to back the proposition. The turnout, at 39.2%, was lower than the 50% vote recorded in other major referendums.
A Seoul court on Monday acquitted 45 people on charges of proxy voting in selecting a minor opposition party’s proportional candidates ahead of last year’s April parliamentary elections. With similar cases pending in the court, legal experts expect the ruling could affect the verdicts of some 400 other people who are standing trials in connection with the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) election fraud scandal. The scandal centers around allegations that votes were cast en masse through a single Internet Protocol (IP) address in the UPP’s primary for proportional representation seats that took place in March 2012. IP addresses, the online equivalent of a street address or a phone number, should be different for each voter. Multiple or proxy voting allegedly happened with offline ballots as well.