Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia are backing Montana in its fight to prevent the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision from being used to strike down state laws restricting corporate campaign spending. The states led by New York are asking the high court to preserve Montana’s state-level regulations on corporate political expenditures, according to a copy of a brief written by New York’s attorney general’s office and obtained by The Associated Press. The brief will be publicly released Monday. The Supreme Court is being asked to reverse a state court’s decision to uphold the Montana law. Virginia-based American Tradition Partnership is asking the nation’s high court to rule without a hearing because the group says the state law conflicts directly with the Citizens United decision that removed the federal ban on corporate campaign spending. The Supreme Court has blocked the Montana law until it can look at the case.
Millions of dollars in outside money began pouring into Congressional contests around the country in April, while spending by presidential “super PACs” dropped off, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission on Sunday and other data. Outside groups, including super PACs and advocacy organizations, have spent at least $7 million on House races and $12.4 million on Senate races since the beginning of April, the first wave in what is expected to be a flood of independent spending this year in the battle for control of Congress. Some groups, like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks for America, which push for lower taxes and reduced government spending, spent heavily in primary races between incumbent Republicans and challengers in Utah and Indiana.
In this presidential election year, shareholders are increasingly curious about the political agendas of public companies. Investors filed more than 100 resolutions this year asking companies to disclose what they spend on political advocacy, according to Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory service. The number of proposals for the first time exceeded shareholder resolutions on energy and environmental issues, which have long attracted significant interest from investors. Shareholders want to know about direct donations to candidates as well as harder-to-track contributions to trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other tax-exempt groups that support certain candidates or political parties. Their targets include influential Illinois companies Boeing Co., Allstate Corp. and Caterpillar Inc. All three companies came out against the proposals.
Has anything changed in the world of campaign finance that might give pause to the five members of the Supreme Court who decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission exactly 28 months ago Monday? Or, to be more precise, has anything changed in the mind of at least one of them? The court faces that question in a flurry of contradictory arguments prompted by a decision by the Montana Supreme Court late last year. In upholding a 100-year-old state law, the Montana justices seemed to be openly defying Citizens United’s holding that the First Amendment grants corporations, and by extension labor unions, the right to spend unlimited amounts of their treasuries to support or oppose candidates.
National: Conservative groups outspending liberal counterparts 4 to 1 on congressional races | The Washington Post
Conservative interest groups have dumped well over $20 million into congressional races so far this year, outspending their liberal opponents 4 to 1 and setting off a growing panic among Democrats struggling to regain the House and hold on to their slim majority in the Senate. The surge suggests that big-spending super PACs and nonprofit groups, which have become dominant players in the presidential race, will also play a pivotal role in House and Senate contests that will determine the balance of power in Washington in 2013. The money could be particularly crucial in races below the national radar that can be easily influenced by infusions of outside spending. One example came this week in Nebraska, where a dark-horse Republican Senate candidate upset two better-funded rivals in the GOP primary thanks in part to a last-minute, $250,000 ad buy by a billionaire-backed super PAC. And in Indiana this month, veteran Sen. Richard G. Lugar was ousted in the GOP primary by challenger Richard Mourdock with the help of millions of dollars in spending by conservative groups. The Club for Growth, which backed a losing candidate in Nebraska, spent more than $2 million to help Mourdock in Indiana.
National: Court upholds key provision of Voting Rights Act; Supreme Court review likely | The Washington Post
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a signature portion of the Voting Rights Act, setting the stage for consideration by a Supreme Court whose majority is skeptical about the law’s continued viability. On a 2 to 1 vote, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit turned down a challenge to Section 5 of the historic civil rights act, which requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval of any changes in their voting laws. First passed in 1965, the act was most recently extended in 2006. Conservative critics have said that despite lopsided votes in both houses and the approval of President George W. Bush, lawmakers did not do enough to justify extending the Section 5 restrictions on nine states, mostly in the South, and parts of seven others. But U.S. Circuit Judge David S. Tatel said the judicial branch had no reason to second-guess Congress in reauthorizing the law.
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting an Alabama county’s challenge to the landmark civil rights law. The provision requires state, county and local governments with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department, or from a federal court in Washington, for any changes to election procedures. It now applies to all or parts of 16 states. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that Congress developed extensive evidence of continuing racial discrimination just six years ago and reached a reasonable conclusion when it reauthorized section 5 of the law at that time. The appellate ruling could clear the way for the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Roberts suggested in a 2009 opinion that the court’s conservative majority might be receptive to a challenge to section 5.
Montana’s attorney general is due to file a brief Friday in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to uphold the state’s Corrupt Practices Act. This 1906 law prohibits corporations from making expenditures on behalf of candidates in Montana elections. The Supreme Court’s response could have repercussions far beyond Montana — the case may well determine how much states can regulate money in politics after Citizens United. The state high court cited Montana’s long history of corruption, when corporations often spent unlimited sums to steal elections, as the reason to narrow Citizens United and uphold the law. The Supreme Court should heed the Montana attorney general’s argument. More important, this case could offer the high court a viable means to revisit its Citizens United decision. This 2010 ruling, extended by lower federal courts, has spawned the super PACs now threatening to bring Wild West corruption to federal elections.
A government lawyer on Friday urged an appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling that a century-old ban on corporate campaign contributions in federal elections is unconstitutional. Justice Department attorney Michael R. Dreeben told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the prohibition serves the legitimate government interest of curbing corruption, and overturning it would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. But attorneys for two northern Virginia executives who were charged with violating the ban argued that U.S. District Judge James Cacheris got it right when he ruled last year that the ban violates corporations’ free-speech rights. In his first-of-its-kind ruling, Cacheris said it was not logical for an individual to be able to donate up to $2,500 to a federal government while a corporation “cannot donate a cent.” The appeals court typically takes several weeks to rule.
House Democratic leaders on Thursday introduced legislation to streamline Americans’ trips to the polls. The bill is a response to a slew of recent state legislation – some proposed, some already law – setting stricter standards for voters to register or cast a ballot. Supporters of those state efforts — including new picture ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements – say they’re necessary to weed out ineligible voters and maintain the integrity of elections. But critics contend they’re designed to suppress eligible voters, particularly minorities and low-income Americans who tend to vote Democratic.
House Democrats on Thursday unveiled new voting rights legislation designed to modernize voter registration while cracking down on practices that could discourage certain populations from voting. The Voter Empowerment Act appears to be a direct counter to a growing movement within the GOP at the state and national level to require voters to present a photo ID when voting. “The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. … We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the bill’s sponsors and a 1960s civil rights icon.
Americans Elect, the group that aimed to nominate a third presidential candidate through an online primary, ended its nomination process today after no prospective candidates met their minimum requirements. To run in its online primary a candidate had to get 10,000 “clicks” of support (1,000 in at least 10 states). Buddy Roemer was the closest to reaching that goal, but he got less than 6,300 “supporters. As of this week, no candidate achieved the national support threshold required to enter the Americans Elect Online Convention in June,” the group said in a statement. “The primary process for the Americans Elect nomination has come to an end.”
National: Magnate Steps Into 2012 Fray on Wild Pitch – Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads | NYTimes.com
Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended. Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world. Highlighting the perils of mixing partisan politics and corporate citizenship, the reverberations also swept through the Ricketts family’s business empire.
In the end, it seems, the John Edwards trial became only a circus sideshow in America’s convulsive efforts to define the limits of campaign finance. The defense rested abruptly Wednesday without Mr. Edwards taking the stand, marking the end of a courtroom drama that had plenty of drama but little of what the prosecution had promised, analysts and observers say. Before the trial began, prosecuting attorney Lanny Breuer said the federal government won’t “permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws.” … To some, the prosecution has overreached in an attempt to net a big fish. Yet the broader context of the trial has also played no small part in stripping it of deeper meaning for the political world. Indeed, given the US Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, a candidate in a similar situation today would likely be able move such money to its target in an alternate, and legal, way.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has won another victory in his legal battle to force the Federal Election Commission to write stricter disclosure rules for certain types of political ads. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a request by two conservative groups that it stay a March federal district court ruling that sided with Van Hollen. Van Hollen sued the FEC last year, arguing that its disclosure regulations for “electioneering communications” were too narrow and contrary to the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The appeals court ruling, which came late on Monday, raises the prospect that politically active trade associations and nonprofits will have to more fully report who funds the ads they run on the eve of an election.
Sen. John McCain is talking with Democrats about a joint effort to require outside groups that have spent millions of dollars on this year’s elections to disclose their donors. McCain (R-Ariz.), once Congress’s leading champion of campaign finance reform, has kept a low profile on the issue in recent years. He raised the ire of many Republicans a decade ago for pushing comprehensive reform, and many Republicans still held it against him during his 2008 presidential campaign. Good-government advocates who worked with McCain in the 1990s and early 2000s had begun to think he’d given up on the issue. But McCain said Tuesday he could join Democrats once again to form a bipartisan coalition, even though it would annoy the Republican leadership. “I’ve been having discussions with Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse [D-R.I.] and a couple others on the issue,” McCain told The Hill.
Advocacy groups spending millions of dollars to influence the 2012 election now face the prospect of having to reveal their secret donors, after a federal appellate court panel refused to block a lower-court order requiring the disclosure. In a 2-to-1 decision issued Monday evening, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel here declined to stay a ruling by a federal judge requiring tax-exempt organizations that run election-related television ads to disclose their donors. The panel’s decision was a significant victory for campaign finance reform advocates who have been fighting against the deluge of money — much of it from undisclosed donors — that has flooded the political landscape in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions, including the 2010 Citizens United case.
National: Campaign Finance Disclosure Decision Means Rove, Others Could Suddenly Have To Disclose Donors | Huffington Post
One of the most consequential campaign finance loopholes affecting the 2012 race — the one allowing big-money donors to secretly funnel millions into campaign ads — is now closed, after an appellate court ruling on Monday. In April, a district court judge struck down a Federal Election Commission regulation that allowed donors to certain nonprofit groups — including those created by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers — to evade normal disclosure requirements. And on Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit turned down a request to stay that ruling on a 2 to 1 vote. “This case represents the first major breakthrough in the effort to restore for the public the disclosure of contributors who are secretly providing massive amounts to influence federal elections,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, one of the lawyers who filed the original lawsuit that led to the April decision, in a statement. The office of House Administration Committee ranking Democrat Robert A. Brady issued a statement Tuesday saying, “As of today, any entity creating electioneering communications will have to disclose the identity of their top donors.”
As David Karpf wrote here ten days ago, the Americans Elect third-party experiment of 2012 looks like it has hit a dead end. No declared candidate is anywhere close to hitting the group’s requirement of earning 10,000 supporters across at least ten states, with at least 1,000 from each state. Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer the closest at just 5,840. He has less than 600 from California. As Jonathan Tilove points out in his story in the Times-Picayune, that means Roemer has more followers on Twitter than he has supporters who actually want him on AE’s presidential ballot line. Americans Elect had an ambitious plan to hold several rounds of online voting to winnow down what its leaders had hoped would be a competitive field of national candidates, and spent a reported $35 million circulating ballot petitions and building the organizational and online infrastructure to attract those candidates to its fold. It also attracted a fair amount of media coverage for its efforts, and encomiums from the likes of Thomas Friedman, John Avlon and Lawrence Lessig. But it never caught on, in part for the reasons I outlined almost a year ago: the lack of transparency about its finances made potential supporters distrustful (even spawning a watchdog blog called AETransparency), and the evident lack of public interest in its founders’ evident desire to find a “centrist” candidate. It’s possible that AE could have evolved differently, but that would have required that the vehicle be more genuinely controlled by its supporters, and that was an option that AE’s leaders clearly didn’t want to allow.
Two witnesses with a wealth of knowledge about campaign finance laws testified in the John Edwards trial Monday that the $900,000 at the heart of the case went to personal expenses for the candidate – and therefore should not be subject to public reporting or campaign finance caps. The jury heard from one of the witnesses – a former Edwards campaign treasurer. But the other, a former Federal Election Commission chairman, testified outside the presence of the jury. The judge limited what he can say if he’s called to the stand later in front of jurors. The Edwards defense team began calling witnesses Monday as the trial entered its fourth week. In comparison to the first three weeks, which featured salacious details about Edwards’ extramarital affair with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, the first defense witnesses focused more on campaign finance and policy. On Tuesday, Cate Edwards, the 30-year-old daughter of the one-time Democratic presidential hopeful, is on the list of possible witnesses. A Harvard law school graduate who’s married now, living in Washington, D.C. and running her late mother’s foundation, Cate Edwards has been in the courtroom for most of the testimony. She occasionally leans in to discuss legal points with her father. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell said at the close of the day Monday that no decision has been made on whether Edwards will take the stand in his defense. Lowell said he will let the judge know Tuesday or Wednesday.
The 2012 elections are awash in secret money, with donors accountable to no one, while the national media sleeps and few voters seem to care. If money has an impact in U.S. elections, the race for the White House and other high offices may be determined by faceless donors pulling the strings from the shadows. Not exactly an image promoted by the Founding Fathers. In January 2010’s Citizens United vs. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively ended the restrictions on political contributions from the general funds of corporations and unions for independent electioneering. The U.S. appeals court in Washington then used Citizens United to rule in SpeechNow.org vs. FEC that limits on individual contributions to groups making independent expenditures are unconstitutional.
Elections come and go and many issues change, but one seems to remain: electronic voting. Two years ago, four years ago, eight years ago — the story’s been about the same: the machines don’t seem ready for primetime, but we’re using them anyway. This week, the official verdict came back on some electronic vote-reading machines in the South Bronx that seemed a little fishy in the last congressional election, 2010. Larry Norden is with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and says sometimes the voting machine “was essentially overheating and because it was overheating, it was reading a lot of phantom votes — a vote that the voter didn’t actually cast, but that the machine saw.” The upshot is that in some districts in the Bronx, it turns out more than a third of votes weren’t counted. Things could get really scary in a state that’s gone all electronic, like South Carolina. University of South Carolina computer scientist Duncan Buell is worried for 2012: “I’m not sure there’s any real change from four years ago to now.” Seriously? What’s taking so long?
Sometimes during lengthy floor debates on bills, interesting things happen in the witching hours. Such was the case late Wednesday, when Representative John Lewis of Georgia pushed back with a fiery speech directed at an amendment offered by Representative Paul C. Broun of Georgia that would have barred the Justice Department from using money to enforce a part of the Voting Rights Act. At around 10 p.m., Mr. Lewis, a former civil rights leader, took to the podium to denounce the amendment, which sought to end financing for enforcement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, designed to protect minority voters from being disenfranchised.
Voter registration among blacks is down from 2008, prompting the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to launch registration drives two months earlier than in past presidential election years. Leaders of the NAACP and other groups blame the decline on new state laws requiring people to produce identification to register or placing limits on who can run a voter registration drive. They also say the foreclosure and job crises have affected black Americans in large numbers. Another likely factor, said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation: The excitement over the prospect of electing the first black president has faded.
National: John Lewis objects, and Paul Broun backs away from attempt to gut Voting Rights Act | ajc.com
My AJC colleague Daniel Malloy in Washington sends this report of a confrontation between two Georgia members of Congress that you may not have heard about: Around 10 p.m. last night, as House debate over a contentious spending bill stretched on, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, approached with an amendment to end all funding for U.S. Department of Justice enforcement of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. This is the provision that requires states like Georgia to submit new election laws – last year’s statewide redistricting, for instance — for federal approval to ensure against disenfranchisement of minorities. Broun argued that this is a hammer held over only a few select states, and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has suggested that the law has outlived its usefulness.
Want to get big money out of politics? Set up a super PAC. That seemingly incongruous formula has been seized on by a growing number of watchdog groups, self-styled reformers and student activists who have set up more than a dozen super PACs aimed at putting a stop to unrestricted campaign spending. With names such as America’s Super PAC for the Permanent Elimination of America’s Super PACs, Citizens Against Super PACs and No Dirty Money Elections, these protest political action committees are sober-minded, satirical or sometimes both. Take CREEP, a super PAC set up by Georgetown University graduate student Robert Lucas. The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference the Nixon-era Committee for the Re-Election of the President, which organized the Watergate break-ins 40 years ago. But Lucas, 23, has a high-minded goal of “raising voices, not dollars,” as he put it and is pushing for both public financing of campaigns and tax code reforms that would pull back the curtain on election-related spending. He has no plans to back candidates or party committees.
Carolyn Crnich likes to be second-guessed: The registrar of voters in Humboldt County, Calif., scans every ballot and makes the election results available, online or on disk, so that anyone, anywhere, can count them. Community activists do just that. The result: 100 percent audits of the supervisor’s results, a sharp contrast to Florida, which limits vote counts to a small number of ballots in a single race. “I don’t like saying to my constituents, ‘Hey, just trust me,’ ” Crnich said. “Now, I don’t have to. Count them yourself, and if you find anything out of the ordinary, I want to know.” In 2008, the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project did find something out of the ordinary: 197 ballots dropped by machines. That led to an examination of the elections software used in Humboldt, about 200 miles north of San Francisco. So many problems were found, the system was decertified for use in California. It continues counting ballots in two Florida counties without incident, although a state Division of Elections advisory urged counties to get an upgrade. But elections supervisors shouldn’t get too comfortable with any system, experts say.
The Pentagon office with responsibilities for assisting U.S. military and civilian overseas voters is issuing a new ballot-request form that requires civilian voters to make an all-or-none declaration either that they plan to return to the United States or have no intent of ever doing so. Expatriate groups say the choice is confusing and unfair, carries potential tax ramifications and could depress voting in ways that might affect close elections in November. The new form, the Federal Post Card Application, is issued by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the agency legally charged to assist all overseas voters. It resides in the Pentagon. The form is used to help voters abroad register and obtain ballots. In the past, the form allowed a less absolute response — that the voter was either residing abroad “temporarily” or “indefinitely” — but the new form leaves civilian voters only these choices: “I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S., and I intend to return,” or “I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S., and I do not intend to return.” The Pentagon office says it needs the information to help election officials decide whether to send out just federal ballots or federal and local ballots. But expatriate groups say this forces people into a choice they do not want, and in some cases are unable, to make.
Some see South Carolina’s voter ID law and other states’ efforts to tighten early voting as less of an attempt to curb voter fraud than some of the earliest volleys in the 2012 presidential race. At least that is how the laws were painted by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), as well as NAACP members and union leaders who spoke before more than 100 people at a Tuesday evening rally in Charleston, S.C. Clyburn said he has visited Florida four times in the past six weeks to work on anti-voter-suppression efforts with the Democratic National Congressional Committee. He noted that national GOP strategist Karl Rove has forecast that President Barack Obama could win South Carolina this fall, and Republicans are fighting to keep this state — and other swing states — in the GOP column. “They have put in these draconian rules and regulations and laws because they have calculated that if they can suppress the vote by 1 percent in nine different states, we lose the national election in November,” Clyburn said. “That’s their calculation.” Most experts put the Palmetto State solidly in the Republican column.
National: Americans Elect scraps virtual caucus for lack of early candidate support | The Post and Courier
A group clearing the path for an independent White House bid canceled the first phase of its search for a bipartisan ticket Tuesday because declared and draft candidates aren’t mustering enough preliminary support. Americans Elect scrapped a virtual caucus that had been planned for next week. Another round of voting set for May 15 also is in jeopardy; a third is to be held on May 22. Candidates must meet a certain threshold of support to be eligible for the caucuses.