Editorials: The Warnings About The Supreme Court’s Dangerous Campaign Finance Ruling Are Now Coming True | Paul Blumenthal/Huffington Post

Presidential candidates from both parties are going to solicit six and seven-figure contributions directly from donors for the first time in a decade, thanks to looser campaign finance rules enacted by the Supreme Court and Congress in recent years. Both parties are pushing wealthy donors to give more than $1 million for the 2016 presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post. Their efforts mark the first $1 million party campaign solicitations since the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act banned individual donors from making “soft money” donations — or unlimited contributions to political parties — in an effort to curtail opportunities for corruption. (Corporations are still banned from making “soft money” donations to parties.) The Supreme Court upheld this ban in 2003. Yet thanks to another Supreme Court ruling a decade later, as well as a congressional decision in 2014 to increase party contribution limits, Hillary Clinton’s campaign will now be able to ask single donors to contribute approximately $1.3 million over the two-year 2016 election cycle — and could potentially raise more. Her Republican rivals could follow her lead.

Wisconsin: Some recoil at using FEC as model for elections overhaul in Wisconsin | Wisconsin State Journal

Some Assembly Republicans are looking to Washington, D.C., for inspiration to overhaul Wisconsin’s elections and ethics agency, the Government Accountability Board. But critics say the model those lawmakers cite, the Federal Election Commission, is not one of effective campaign oversight. Rather, they say, it’s one of gridlock and dysfunction. “It’s like setting up a disaster-relief agency and saying you’re going to use the FEMA handling of Hurricane Katrina as your model,” said Larry Noble, former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission. Noble now is senior counsel at a nonpartisan advocacy group, the Campaign Legal Center.

National: The rise of dark money in 2016, unlimited and anonymous | Miami Herald

It looks like any political ad, opening with Sen. Marco Rubio warning that “evil is confronted or defeated, or it grows and it spreads.” A narrator marks the day President Barack Obama announced the Iran deal, a nuclear bomb exploding on the screen. “Congress can stop it,” the ominous voice says. “Marco Rubio is leading the fight. Tell your senators to join Marco Rubio and defeat Obama’s deal with Iran.” Shown nationally on Fox News as Rubio runs for president, the ad is not from the Florida Republican’s campaign or one of the super PACs that has injected hundreds of millions into politics. It is the work of a nonprofit group — and you will never know who paid for it. On the surface, the ad was a failure; Obama secured the votes Wednesday to withstand a congressional challenge to the Iran deal. But the seven-figure buy enhanced Rubio’s profile and underscores a major shift in politics. Nonprofits long have been used by organizations aligned with political bents, including the Sierra Club and the NRA, to promote “social welfare.” Then came the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, which said corporations and unions were effectively the same as individuals and could spend directly on politics.

Montana: New campaign finance law praised, but some say it needs to be toughened | Montana Standard

National authorities are praising Montana’s new campaign finance law as a vast improvement over the state’s former law, but they say it still needs toughening up to end anonymous “dark money” spent by groups known as incidental committees. Campaign finance law experts at the Campaign Legal Center and National Institute on Montana in State Politics each were pleased that Montana passed the stronger law. Both expressed concern that it doesn’t require incidental committees to report their donors.

National: Huckabee’s Pitch, Whether Joke or Not, At Odds With Federal Election Law | Wall Street Journal

In his presidential campaign announcement on Tuesday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee emphasized his status as a Washington outsider who would not be “funded and fueled” by billionaires. But as he decried wealthy donors’ influence in the political system, he also ran afoul of federal election law. Mr. Huckabee said his campaign would be funded by “working people who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground,” he said, a reference to Hope, Ark., where he was speaking. But, he cracked: “Rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it.” Not so fast. Individuals are only permitted to give up to $2,700 per election to a candidate, according to Federal Election Commission rules. Though in a joking manner, Mr. Huckabee was likely making a pitch to the audience on behalf of a super PAC, Pursuing America’s Greatness, that he formed last month to back his campaign. Super PACs can accept unlimited donations from individuals but are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns.

National: Campaign Finance Complaints Filed Against 4 Presidential Hopefuls | New York Times

For months, White House hopefuls from both parties have been raising millions in unlimited contributions at upscale fund-raisers from Manhattan to Palm Springs, Calif. — all without officially declaring themselves candidates and becoming subject to federal caps on contributions. Only a few of some 20 would-be presidential candidates have even bothered to set up the exploratory committees that were once a time-tested way to declare interest in the White House — and that set off their own fund-raising restrictions. But two leading campaign finance groups charged on Tuesday that the spread of these unofficial campaigns in recent months was not only deceptive, but also illegal.

National: Money Chase for 2016 Is Wild, Wild West – Bloomberg View

As a result of the different funding vehicles, some candidates are required to limit donations while others are only prohibited from taking checks from certain categories of givers. A few, including Santorum, have organizations that are not bound by contribution caps or public reporting requirements — their trips to Iowa and New Hampshire may be funded by unregulated, anonymous donations. “Nearly every prospective 2016 presidential candidate is raising and spending funds outside the candidate contribution limits, through super-PACs, leadership PACs and other groups,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and author of the organization’s analysis of the presidential campaign free-for-all. “They’re traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire; they’re hiring campaign staff; one has even opened an office in Iowa. They claim they’re not ‘testing the waters,’ but they look soaking wet to me.”

Wisconsin: ‘John Doe’ ruling may land in U.S. Supreme Court | Wisconsin State Journal

The federal court decision halting the John Doe investigation into coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative political groups raises unique questions that could very well end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, experts say. But that same decision also conflicts in some respects with recent Supreme Court decisions, raising questions about whether in the end, the decision by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa would stand. Randa ruled last week that the type of issue advocacy done by Wisconsin Club for Growth is not subject to government control, even if it is done in coordination with a candidate’s campaign.

Wisconsin: Secret Court Ruling Could Undermine Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law | PR Watch

A secret court ruling in the “John Doe” probe into campaign finance violations during Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections could have implications well beyond the investigation — if news reports from anonymous sources are accurate. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal editorial board reported that Wisconsin Judge Gregory Peterson had quashed subpoenas issued to Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America in the closed-door John Doe criminal investigation (which operates like a grand jury except in front of a judge), on grounds that it was not illegal for these supposedly independent groups to coordinate with the Walker campaign — since their ads supporting Walker’s reelection did not expressly tell viewers to “vote for” Walker or “vote against” his opponent. Wisconsin Club for Growth spent at least $9.1 million on these “issue ads” supporting Walker and legislative Republicans during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, and in turn shuffled millions more to Citizens for a Strong America, which funnelled the money to other groups that spent on election “issue ads.”

Montana: GOP Congressional Candidate Using Campaign Money Scheme Pioneered by…Stephen Colbert | Mother Jones

Ryan Zinke, a Republican running for Congress in Montana, is using a novel scheme to bankroll his congressional campaign—one that originated with Stephen Colbert. In January 2012, Colbert summoned Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Trevor Potter, a campaign finance expert, to the Colbert Report studio for a surprise announcement: Colbert was handing control of his super-PAC—a political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political races—to Stewart. The two comedians signed a two-page document, then held hands and locked eyes while Potter bellowed the words, “Colbert super-PAC transfer, activate!” Colbert then announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to weigh a run for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” Stewart, meanwhile, renamed Colbert’s super-PAC the Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC, and promised Colbert he would run ads to support Colbert’s presidential bid. The point of Colbert and Stewart’s comedy bit was to demonstrate that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had rendered campaign finance law remarkably flimsy—so weak that it was legal for a person to start a super-PAC, raise unlimited heaps of cash from big-money donors for that super-PAC, quit the super-PAC, and then run for federal office supported by that super-PAC. Here was an easy way to escape the $2,500 limit on what individuals may give to federal candidates.

Voting Blogs: The Corporation and the Little Guy in the 11th Circuit | More Soft Money Hard Law

The Campaign Legal Center has alerted its readers to a “flood” of challenges to campaign finance laws, and its message is that the reform advocates must remain at their battle stations. It is certainly true that interests hostile to any campaign finance regulation are hard at work; they might well believe that in this time, with this Supreme Court, their moment has come and no time should be wasted. But not all of these challenges are fairly lumped together and described as one indiscriminate assault against any and all reasonable regulation. A few raise questions that even those favoring reasonable limits on campaign finance should take—and address—seriously. The case of Worley v. Fla. Sec’y of State, 717 F.3d 1238 (11th Cir. 2013), is one such case, a challenge to an application of a state requirement that individuals supporting or opposing a ballot initiative must register and report through a political action committee (PAC). The Eleventh Circuit rejected the claim, which is now before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari. The four petitioners in Worley argue that PAC requirements, if a burden on corporations in the manner described by the Supreme Court in Citizens United, must fall even more heavily and just as permissibly on individuals banded together in limited, inexpensive “grassroots” political enterprises.

Texas: The Supreme Court’s Other Voting Rights Decisions This Week | PBS

On its last day of the term, the Supreme Court delivered two more blows to the Voting Rights Act. Two days ago, the court ruled that the law’s key provision, which requires several states to pre-clear voting changes with the government, was invalid. Then on Thursday, it vacated two voter discrimination cases in Texas that could have long-term repercussions in the battle for voting rights. Here’s what happened: Texas had appealed two rulings by the D.C. federal court — one blocking a set of 2011 redistricting maps, and another blocking its voter ID law — that found both policies were discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On Thursday, the Supreme Court sent both cases back to the federal court for “further consideration” in light of its decision to strike down the VRA’s pre-clearance formula. That means the federal court will most likely have to reverse both decisions, given that pre-clearance no longer exists.

National: Chris Van Hollen: IRS Rules To Be Challenged In Court | Huffington Post

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he and two campaign finance watchdog groups would sue the IRS, challenging regulations that allow nonprofit groups to be involved in politics if they’re “primarily” devoted to a social welfare purpose. Van Hollen said he and watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 would sue to clarify an IRS regulation that he said was at odds with the law, which requires certain groups to “exclusively” engage in social welfare to earn nonprofit status. The IRS regulation permitting groups “primarily” engaged in social welfare allows the organizations to participate in an undefined amount of political activity, said the congressman, a leading advocate of campaign finance reform and ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

National: House Republicans put Election Assistance Commission in cross hairs | Washington Times

House Republicans are pressing to kill an independent government commission designed to improve state-level voting procedures, arguing the body has run its course, is ineffectual and is a waste of taxpayer money. The House Administration Committee will meet Tuesday to vote on amendments on a bill to repeal the Election Assistance Commission — created as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, or HAVA, that was designed to help modernize state-level voting systems in response to Florida’s ballot-counting troubles during the 2000 presidential election. But the commission has been in limbo since late 2010, when it last had a quorum. All four seats currently are vacant. Democrats, who support the agency, say that’s because Republicans have undermined its authority by holding up nominations and repeatedly trying to abolish it.

National: RNC Uses $5.3 Million Recount Fund To Bolster Total | Huffington Post

The Republican National Committee has counted more than $5 million in contributions it cannot use to help Republican candidates until after the November election as part of the pool of money it has available for the 2012 campaign. The RNC has taken in a whopping $5.29 million in donations for a recount fund that could be accessed if the results in the Nov. 6 election are indecisive. In the committee’s Federal Election Commission filings, the money is being counted among the $282,795,014 in total donations that it has received during the current electoral cycle. After the August fundraising period, the committee claimed to have $76,569,658 in cash on hand. In actuality, that figure is close to $71.2 million.

National: Exploring the Financing of Campaign Advertising | PBS

Is a low-budget online video that names political candidates, states campaign issues and includes language that could sway opinion in an election, a political advertisement subject to donor disclosure laws, or is it an expression of free speech protected by the First Amendment? That depends on who you ask. If it aims to influence federal elections, it should be subject to federal regulation, Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center told NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman in a recent interview about campaign ad financing, non-profits and the 2012 elections. In the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of corporations, unions and non-profits to spend unlimited dollars on content that expresses their political views, a whole new landscape in campaign ad financing is emerging. In addition to emergence of advertisements from super PACs, groups that can spend unlimited dollars on campaign messaging, more groups have been asking the Federal Election Commission for permission not to disclose their donors, Ryan said.

Editorials: The Reformers Strike Back! | Mother Jones

Since the mid-2000s, a small cadre of lawyers and activists has reshaped the role of money in American politics. Led by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), attorney James Bopp, Jr., and law professor and activist Brad Smith, this group has won a string of victories that have imploded campaign finance laws. Citizens United? That was Bopp. Super-PACs? Thank Smith’s Center for Competitive Politics. The 2010 and 2012 DISCLOSE Act filibusters? All McConnell. But it’s been rough going for the deregulators as of late. They’ve lost a slew of cases intended to gut existing political disclosure laws. They’ve failed to knock down bans on contribution limits. And despite their objections, the Internal Revenue Service has said it might revisit how it regulates dark-money nonprofit groups, which outspent super-PACs 3-to-2 in the 2010 elections and unloaded at least $172 million through June of this election cycle. “The free speech crew’s winning streak has hit a bump in the road,” says Neil Reiff, an election law attorney who used to work for the Democratic National Committee.

Editorials: The I.R.S. Finally Takes On Secret Campaign Donations | NYTimes.com

The ploy of disguising secretly financed political machines as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations has become one of the alarming trademarks of modern, big-money politics. Under cover of the tax code, the identities of donors are kept secret while they pay for attack ads against candidates, all the while claiming their main purpose is civic and nonpartisan. Operatives from both parties have gotten deep into this shell game. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service is, at last, promising to review and consider changing 50-year-old rules governing the limits of political activity for social welfare nonprofits that enjoy exemptions under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. This is encouraging news for voters in the dark as ads thunder away and for taxpayers who underwrite the abuse. It follows a court finding that the Federal Election Commission had arbitrarily weakened disclosure requirements.

National: Disclosure Vote Leaves Trail of Broken Republican Vows | Bloomberg

Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted unanimously Monday and again on Tuesday to block adoption of the Disclose Act, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s legislation to require disclosure of political donations of more than $10,000 within 24 hours of the money being spent. The votes were no less remarkable for having been predictable. For years, congressional Republicans had vowed that disclosure of donations and spending was the one sure route to an honest campaign-finance system. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the field general who for two decades has organized the party’s attacks on campaign-finance regulation, including the McCain-Feingold reforms, once spoke eloquently of the sanctity of the First Amendment and of the merits of disclosure. What’s more, because McConnell in the 1990s had also come around to opposing constitutional amendments against flag burning, he had credibility as a First Amendment champion.

Florida: Challenge to Florida’s Political Disclosure Law Rejected by 11th Circuit | campaignlegalcenter.org

On May 17, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s “electioneering communications” disclosure law in National Organization for Marriage (NOM) v. Sec. State of Florida in a per curiam decision. The Florida statute under challenge requires groups to register and report as an “electioneering communications organization” if they make over $5,000 of electioneering communications in a calendar year.  In August 8, 2011, a Florida district court upheld the law, finding that the disclosure requirements were neither vague nor overbroad, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed this decision.

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.”

Editorials: Edwards Trial Could Be New Blow to Campaign Finance System | NationalJournal.com

The criminal trial of John Edwards has accomplished what seemed impossible for a former presidential candidate who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife: elicit sympathy. Legal – not moral — reasoning has propelled the rush to his defense, and it’s been a vociferous pushback. A cadre of influential campaign finance experts has argued that federal prosecutors might be unfairly targeting Edwards over the nearly $1 million, drawn from the coffers of two wealthy donors, spent to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 presidential campaign. Their bottom line: The legality surrounding the payments is a gray area at best, and criminal, rather than civil, punishment could establish a dangerous precedent that risks increasing future political prosecutions. But as the trial began on Monday, a group of longtime campaign law observers suggested that dismissal of the case could have huge implications for federal regulation of how campaigns are financed. If the prosecution is unsuccessful and the Federal Election Commission takes no follow-up action, they say that the verdict could open yet another floodgate for well-heeled donors to wield influence over political candidates in a system already awash in money.

National: Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling | Huffington Post

On Friday evening, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could begin the process of revealing the identities of secret donors to groups connected to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. The court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission that the FEC rules that restricted campaign donor disclosureare not valid and must be changed to provide for disclosure. “We are very happy to see the judge got it right,” says Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog that was a part of the team challenging the FEC rules. Those rules state that donors to groups spending money on “electioneering communications,” or advertisements that do not specifically call to elect or defeat a candidate, must only be disclosed if they specifically earmarked their donation to that particular expenditure. Since few, if any, donors to these groups ever earmark their donation for a specific election expense there was no disclosure.

Editorials: Foreign donations a risk in US presidential race | msnbc.com

Money pouring into the U.S. presidential election from new super political action committees and nonprofit campaign groups appears so far to be strictly American in origin, donated by U.S. companies, unions and millionaires. But it’s easier than ever to conceal the source of money and the identities of contributors, making conditions ripe for illegal donations from foreigners, overseas companies or governments attempting to help a favored candidate for the White House.

National: Three Campaign-Finance Lawsuits On the Heels of ‘Citizens’ | Law.com

Three key campaign-finance challenges, one already at the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to push through doors left open by the justices’ controversial Citizens United decision. Advocates and opponents of campaign-finance regulations are watching, in particular, U.S. v. Danielczyk, now being briefed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The government is appealing a district court ruling that struck down the federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.

The two other challenges tackle federal prohibitions against foreign campaign contributions and contributions by individuals with federal contracts. “These lawsuits are all at least theoretically outgrowths from Citizens United,” said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center. In Citizens United v. FEC, a 5-4 Court struck down the federal ban on the use of general treasury funds by corporations for independent campaign expenditures. “Citizens United is, of course, not directly on point in terms of the law, but its reasoning is certainly being used in new areas of campaign-finance law,” said Malloy. The plaintiffs in the three cases are using, to different degrees, language in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that campaign-finance regulations cannot discriminate based on the identity of the speaker, Malloy said. “This is not necessarily even the holding but it is this type of reasoning that is being leveraged,” she added.