National: Rules of the Game: Bad News for Nation’s Nonprofits | Roll Call

In an election that until lately has been dominated by super PACs, politically active nonprofits are the new bad guys, drawing ethics complaints, letters to the IRS and legislative action. That is bad news for the nation’s 1.6 million nonprofits, which have much to lose as their sector gets dragged into political money controversies. For reform advocates, the problem with big-spending, secretive nonprofits is that they answer to no one and keep voters in the dark. But the worst damage inflicted by unrestricted, undisclosed campaign money could be on nonprofits themselves. “Charitable organizations depend on the confidence and trust of the public for support,” said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, which represents the nonprofit and philanthropic community. Campaign spending by nonprofits, she added, could pose “a serious reputational risk” to the sector.

National: Could Corporations Take Tax Breaks on Political ‘Dark Money’? | ProPublica

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the way for unlimited corporate spending on politics and has led to the proliferation of nonprofit political groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. But corporations may be getting another benefit from anonymous donations to these groups: a break on their taxes. It all starts with the so-called social welfare groups that have become bigger players in the political world in the wake of Citizens United, which knocked down restrictions on campaign activity by such groups. Tax experts say it’s possible that businesses are using an aggressive interpretation of the law to wring a tax advantage out of their donations to these groups. It’s almost impossible to know whether that’s happening, partly because the groups — also known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s — aren’t required to disclose their donors. (That’s why the contributions have been dubbed “dark money.”)

National: Post-Citizens United Money May Swamp Congressional Candidates | Huffington Post

Political spending by deep-pocketed donors and cash-rich corporations threatens to sow chaos in this year’s congressional races, political consultants warn. A billionaire or corporation writing a check for $1 million — or even $10 million — isn’t enough to swing a presidential election. But when it comes to congressional campaigns, it could be plenty. “You can work for months and years to develop a fundraising advantage over your opponent of $2 million, $5 million or $10 million. And all that can be wiped out in seconds by a few people giving to a super PAC,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.  While Republican and Democratic candidates are, in theory, equally susceptible to that kind of unlimited outside money, it’s the Democrats who sound much more alarmed.  “No one is safe, and everyone’s got to protect themselves,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Super PACs can strike at any time they want.”

National: Broadcasters fight plan to post names of political ad buyers on Web | The Washington Post

CBS and News Corp.’s Fox are among broadcasters fighting a plan to post names of campaign-ad buyers and purchase prices on the Web as record election spending raises concerns over anonymous political contributions. The information is maintained in desk drawers and filing cabinets at television stations, and the Federal Communications Commission wants to bring the data to a Web site the agency would run. The proposal would “impose significant new administrative burdens,” CBS and Fox stations told the agency Jan. 17 in comments joined by Comcast’s NBC stations and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC. The National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC recently that the agency lacks power to make the change.

National: Federal contractors donate to ‘super PAC’ backing Romney – unclear whether such giving is still banned after Citizens United |

A “super PAC” that has spent more than $35 million on behalf of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has accepted donations from federal contractors despite a 36-year-old ban against such companies making federal political expenditures. At least five companies with government contracts gave a combined $890,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, a review of federal contracting records and campaign finance data shows. Other super PACs, including Republican-allied American Crossroads, and Priorities USA Action, which backs President Obama, have language on their websites warning that federal contractors are not allowed to make donations. Restore Our Future does not list the prohibition on its website.

National: Post-Citizens United Money May Swamp Congressional Candidates | Huffington Post

Political spending by deep-pocketed donors and cash-rich corporations threatens to sow chaos in this year’s congressional races, political consultants warn. A billionaire or corporation writing a check for $1 million — or even $10 million — isn’t enough to swing a presidential election. But when it comes to congressional campaigns, it could be plenty. “You can work for months and years to develop a fundraising advantage over your opponent of $2 million, $5 million or $10 million. And all that can be wiped out in seconds by a few people giving to a super PAC,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.  While Republican and Democratic candidates are, in theory, equally susceptible to that kind of unlimited outside money, it’s the Democrats who sound much more alarmed.  “No one is safe, and everyone’s got to protect themselves,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Super PACs can strike at any time they want.”

Editorials: The Supreme Court and Citizens United, Take 2 |

The Supreme Court has an opportunity to reconsider its disastrous Citizens United decision. The justices should take it. The damaging effects of unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections — honestly examined — should cause the court to overturn or, at the very least, limit that ruling. On Friday, the justices granted a stay of a Montana state court ruling that upheld a state anticorruption campaign finance law. The stay gives the parties in the Montana case time to file papers to seek Supreme Court review. In supporting the stay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ ” She was quoting Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizens United, in which he claimed that expenditures might result in “influence over or access to elected officials” but would not “corrupt” them.

National: Super PACs’ $500,000-Plus Donors Account For Majority Of Money | Huffington Post

Tales of super PAC spending in the Republican presidential race talk about the millions of dollars pouring into their coffers. A few specific donors are mentioned. There’s Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate whose contributions have kept Newt Gingrich in the contest far longer than his own meager fundraising would normally have allowed. And hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who recently told the Chicago Tribune that he thinks the wealthy “actually have an insufficient influence” in the political system. But Griffin has given only $400,000 to super PACs in the 2012 cycle, which puts him on the lower end of the scale of leading super PAC donors.

National: Super PACs and the Nonprofits That Fund Them | The Daily Beast

Super PACs are the perceived demons of the 2012 campaign, with the law allowing them to raise and spend unlimited amounts of dough. But a shadowy sideshow that’s gone largely unnoticed is the set of nonprofits affiliated with them, which often provide money to the cash cows—and they don’t have to publicly disclose their donors (as super PACs must). “The undisclosed money is far more troubling for the system,” says campaign finance lawyer Kenneth Gross. FreedomWorks for America is a case in point. The group, which has attacked GOP pols it finds insufficiently conservative, is located three blocks north of the Capitol. At the same address, sharing the same suite and even some staff, is the headquarters of the similarly named FreedomWorks Inc., a nonprofit (or 501[c][4] group). In 2011 the super PAC received almost half of its $2.7 million from the nonprofit, a legal transfer that skirts disclosure requirements. Whose cash is it? We aren’t allowed to know. Matt Kibbe, who oversees the activities of both groups, tells Newsweek that “to adhere to what the law stipulates” there is a “firewall” between the two. But even by the loose standards of money in politics these days, the arrangement seems rather cozy.

National: Super PAC challenge: Congress |

The next frontier for super PACs: playing in Senate and House party leadership elections. The formula is simple. Raise $10 million from the jet set or grass-roots followers, spend it on 40 to 50 House districts or 15 Senate races and then call in favors when it’s time to count votes for speaker, floor leader or whip. The model has been built. The money’s out there. And there’s no shortage of ambition in Congress. The question is: Can anyone put it all together?

National: The Super PAC Paradox | Roll Call

When GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum gave his victory speech in Missouri after the primary there on Feb. 7, he shared the stage with a white-haired gentleman who stood practically at his elbow the entire time.
Investment fund manager Foster Friess probably did not strike audience members as someone special as he smiled merrily behind the former Pennsylvania Senator. But Friess is at the center of a growing controversy over unregulated money and alleged campaign finance violations in the 2012 campaign. At issue is whether unrestricted super PACs are illegally working hand-in-hand with the candidates they support. Campaign finance watchdogs say the collusion is flagrant. Super PAC organizers argue just as loudly that they are meticulously following the rules.

Editorials: The Numbers Don’t Lie – If you aren’t sure Citizens United gave rise to the super PACs, just follow the money | Slate Magazine

Most of what you hear about Citizens United v. FEC is negative. By opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited sums in elections and to allow for the creation of super PACs, the Supreme Court has made a campaign finance system that was already flooded with money much worse. But Citizens United obviously has its defenders, and they have advanced a number of arguments to try to blunt criticism of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision: The public actually learns from the flood of negative advertising coming from these super PACs; super PACS increase competition; The Supreme Court’sCitizens United decision didn’t create super PACs, so stop blaming the court for the flood of dollars and the negative campaign ads they buy.

This last argument has recently gained a lot of traction, and has been made by First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, his son the legal commentator Dan Abrams (who accused the media of “shameful, inexcusable conduct” in describing the Citizens United-super PAC connection), columnist George Will, and the Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer. The argument goes like this: The Supreme Court back in 1976 held that individuals had a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums on elections. And before Citizens United, rich individuals like George Soros gave large sums of money to so-called “527 organizations” (named after an obscure section of the tax code) with innocuous names like “Americans Coming Together.” These 527 organizations were just like super PACs, so there’s nothing new here.

National: FEC’s bad rap getting worse |

The rise of billionaire-driven super PACs that seem to take a loose view of the few rules they’re asked to follow has even late-night comics asking: Who’s in charge here? Meet the Federal Election Commission, the agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance law. This six-person panel has long been slow-moving and frequently divided, but this year its members have taken their reputation to new heights just as money emerges as the biggest legal issue of the season. The FEC routinely stalemates along party lines on the biggest questions it faces, such as whether members of Congress can appear in ads aired by a super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove or whether to write new rules requiring political advertisers to disclose more information — effectively leaving campaigns and super PACs to decide for themselves. When they do manage to reach bipartisan agreement, it’s on relatively small-bore questions.

Editorials: Undermining State Campaign Laws |

On Friday, a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction against a Montana law, the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, that bans corporations from making independent expenditures in political campaigns. Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court, in a separate case from the state courts, issued a temporary order preventing Montana from enforcing that law. These cases and others in the country show how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has upended important state campaign spending laws. As the Montana Supreme Court has said on this question, “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.”

Montana: Citizens United Part II: Montana Supreme Court Collides With U.S. Supreme Court | Huffington Post

The fate of Montana’s century-old ban on corporate political spending is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a possible sequel to the hotly contested Citizens United decision handed down two years ago. In 2010, a five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court declared that corporations’ independent spending in elections does not corrupt — or even appear to corrupt — the political process. On Wednesday, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock submitted a brief to the Court with facts that suggest otherwise as he urged the justices to uphold his state’s ban on corporate political spending.

Editorials: Montana and the Supreme Court |

When the Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act in December, the majority opinion described the lead plaintiff challenging the law, Western Tradition Partnership, as “a conduit of funds for persons and entities including corporations who want to spend money anonymously to influence Montana elections.” In upholding the law, the court ruled that the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which struck down bans on campaign spending by corporations and unions, did not apply because the Montana law was tailored to meet a compelling state interest and any burden on speech was minimal.

Editorials: Foreign donations a risk in US presidential race |

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.

Voting Blogs: New Citizens United sequel (UPDATED) | SCOTUSblog

The lawyers who pursued the case that led to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in 2010 freeing corporations to spend heavily on political campaigns asked the Supreme Court on Friday to overturn a Montana Supreme Court ruling that they argued defies the Court’s decision.   The state court ruling, the new filing argued, is so flatly contradictory to the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission precedent that it should be summarily overturned.

Voting Blogs: Jim Bopp Goes for Broke in Montana Campaign Finance Case, and Just Might Get It | Election Law Blog

Today the James Madison Center filed this application for a stay of the Montana Supreme Court ruling upholding state law barring corporate independent spending in state elections.  As I have explained,the opinion upholds Montana’s ban on independent corporate spending on state elections, and it seems to run headlong into the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United.  Eugene Volokh predicts the Court will hear the case and reverse, and Calvin Massey predicts a summary reversal.  (More analysis from SCOTUSBlog.)

National: Stephen Colbert’s not-so-super super PAC |

Reporting from Washington –— Determined not to be “the only chump” without a committee to collect “unlimited corporate money,” satirist Stephen Colbert went to the Federal Election Commission last summer to petition for permission to form his own “super PAC.” He won, and instantly started swiping credit cards as he delivered a knock-knock joke to the throng of fans who’d gathered to greet him.
“Knock knock?” Colbert said.
“Who’s there?” the crowd replied.
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions.”
“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions who?”
“That’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t think I should have to tell you.”

Like all super PAC operators, Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s late-night faux news show “The Colbert Report,” filed forms this week that disclosed the source of the nearly $1 million his super PAC raised last year. It turns out the vast majority of it would have been legal without the much-maligned Supreme Court ruling that prompted the creation of super PACs and has been the butt of Colbert’s jokes.

National: Colbert says super PACs are ‘publicly buying democracy’ |

Stephen Colbert continued his one-man crusade against “super PACs” on Thursday night with an ironic salute to 22 of their biggest backers. Tuesday was the deadline for presidential super PACs to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, and the reports underscored the increasingly influential role of money in electoral politics. “To all the worrywarts out there who said that super PACs were going to lead to a cabal of billionaires secretly buying democracy: Wrong. They are publicly buying democracy,” Colbert (sort of) joked. As he explained, approximately half of all super PAC money — some $67 million dollars — came from just 22 donors.

National: Citizens United Lawyer: I Hate Super PACs Too | TPM

The Republican lawyer on the case that arguably helped pave the way for the creation of so-called “super PACs” told TPM this week that he hopes politicians will realize that the contribution limits on their campaigns are putting them at a huge disadvantage, and will pass legislation dashing such restrictions. An odd position for a key player in the opening of the anonymous-campaign-cash floodgates to have? James Bopp Jr. says no. “I’m very hopeful and actually expect that incumbent politicians are going to look at themselves and say we are severely handicapped” in comparison to super PACs, Bopp told TPM, arguing that political campaigns were more accountable to voters than super PACs. “It is of course possible that there would be a court decision that would effect that. But I think the more likely scenario is that members of Congress will realize they have cut their own throat,” Bopp said.

National: Campaign Finance Reports Show ‘Super PAC’ Donors |

Close to 60 corporations and wealthy individuals gave checks of $100,000 or more to a “super PAC” supporting Mitt Romney in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, according to documents released on Tuesday, underwriting a $17 million blitz of advertising that has swamped his Republican rivals in the early primary states. President Obama reported raising some $39.9 million in the fourth quarter, not including money he raised for the Democratic National Committee or transfers to a joint fund-raising account with the party. The filings to the Federal Election Commission, the first detailed look at a crucial source of support for Mr. Romney, showed his ability to win substantial backing from a small number of his party’s most influential and wealthy patrons, each contributing to the super PAC far more than the $2,500 check each could legally write to his campaign. All told, the group, Restore Our Future, raised about $18 million from just 200 donors in the second half of 2011.

Voting Blogs: SuperPac Disclosure Data and “Citizens United as the Root of All Evil” Watch: Part II | Rick Hasen/Election Law Blog

Several months ago I wrote to argue against the constantly-repeated storyline that cast Citizens United as responsible for the explosion of SuperPacs in this election cycle.  Though I have written critically about the Court’s decision, I was also skeptical of the tendency to blame the Court’s decision for all the forms of newly emerging election financing in this cycle that critics disliked.  Citizens United did liberate corporate and union general-treasury funds to engage in independent election spending, but it did not otherwise change the constitutional architecture originally constructed in Buckley v. Valeo, back in 1976.

Editorials: Congress can fix the Super PAC problem |

Election junkies circled January 31st on their calendars months ago — but not because of Florida’s primary today, no matter how important it is to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Tuesday’s real significance deals with Super PACs — it’s the day “independent” groups, dominating the 2012 election, must file their financial disclosures for the last six months. Candidate-specific Super PACS — which can take unlimited sums from individuals and corporations, and likewise spend without limits — are like nothing seen in any previous election.  They’ve eviscerated the post-Watergate contribution limits that Congress enacted to curb corruption, and they’ve hit the presidential campaign with the force of a freight train.

National: Study: SuperPACs Behind Nearly Half Of 2012 Ads | NPR

A new analysis shows that in the deluge of TV ads in the early voting states for the Republican presidential primaries, nearly half of the ads are coming not from the candidates but from superPACs — the new breed of political committees that raise unregulated money. Political scientists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut found that so far, there have been about the same number of GOP primary ads as there were four years ago. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Group shows that while the overall number of ads in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is similar to four years ago, the source of the ads has changed. What’s different — and different in a big way — is the role of outside money groups, mostly superPACs, says Erika Franklin Fowler, a director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “They went from about 3 percent of total ad airings in the 2008 race to almost half, about 44 percent, in 2012,” she says.

National: Can We Have a Democratic Election? | Elizabeth Drew/The New York Review of Books

Beneath the turbulent political spectacle that has captured so much of the nation’s attention lies a more important question than who will get the Republican nomination, or even who will win in November: Will we have a democratic election this year? Will the presidential election reflect the will of the people? Will it be seen as doing so—and if not, what happens? The combination of broadscale, coordinated efforts underway to manipulate the election and the previously banned unlimited amounts of unaccountable money from private or corporate interests involved in those efforts threatens the democratic process for picking a president. The assumptions underlying that process—that there is a right to vote, that the system for nominating and electing a president is essentially fair—are at serious risk.

Editorials: Citizens United v. FEC decision proves justice is blind | Jeffrey Rosen/

Last week, the Occupy movement came to the Supreme Court. To protest the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision, the group called Move to Amend organized demonstrations at courthouses around the country — including the steps of the high court itself. (The protests began peacefully but ended with 11 arrests.) Say what you will about the strategy of organizing political protests against controversial judicial decisions, which can be overturned only by constitutional amendment, but one thing is clear: The Supreme Court was spectacularly wrong in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission when it confidently predicted that the ruling would have no significant impact on Americans’ confidence in their political system. In this sense, the Citizens United decision has much in common with the ruling in Paula Corbin Jones v. William Jefferson Clinton, which allowed President Bill Clinton to be sued for sexual harassment while in office.

Editorials: FEC Chair Hunter: Sizing up the superPACs | Washington Times

Jan. 21 marked the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in CitizensUnitedv. FederalElectionCommission. Already controversial at the time it was issued, the ruling has taken center stage in the debate over superPACs’ role in the race for the White House. Contrary to some suggestions that superPACs are acting under the radar and outside of any regulation, they are, in fact, subject to the same long-standing disclosure requirements and objective rules applicable to everyone else. To place superPACs in context, it is important to understand their origin. In CitizensUnited, the government was put in the unenviable position of defending a statute dictating who could speak, when they could speak and how they could speak. Specifically, the law prohibited corporations and labor unions from sponsoring broadcast advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates for federal office. Not only that, the law purported to impose a blackout period on certain ads that even mentioned candidates.

National: Super PACs set sights on 2012 congressional races |

Outside political groups, already big players in this year’s GOP presidential battle, have started to train their firepower on Senate and House races. Third-party organizations, including political parties and super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited corporate and union money, have pumped nearly $9 million into last-minute advertising and other independent spending to support or oppose congressional candidates in this election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.