A Portland lawmaker has joined the growing list of those challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision by submitting a proposal that would ban unlimited corporate and union campaign contributions to candidates. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, is identical to a Montana law that was recently affirmed by that state’s a highest court. The Montana justices argued that the state’s people and small business owners could be silenced by big-pocketed, in-state, or out-of-state interests.
In the Massachusetts Senate campaign, where Super PACs have already spent millions blanketing the airwaves in what promises to be a spectacular slugfest, the candidates are giving peace a chance. Or so they would have us believe. Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent, and Elizabeth Warren, the progressive consumer advocate who recently left the Obama administration to launch a political career, tentatively agreed Monday to reject outside spending by third-party groups, whether traditional political action committees (PACs), party organs like the Democratic National Committee, or Super PACs like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Under the terms of the deal, hashed out in both private meetings between the campaigns and publicly-available letters, whenever a third-party group spends money to air an ad attacking (or supporting) a candidate, the potential beneficiary must donate half the sum of the ad buy to a charity of their opponent’s choice.
Massachusetts: Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown Spending Pact Faces Challenges in Post-Citizens United World | International Business Times
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass, and Elizabeth Warren, his main Democratic challenger, will have difficulty enforcing a pledge to limit third party spending in what is likely to be a closely watched and bruising Senate race. Brown and Warren have agreed to donate to charity 50 percent of the cost of any television or radio advertising purchased by outside groups. The pact is an attempt to curb the influence of outside organizations that have begun pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision eliminated some restrictions on campaign finance.
Two years ago, when the Supreme Court struck down bans on independent corporate and union expenditures in elections in the Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion claimed that money does not “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” While it might result in “influence over or access to elected officials,” he wrote, it is not the same as Last month, in a 5-to-2 vote, the Montana Supreme Court rejected that misguided reasoning and upheld a part of a state anticorruption law banning corporations from making political expenditures from general treasuries. The court’s dissenters argued that Montana cannot ignore the Citizens United decision — and they may well be proved right when the case is appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The attorney general’s office asked the Montana Supreme Court on Monday to keep in place the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the law. Last month, the Montana Supreme Court restored the state’s ban by deciding it does not run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, as a lower state court had initially ruled. A politically involved corporation had challenged the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, which passed as a ballot initiative. It argued the law unconstitutionally blocks political speech by corporations.
Though the manifold problems of money pouring into our campaigns have become a source of daily news and mounting public backlash, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission is an opportunity to review how this transformative decision was reached — the perfect storm of politicized jurisprudence, corporate entitlement, and a narrowly tilted bench. As Chief Justice John Roberts has expressed such concern over corporate rights, one might think he was found as a boy abandoned, taken in, and raised by some corporations. It was Roberts who directed the narrow issue of FEC penalties over ads for Hillary: The Movie to be rewritten and re-argued as a much broader debate over the right for corporations to spend money freely on third party advertisements.
Massachusetts: Brown, Warren agree to anti-super-PAC pledge, other candidates could follow | The Hill
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, have reached a groundbreaking agreement to deter super-PACs and outside groups from dominating their Senate race with millions of dollars of ads, Brown said Monday. The agreement marks the first attempt by candidates to wrest control of their races back from groups over whom they have no direct control, and could set a precedent for other races. It also comes almost two years to the day after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that unleashed the flood of outside spending.
It has been two years since the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and we are only now just beginning to see how its overturning of a century of campaign finance law is distorting the electoral process. Rather than acting truly independently of campaigns, as the majority of justices envisioned, these entities exclusively act on behalf of individual candidates — and are typically run by former aides. Rather than encouraging the universal right of free speech, the ruling has had the effect of providing a megaphone for the rich to drown out all other voices.
Two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited funds on campaign advertisements, provided that such spending is not formally “coordinated” with any candidate. Central to this conclusion was the majority’s broad finding — unsupported by any evidence — that so-called “independent expenditures” pose no risk of political corruption. At the time, some lawyers and academics voiced their alarm. Now, the disastrous effects of this assumption are public knowledge, and — from Helena, Mont., to New York City — even unusual suspects are starting to rebel.
Members of Occupy Terre Haute and Occupy Nomads stood in front of the Terre Haute offices of attorney James Bopp Jr. on Friday to call for a constitutional amendment on the second anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on political campaign funding. In Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission, the high court stated that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people and can spend unlimited amounts to influence elections, said Leigh Chapman, a Terre Haute resident and member of Occupy Terre Haute. Bopp took the case to the Supreme Court, while another attorney presented the issue before the court.
South Carolina: Stephen Colbert, Herman Cain turn spotlight on super PACs in South Carolina | The Washington Post
Not everyone hooting Herman Cain at the Stephen Colbert rally here Friday was laughing with him. But he didn’t mind being the butt of jokes, he said, if only Americans could learn how to take one. His message? “As I said in one of the debates, America needs to lighten up.” Colbert’s message, on the other hand, was as serious as its delivery was lighthearted. Politicians in both parties promise to bring Americans together, but Colbert actually does, through comedy. And this rally on the campus of the College of Charleston, the day before the state’s presidential primary, was an extended riff on the serious subject of money in politics.
Two years ago the Supreme Court upheld the right of an incorporated nonprofit organization to distribute, air and advertise a turgid documentary about Hillary Clinton called, appropriately enough, “Hillary: The Movie.” From this seemingly innocuous and obvious First Amendment decision has sprung a campaign of disinformation and alarmism rarely seen in American politics. From the start, reaction to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has bordered on the hysterical. Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.) called it the “worst decision since Dred Scott”—the 1857 decision holding that slaves could never become citizens. In his State of the Union message, within days of the ruling, President Obama lectured Supreme Court justices in attendance that they had “reversed a century of law” to allow “foreign companies to spend without limit in our elections.” Neither statement was true.
Editorials: The Uphill Battle Against Citizens United: Tricky Legal Terrain and No Easy Fixes | AlterNet
The movement to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling and confront the doctrine of corporate personhood stands at a perilous crossroads. Across the country, two distinct strategies are converging on Congress. More than a million people have signed online petitions. State legislators, city and township governments, Democratic Party groups and unions have sponsored and passed measures in 23 states demanding that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to reassert and elevate the political speech of ordinary citizens and roll back the growing political speech and legal privileges of corporations.
National: Citizens United Fallout: Coalition Asks SEC To Order Corporate Disclosure Of Political Spending | Huffington Post
It used to be against the law for executives to spend funds from their massive corporate treasuries to directly influence elections. But two years ago this week, the Supreme Court declared such restrictions unconstitutional — and short of a constitutional amendment, it’s hard to get around that. The Court never said corporations should be able to spend all that money in secret, however. So on Thursday, a coalition of campaign reform and corporate transparency advocates called attention to their petition to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that corporations publicly disclose their political contributions.
National: The Influence Industry: Activist groups want to undo ruling that led to ‘super PAC’ frenzy | The Washington Post
Two years ago this week, the Supreme Court set the political world on its head by ruling that corporations could spend unlimited money on elections, rolling back decades of legal restrictions. An array of liberal-leaning activist groups are marking the anniversary by launching new efforts to overturn the decision, including calls for a potential constitutional amendment. The 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission effectively laid the groundwork for super PACs, the new independent groups that have overwhelmed the Republican presidential race with millions of dollars in negative advertising over the past few weeks.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, issued two years ago this week, is wreaking havoc on the 2012 elections. When the Roberts Court decided to strike down the ban on corporate expenditures in campaigns, the five justices who issued the opinion surely had no idea their misguided decision would cause such enormous damage to our political system. Meanwhile, the rest of us are living with the destructive consequences of their ruling.
Trevor Potter is an unlikely repeat guest for a late-night comedy show. As the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the courtly Washington lawyer is a leading expert on campaign finance law — not the kind of material that generates a lot of laughs. So the fact that he’s appeared seven times on “The Colbert Report” in the last year, helping host Stephen Colbert set up his own “super PAC” as part of a mischievous political parody, underscores an unexpected development in the 2012 presidential race: Super PACs have seized the zeitgeist.
Salon is out with an interview today with Floyd Abrams (noted First Amendment lawyer and campaign finance law opponent). Abrams took the NY Times to task for blaming the $5 million Adelson contribution to Super PACs on Citizens United. Abrams says it is Buckley v. Valeo, recognizing an individual’s right to spend money on elections, not Citizens United, which is responsible for the emergence of Super PACs. That’s not the whole story, and misses the relevance of Citizens United.
This week marks the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold election law. Never has the ruling been as salient as it is now in the national political discussion. The Occupy movement has taken aim at the decision, blaming it for allowing the “1 percent” to exercise unprecedented control over the political process. Meanwhile, the decision has been widely cited as paving the road for the super PACs that are dominating the Republican primary, now evenoutspending candidates’ official campaigns in South Carolina. All of which contributed to my interest in a letter sent to the New York Times this week by Floyd Abrams, a longtime First Amendment lawyer who represented Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Citizens United case and argued that part of the McCain-Feingold law was unconstitutional. Abrams has been involved in many landmark cases, notably representing the Times in the Pentagon Papers case in the early 1970s.
National: Super PACs: GOP rivals reap benefits of groups they claim to disdain | The Washington Post
To hear the Republican presidential candidates tell it, they’ve already lost control of their campaigns to outsiders. Mitt Romney and other hopefuls vying for the GOP nomination are complaining in unison about the dominant role being played by super PACs, new independent groups that are shifting the landscape of the 2012 elections with a torrent of negative and often inaccurate attack ads. Then again, this could all be so much bluster. Even as they complain about super PAC ads, the candidates seem happy to repeat the attacks that the ads contain — aiming to reap the political benefits from groups with no direct accountability to the public.
Mitt Romney has a prescription for the super PAC problem: Allow political candidates to collect unlimited donations, instead of having the funds funneled to supposedly independent groups. “Let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words,” Mr. Romney said at Monday’s debate. He raises an intriguing question: Given the Supreme Court’s flawed interpretation of the First Amendment — that campaign spending equals speech; that independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, even by corporations, therefore cannot be limited — would the campaign finance system be better off with a regime of no limits plus full and timely disclosure of donations? In other words, a world where the $5 million check can go directly to the candidate? As Mr. Romney put it, “Wouldn’t it nice to have people give what they would like to to campaigns, and campaigns could run their own ads and take responsibility for them?”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch introduced aconstitutional amendmentin December to overturnCitizens United, one of five decisions since 2006 by which a closely divided Supreme Court vastly increased the amount of corrupting corporate money in elections. In an opinion piece critical of the decision in Citizens United, Senator Sanders wrote:
When the Supreme Court says that for purposes of the First Amendment, corporations are people, that writing checks from the company’s bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, when that occurs, our democracy is in grave danger.
The joint Sanders-Deutch Resolution proposes an amendment to the constitution “to expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons.”
South Carolina voters are being buried this week under an avalanche of combative and often nasty political commercials from super PACs, funded by a tiny group of super-rich donors with very particular interests in the state’s Republican presidential primary. Hedge-fund king John Paulson, who donated $1 million to a group backing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, would very much like to see President Obama’s financial reforms repealed. The Marriott brothers, who also gave $1 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, have lobbied Washington for favorable tax and immigration policies through their hotel companies. And casino magnate Sheldon Adelson recently dashed off a $5 million check to a group backing former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), marking what may be the largest single political contribution in U.S. history. Adelson is well known for supporting hard-line policies favoring Israel while also advocating measures that would benefit the gambling industry.
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court delivered a New Year’s gift to the nation, upholding a century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in state elections. The decision has gone underreported amidst the hoopla of the Republican primaries—even as super PAC spending skyrockets and there is an emerging understanding of its corrosive impact—but the Montana case sets up the first direct challenge to the disastrous Citizens United decision as we approach its second anniversary. Free Speech For People—a national non-partisan campaign challenging the fabrication of corporate rights under the US Constitution—filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Montana case. It led a coalition that included the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of more than 70,000 businesses across the country; the American Independent Business Alliance; and a local supermarket business and non-profit corporation.
It may be surprising that the biggest blow to corporations in 2011 didn’t come from Wall Street protestors. Late last month Montana’s Supreme Court took a swing at corporate spending in elections holding, in spite of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, that a 100-year-old law banning corporate spending was valid. In doing so, the court held that the lower court’s reading of Citizens United was erroneous. The Court in Citizens United said, “Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction ‘furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.’”
Stephen Colbert is laughing at the U.S. Supreme Court. He started Thursday night, on his show, when Colbert transferred control of his super PAC to his mentor, business partner and friend, Jon Stewart. It’s a great set piece of comedic theater underscored by a serious argument: Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by a majority on the Supreme Court, issued a ruling in 2010 rewriting the nation’s campaign finance rules that is, on its face, pretty absurd. The argument is actually worth exploring in some detail. Since the 1970s, many lawyers and judges have argued quite reasonably that the the First Amendment’s right to free speech should permit anyone–an individual, a corporation or a union–to spend as much money as they want to influence elections. This argument posits that this sacred right to self-expression around elections simply trumps the danger that the large sums of money could corrupt the political process. It is a balancing test–the First Amendment on one side, the public interest in avoiding corruption on the other side–and reasonable people can reach different conclusions about where the fulcrum should be placed.
“Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season,” Romney told MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough last month. “We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.” To be sure, Romney has benefitted from millions of dollars in brutal ads from a supportive super PAC targeting his rival Newt Gingrich. And he supported the most significant of the 2010 federal court decisions that paved the way for the emergence of super PACs, in a case called Citizens United vs. FEC.
National: Citizens United Lawyer Retained by Groups in Montana Campaign Finance Case For High Court Appeal | The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times
Bopp is back. James Bopp Jr., the lawyer who brought Citizens United v. FEC to the U.S. Supreme Court has been retained by the organizations that lost their suit to overturn Montana’s ban on corporate independent expenditures to take their appeal to the nation’s high court.
With federal campaigns already knee-deep in a new era of laissez-faire money, the Republican National Committee has brazenly proposed the ultimate step — that the 105-year-old ban on direct corporation contributions to candidates and parties be scrapped as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision did damage enough to fair elections by freeing corporations to make unlimited donations to supposedly independent campaign expenditure groups. But the court said nothing about the basic 1907 reform law — enacted after the robber baron scandals — that bans corporate donors from wooing candidates directly with largess.
Editorials: Montana Spurns U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Upholds Ban on Corporate Electioneering | AMIBA
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court issued a stunning ruling, rejecting arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United vs. FEC applied to Montana’s century-old ban on direct corporate election spending. The 5-2 ruling overturned a lower court and reinstated Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a citizen initiative passed to confront some of the most overt corporate corruption in American history. While the Montana ruling detailed several ways in which the Corrupt Practices Act differed from the federal statute struck down in Citizens United, the justices clearly rejected much of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale. Citizens United struck down a federal law that prohibited corporations from directly spending company funds to advocate for or against political candidates.