National: Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign | The Washington Post

At almost the same time last week that a Florida mailman was landing a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of the wealthy on politics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was getting pressed about the same topic at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H. “I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” Christie (R) told Valerie Roman of Windham, N.H. The two moments, occurring 466 miles apart, crystallized how money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.

Editorials: How to shine a light on dark money | Lawrence Norden and Daniel Weiner/MSNBC

The 2016 campaign is just beginning, but we already know that hundreds of millions of secret dollars will be spent over the next 18 months. A few years ago, this tide of “dark money” would have been unimaginable. Today, it represents one of the biggest threats to our democracy. President Obama has spoken out against the rise of dark money, but has done little else to combat it. With a hostile Supreme Court and Congress, many have assumed this is the best he can do – but that’s just not true. In fact, the president has the power to strike a major blow against dark money in our elections now, without congressional approval, and without running afoul of Supreme Court precedent. He can issue an executive order to expose secret political spending by federal contractors. The only question is whether he will follow through.

Voting Blogs: Oversimplifying Corruption and the Power of Disgust | More Soft Money Hard Law

Has the Supreme Court created an environment “pregnant with possibility of corruption?” The Washington Post Editorial Board makes this case, building it around the rise of super PACs, and it locates the problem in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Citizens United. The argument does not clarify especially well the choices ahead in campaign finances, or the role of Citizens United in shaping them, or the means of grappling with bona fide corruption. The Post’s miscue is the insistence on keeping campaign finance reform tied tightly to the corruption debate—or, more accurately, tied up with it, with nowhere to go. What the editorial has to say about Super PAC independent expenditures could be asserted about any independent expenditure. The culprit, if there is one to be found, is Buckley v. Valeo: Citizens United followed its reasoning, perhaps more faithfully than some would like, but the 1976 Court rejected limits on expenditures made without the request or suggestion of, or in consultation with, a candidate.

National: Robert Menendez Indictment Points to Corrupting Potential of Super PACs | New York Times

It seemed like a typical corruption case: A Florida doctor, seeking official favors with a United States senator, plies him with gifts while raising all the money he can for the senator’s campaign, and for his fellow senators and party. But the searing 68-page indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, filed this week by the Justice Department, does more than pull back the curtain on a politically and personally lucrative relationship between the senator and the doctor, Salomon E. Melgen. It is also the first significant campaign corruption case evolving out of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened up new channels for the wealthy to pour money into campaigns even as it narrowed the constitutional definition of political corruption and made it harder for prosecutors to prove bribery.

Editorials: Which Companies Are Buying the Election? | New York Times

Midway into a three-and-a-half-hour congressional hearing this week featuring Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, none of the legislators had bothered to ask if or when her agency would require that corporations disclose their political spending. The bipartisan silence testified to the growing importance to both parties of anonymous campaign donations. With each passing year since 2010, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to secretive political giving, politicians appear to value so-called dark money more and value disclosure of unnamed donors less.

Editorials: Tell the election success stories, too | Katrina vanden Heuvel/The Washington Post

“I had a college degree, a decade of experience, and the only job I could get was making $8 an hour at the local convenience store in my neighborhood,” Maine state Rep. Diane Russell (D) said in January, recalling her unlikely path to public office. “I have no business being in politics. I was not groomed for this. But thanks to public financing, I have a voice. And thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.” Russell was speaking at an event on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling that set off an avalanche of money in politics. After her state’s “clean elections” system propelled Russell into office in 2008, she quickly became a force in Maine politics. Her progressive record of defending voting rights and workers, for example, led the Nation to recognize her as its “Most Valuable State Representative” in 2011.

National: The Pope v. Citizens United | Bloomberg

Campaign finance reformers have been on a steady losing streak in the courts and Congress. But they may finally have found a champion who can elevate their cause: Pope Francis. “We must achieve a free sort of election campaign, not financed,” the Pope told an Argentine magazine in an interview released this week. “Because many interests come into play in financing of an election campaign and then they ask you to pay back. So, the election campaign should be independent from anyone who may finance it.” To drive his point home, the Pontiff added: “Perhaps public financing would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The Pope’s remarks come in the midst of corruption scandals in his native Argentina. But American advocates of curbing the influence of big money in politics were eager to seize on his message. “We have just gained a great new ally with a worldwide voice for public financing campaigns,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21. “We greatly appreciate his words and wisdom on this subject.” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi similarly embraced the Pope’s “call for an end to the contaminating influence of money in our democracy.”

Editorials: How Dark Money Is Distorting Politics and Undermining Democracy | Bruce Freed & Karl Sandstrom/ Fiscal Times

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and subsequent court rulings deregulating political spending have greatly increased the influence of corporate special interests. Today, corporations are among the leading underwriters of Washington politics and a dominant force shaping its policy-making. Long gone are the days when unions and government could balance the impact of corporations. At the same time, a large swath of political spending has gone underground. Prior to Citizens United, election spending by companies, unions and individuals was subject to limits and carried out with disclosure of donors. Post-Citizens United, the limits are gone for corporations. Donor secrecy reigns. Corporations can spend to influence elections directly, or indirectly through trade associations or so-called “social welfare” organizations as long as these groups don’t coordinate with a political candidate. The result is significant growth in “dark money” influence.

Editorials: Open Mic Disaster: The FEC held a hearing that revealed almost everything that’s wrong with American democracy. | Alec McGillis/Slate

Woe, to be the Federal Election Commission in the age of the Koch brothers. The agency charged with safeguarding the integrity of American democracy has, in recent years, been hit again and again by other branches of the federal government further flooding the political system with money from a small coterie of ultrawealthy donors. There was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which made it possible for corporations, unions, and nonprofit groups to spend directly on elections. There was the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling last year, which, while keeping in place caps on how much an individual could give directly to a candidate or political committee, eliminated the aggregate limits on how much he could give combined. And just two months ago, Congress slipped into the big must-pass spending bill a further expansion of the sums a wealthy donor could give to party committees. The FEC is about as effective as a middle-school hall monitor at a Roman bacchanal.

National: Federal free and fair elections amendment proposed | Associated Press

A Democratic lawmaker on Thursday called for Montana to support a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit corporate donations in election campaigns. Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula introduced House Joint Resolution 3 in the State Administration Committee. Committee members did not take immediate action. “I believe the corporate buyout of our elections is the reason to do it,” she said of a Constitutional amendment that calls for free and fair elections. It takes 34 states to trigger a convention. Thirty-eight states would then have to approve a change for the amendment to be put into effect. Twenty states have similar resolution proposals in their legislatures this year, according to Ryan Clayton with Wolf PAC, a political action committee working to promote the amendment nationwide.

Editorials: Five Years After Citizens United, Signs of a Backlash | Sarah Knight/Newsweek

In the five years since the Citizens United decision was handed down, there has been plenty of evidence to document the magnitude of the flow of dark money and the effects it has had on American politics. In one of the most impassioned moments of the State of the Union address, President Obama decried the corrosive influence of anonymous money in politics. “A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter,” he said. His comment could not have been more timely, coming as it did a day before the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and labor unions to engage in unlimited spending to advocate for or against candidates. Advocacy groups used the occasion (and the Twitter hashtag #CU5) to start new conversations about the impact big money is having on our democracy, and how to fix it. The Brennan Center hosted a summit on the topic with Common Cause, Demos and others. The American Constitution Society delved into one of the ruling’s more insidious effects: In states where judges are elected, the judiciary is effectively for sale. The Center for American Progress talked about how to mitigate the decision’s impact through executive action.

Editorials: The Growing Shadow of Political Money | New York Times

Like bettors checking Las Vegas odds on the Super Bowl, specialists in the nation’s booming campaign finance industry are tracking the action in the 2016 elections, not so much to assess the candidates as to see how much of a payout is likely this time around in the grand casino of American politics. The record total of $6.3 billion spent on the presidential and congressional elections of 2012 is only the starting point. Estimates of next year’s likely total are running between $7.5 billion and $8 billion. This moneyed universe is certain to keep expanding as the political industry’s managers and their candidates master the unlimited fund-raising and spending devices they now have at hand. The sheer numbers should be enough to raise public alarm. But needed reforms are going nowhere, with too many congressional members busy bolstering their incumbency with the help of the same large-scale donors. In last year’s elections, the 100 biggest campaign check writers gave $323 million, plus many millions more in anonymous donations to politically active “social welfare” groups and other new money troughs. According to a report by Politico, total spending by the 100 ultra-donors exceeded that of the 4.75 million ordinary Americans who made smaller donations of $200 or less.

Voting Blogs: Evaluating Reform Argument as False, True, Barely Either, or Something Else | More Soft Money Hard Law

Rick Hasen has twice posted in the last several days a sharp criticism of the President’s fifth anniversary statement about Citizens United. He objects to the assertion that Citizens United opened up the avenue for unlimited foreign corporate spending in the United States. Rick says this is false, citing in support of that position PolitFact’s prior rating of that statement as “mostly false,” which that fact-checking enterprise arrived at after originally rating the statement as “barely true.” And a review of PolitiFact’s analysis reveals that a statement merits criticism as “mostly false” if it is an ”overstatement.” Readers will probably think very little is at stake in tracing the chain of reasoning from false to mostly false to barely true, or somewhat true, or whatever, and trying to sort out what fine differences distinguish one of these ratings from the others. But because Rick stakes out a strong position—that the statement is simply “false” —he should have a high degree of confidence that it is a black-and-white matter subject to no disagreement.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake by David Cole | David Cole/The New York Review of Books

Five years ago this week, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court decided to allow unlimited amounts of corporate spending in political campaigns. How important was that decision? At the time, some said criticism of the decision was overblown, and that fears that it would give outsize influence to powerful interests were unfounded. Now, the evidence is in, and the results are devastating. To coincide with the decision’s fifth anniversary, eight public interest organizations—the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Demos, U.S. PIRG, Public Campaign, Justice at Stake, and the Center for Media and Democracy—have simultaneously issued reports that demonstrate the steadily growing influence of money on elections since the Court’s decision. Their findings show that the case opened the spigot to well more than a billion dollars in unrestricted outside spending on political campaigns, by corporations and individuals alike. It has done so at a time when wealth and income disparities in the United States are at their highest levels since 1928. Increasingly, it’s not clear that your vote matters unless you’re also willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to support your preferences. Some of this money has come directly from the kind of corporate money at issue in Citizens United. But much more of it has come from other kinds of funding made possible by the Court’s decision, whose rationale undermined expenditure limits across the board, not just for corporations. Take the 2014 midterm elections. Just eleven closely contested Senate races tipped the balance and allowed the Republicans to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. In eight of the ten states for which data is available, outside groups outspent the candidates themselves, by many millions of dollars. In North Carolina, for example, outside groups spent $26 million more than the candidates did. With these kinds of numbers, elected politicians may feel as beholden to such groups as to the people who actually voted for them.

Editorials: Here’s what I learned when I helped Stephen Colbert set up his Super PAC | Trevor Potter/The Washington Post

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision. The ruling gave rise to a complicated mess of super PACs, dark money, and “coordinated non-coordinated expenditures” — a world that likely surprised even the Supreme Court. Viewers of Stephen Colbert’s late lamented “Colbert Report,” however, knew just how tricky this new world had become. In 2011, Colbert formed his own Super PAC. And he reported on the process every step of the way, explaining to viewers how the wacky post-Citizens United world worked (or, perhaps, didn’t work). I was his lawyer for the venture, which meant I did everything from drafting a Federal Election Commission Advisory Opinion Request to accompanying Colbert to hearings. I even figured out how to make the money “disappear” from public view when the PAC was closing. (Hint: It’s not that hard.)

Voting Blogs: From Selma to Citizens United: The contested struggle for one person, one vote | Facing South

On Jan. 19, our country celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., half a century after his work — chronicled in the recent Oscar-nominated movie “Selma” — helped inspire passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Next week will also be the five-year anniversary of another momentous event for our democracy: the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and groups the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. The two anniversaries are more closely linked than many realize. The 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches — and the brutal backlash to them from Alabama state troopers — galvanized national support for the Voting Rights Act, changing the balance of power in the South. Building on years of local organizing, “roughly a million new voters were registered within a few years after the [Voting Rights Act] became law,” says historian Alexander Keyssar in his seminal book “The Right to Vote,” “with African-American registration soaring to a record 62 percent.”

Editorials: The legacy of ‘Citizens United’ strays from the Supreme Court’s vision | The Washington Post

Five years ago, the Supreme Court turned a corner on campaign finance. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , the court held that corporations could undertake unrestricted independent spending in election campaigns, overturning decades of restrictions on corporate money in politics by saying that the money represented free speech . At the same time, the court, in a decision written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, emphasized the importance of disclosure of the sources of campaign money. The court declared, “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” It also said that disclosure “permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” And the court expressed enthusiasm that technology today makes disclosure “rapid and informative.”

Editorials: Tycoon dough: The ultimate electoral martial art | Lawrence Norden and Daniel Weiner/Reuters

Jan. 21 marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruling that corporations (and, by extension, unions) have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections. Few recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have received as much attention — or generated as much public backlash – as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court and its defenders promised that the ruling – which gave corporations (and, by extension, unions) a First Amendment right to spend unlimited money on elections — would free up more voices to enrich U.S. political debates. Critics predicted a deluge of corporate cash into U.S. elections. Yet neither has been the most striking result of Citizens United. The most stunning consequence is the influence that a few tycoons and other wealthy donors now wield in U.S. elections. Running a close second is the tidal wave of “dark money” from unknown sources making it impossible for citizens to know who is supporting candidates in pivotal races. Both these unexpected and troubling developments undermine American democracy.

Montana: Changes afoot to tighten campaign finance reporting laws in Montana | The Missoulian

The first-time registration of a Missoula law firm as a political action committee appears to indicate a shift in the political landscape since the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The high court’s decision five years ago this month found independent expenditures by corporations are protected under the First Amendment, and it struck down a ban on those contributions. The Supreme Court subsequently found Montana’s ban on independent spending by corporations to be unconstitutional. Now, changes are afoot to tighten remaining campaign finance regulations in Montana, and Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl has been active in enforcing existing ones. “What we have left in Montana is reporting and disclosure,” Motl said.

National: Five years after Citizens United, new report finds wealthy have unprecedented influence | Scripps

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on how much money corporations and unions could spend putting their favorite candidates in office. The result, according to eight of the nation’s largest government watchdog groups, is that regular Americans are losing their voice in democracy while a “tiny number” of wealthy individuals have gained record influence. In the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the Court ruled that corporations and unions were entitled to same first amendment rights to free speech as private citizens as long as they are working independent of the campaigns. The Washington D.C.-based watchdog Public Citizen suggests in a new report, however, that the very groups claiming to be independent in the wake of the Court’s decision are often closely aligned with a single candidate.

Editorials: Why Obama Should Pardon former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman | Jeffrey Toobin/The New Yorker

Since the midterm elections, President Barack Obama has been acting as if he feels liberated from parochial political concerns. After taking action on immigration, Cuba, and climate change, he should take on another risky, if less well-known, challenge by commuting the prison sentence of Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama. Siegelman, a Democrat, served a single term in office, from 1999 to 2003, in the last days before Alabama turned into an overwhelmingly Republican state. He’s spent the subsequent decade dealing with the fallout from the case that landed him in prison—a case that, at its core, is about a single campaign contribution. Siegelman ran for office on a promise to create a state lottery to fund education in Alabama. The issue went to a ballot question, and Richard Scrushy, a prominent health-care executive, donated five hundred thousand dollars to support the pro-lottery campaign. (Voters rejected the lottery.) After Scrushy had given the first half of his contribution, Siegelman reappointed him to Alabama’s Certificate of Need Review Board (the CON Board), which regulates health care in the state. Scrushy had served on the CON Board through the administrations of three different governors. The heart of the case against Siegelman came down to a single conversation that he had with Nick Bailey, a close aide of the Governor’s, about a two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar check from Scrushy for the lottery campaign. As summarized by the appeals court: Bailey testified that after the meeting, Siegelman showed him the check, said that it was from Scrushy and that Scrushy was “halfway there.” Bailey asked “what in the world is he going to want for that?” Siegelman replied, “the CON Board.” Bailey then asked, “I wouldn’t think that would be a problem, would it?” Siegelman responded, “I wouldn’t think so.”

National: 5 Years After ‘Citizens United,’ SuperPACs Continue To Grow | NPR

Prospective Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is moving to get his share via a new political committee. The way he did it could blaze a new trail for candidates seeking out million-dollar donors. Bush’s action comes just before the fifth anniversary, next Wednesday, of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that restructured the campaign finance landscape. In the five years since, there’s been an explosion of political money. The organization around Bush, a former Florida governor, has created a superPAC, a species of political committee that wasn’t possible before Citizens United. It can take contributions of any amount. Confusingly, the Bush organization also set up another political action committee at the same time, an old-fashioned PAC operating with contribution limits. The PACs have the same name, Right To Rise, similar logos and the same lawyer.

Vermont: US Supreme Court declines to review challenge to campaign finance law | Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a hearing to a Vermont anti-abortion group that had challenged several provisions of the state’s campaign finance law. The court’s decision not to hear the case effectively upholds a ruling issued in July by a federal appeals court shooting down a legal challenge first filed in 2009 by the Vermont Right to Life Committee. Attorney General William Sorrell called Monday “a good day for Vermont,” while Vermont Right to Life’s Sharon Toborg said the group was disappointed. Changes to campaign finance laws occurred both at the state and federal level since the case was filed, and the case evolved with them. A key question ended up being whether VRLC could set up a separate “fund for independent political expenditures” and make unlimited political contributions through that vehicle.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision continues to echo | Amanda Hollis-Brusky/Los Angeles Times

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission turns 5 this month, but the damage from the Supreme Court’s revolutionary ruling on campaign finance is just beginning to be felt. Scholars and pundits will undoubtedly mark the anniversary with commentary on such issues as the troubling rise of “super PACs” and the proliferation of undisclosed contributions known as “dark money.” The biggest long-term impact, however, is the powerful framing effect the decision has had on other areas of the law. With last year’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, the idea that “corporations are people” has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there. The idea that ‘corporations are people’ has spread from campaign finance law into the sphere of religious liberty. And there is no reason to believe it will stop there.

Connecticut: Lawmakers Plan To Tackle Election Reform | CT News Junkie

With the 2014 election in the rearview mirror, the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in the coming session will look to address some of the issues raised during this year’s campaigns and at the polls. The 2014 election was the first test of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws as they were modified by the legislature in 2013, when lawmakers reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by easing limitations on the amount of money political parties could raise and contribute to candidates using the public financing system. Rep. Ed Jutila, one of the committee’s co-chairman, said he was wary of those changes to begin with. “Now, looking back after an election cycle with those changes, I think we need to revisit them. I think we may have over-reacted,” he said. The new rules allowed the state Democratic Party to spend $207,000 on senator-elect Ted Kennedy Jr.’s public-financed campaign.

National: Outside Groups Set Spending Record in Midterms | New York Times

Political groups independent of candidates spent more than $814 million to influence congressional elections last month, a record for the midterms and nearly twice the spending in 2010, Federal Election Commission records show. The most obvious explanation for the rapid increase is the effect of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court and the rise in spending by super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions. This year the groups jumped into Democratic efforts to maintain control of the Senate, and into the ultimately successful campaign by Republicans to retake it. The total includes Democratic and Republican party committees for House and Senate candidates, which are not permitted to coordinate with their candidates when making independent expenditures, but even excluding those four committees the amount ($605 million) would still be a midterm record. It does not include some groups, mostly non-profits, that spend money to influence elections without explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a candidate.

National: Clamor Rises to Rewrite the U.S. Constitution | New York Times

Rising frustration with Washington and conservative electoral victories across much of the United States are feeding a movement in favor of something America hasn’t done in 227 years: Hold a convention to rewrite the Constitution. Although it’s unlikely to be successful, the effort is more serious than ever before: Already more than two dozen states have called for a convention. There are two ways to change or amend the founding document. The usual method is for an adjustment to win approval from two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then be ratified by three-quarters of the 50 states. There have been 27 amendments adopted this way. The second procedure is separate from Congress. It requires two-thirds of the states, or 34, to call for a convention. The framers thought this might be necessary because Congress wouldn’t be likely to advance any amendments that curtailed its powers. But this recourse has never been used. Two states, California and Vermont, have called for a convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that permits huge amounts of unregulated money into federal campaigns. Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, wants a convention to adopt sweeping changes, including a single six-year presidential term, and concomitant House and Senate terms to create more of a parliamentary system. Petitions to adopt term limits for members of Congress have circulated for years. But much of the current impetus comes from fervent fiscal conservatives. This includes calls for an amendment requiring a balanced budget and other restraints on the federal government’s spending and taxation powers.

National: Democratic group to file complaint against GOP for ‘secret’ Twitter accounts | CNN

A Democratic group says it will file a formal complaint with federal regulators against three Republican organizations after a CNN investigation revealed that they shared internal polling data before the midterm elections by posting the information on anonymous Twitter accounts. The liberal advocacy group American Democracy Legal Fund alleged in a complaint meant to be filed Monday to the Federal Election Commission that the National Republican Congressional Committee, the American Action Network and American Crossroads broke federal rules that prohibit coordination between campaign committees and outside groups. “The NRCC and outside groups appear to have engaged in illegal coordination through sharing internal polling data,” according to the complaint, which was provided to CNN by American Democracy Legal Fund. “By hiding their communications on a public website, Respondents intentionally tried to create a loophole in the coordination rules. Such an intentional effort to knowingly flout campaign finance laws cannot be condoned.”

Voting Blogs: Texas is Shining the Light on the Dark Money in State Politics | State of Elections

The Lone Star State has decided to shine some of its Texas sun on the dark money used in elections. “Dark money” is a phrase commonly used to describe donations made by undisclosed donors. For the last several years, dark money been a growing concern in federal and state elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending by political organizations that do not disclose their donors increased from approximately $5.2 million in 2006 to over $300 million in the 2012 election. Some credit this rapid increase in dark money to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the federal government could not limit organizations from spending money to influence the outcome of elections. And, in an 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court also held that Congress can compel disclosure of that  money spent on influencing elections, stating, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” The Supreme Court’s push for disclosure, however, launched the creation of super PACs and the growing use of disclosure loopholes. Given how quickly dark money has become an influential factor in elections, many states, including Texas, are attempting to address dark money within their borders.

Editorials: Are Our Courts for Sale? | Joe Nocera/New York Times

One of the most shocking ads aired this political season was aimed at a woman named Robin Hudson. Hudson, 62, is not a congressional or Senate candidate. Rather, she is a State Supreme Court justice in North Carolina, seeking her second eight-year term. It wasn’t all that long ago when, in North Carolina, judicial races were publicly financed. If a candidate spent more than $100,000, it was unusual. Ads mainly consisted of judicial candidates promising to be fair. Any money the candidates raised was almost entirely local. This ad in North Carolina, however, which aired during the primary season, was a startling departure. First, the money came from an organization called Justice for All NC — which, in turn, was funded primarily by the Republican State Leadership Committee. That is to say, it was the kind of post-Citizens United money that has flooded the political system and polluted our politics. And then there was its substance. “We want judges to protect us,” the ad began. The voice-over went on to say that when child molesters sued to stop electronic monitoring, Judge Hudson had “sided with the predators.” It was a classic attack ad.