Fred Wertheimer

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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.

Full Article: The Warnings About The Supreme Court's Dangerous Campaign Finance Ruling Are Now Coming True.

National: McCutcheon v. FEC’s Other Threat: Case Could Super-Size Joint Fundraising Committees | Huffington Post

The joint fundraising committee may join the super PAC and the “dark money” nonprofit as the new face of big money in politics if the Supreme Court decides to unravel key contribution limits in an upcoming case. A decision in favor of Shaun McCutcheon, the lead plaintiff in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, to be argued Oct. 8, could vastly increase the joint fundraising committee’s cash-gathering capacity. The justices will decide in McCutcheon whether the aggregate federal campaign contribution limits — $123,200 for a single donor in the 2014 election cycle — place an unconstitutional burden on a donor’s rights to free speech and association. In the absence of the aggregate limit, individual donors could donate to as many candidates, political party committees and political action committees as they saw fit. 

Full Article: McCutcheon v. FEC's Other Threat: Case Could Super-Size Joint Fundraising Committees.

National: Justices to Weigh Key Limit on Political Donors | New York Times

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision reshaped American politics by striking down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But it did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on individuals’ direct contributions to candidates. Shaun McCutcheon wants to change that. He has built a thriving engineering firm here, and he wants to give some of the money he makes to conservative political candidates. But a federal law limits the overall amount he can contribute to all candidates in an election cycle, and that does not sit right with him. “I think we need to spend more money on politics, not less,” he said. “I think we need to improve it.” The Supreme Court will hear his challenge to the overall limits next Tuesday. Some critics of Citizens United say the new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, has the potential to destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation. 

Full Article: Justices to Weigh Key Limit on Political Donors - NYTimes.com.

National: IRS Probe Sheds Light on Nonprofit Election-Year Surge | Bloomberg

Patriot Majority USA, a social welfare nonprofit, told the Internal Revenue Service that its mission is “to encourage a discussion of economic issues.” In exchange for keeping its donors private and paying fewer taxes, it must limit its involvement in politics. Yet last year Patriot Majority, run by Democratic operative Craig Varoga in Washington, spent at least $7.5 million on TV ads attacking Republican candidates on issues such as women’s health screenings and equal pay. With the Nov. 6 election over, the nonprofit shows signs of going dormant with e-mails bouncing back unopened and phone calls unanswered.

Full Article: IRS Probe Sheds Light on Nonprofit Election-Year Surge - Bloomberg.

Editorials: Gridlocked election commission awaits action by Obama | The Center for Public Integrity

The nation’s enforcer of election laws was largely paralyzed during the 2012 election, despite a Supreme Court ruling that left several key money-in-politics issues open to interpretation. With five of six Federal Election Commission members working on expired terms (one since 2007), President Barack Obama had an opportunity to remake the agency with members more inclined to enforce campaign finance rules, say reformers. But that hasn’t happened. The situation hasn’t done much for the agency’s reputation.

Full Article: Gridlocked election commission awaits action by Obama | The Center for Public Integrity.

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.

Full Article: The Reformers Strike Back! | Mother Jones.

Editorials: Campaign finance after Citizens United is worse than Watergate | Rick Hasen/Slate Magazine

How does the brave new world of campaign financing created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision stack up against Watergate? The short answer is: Things are even worse now than they were then. The 1974 scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon was all about illegal money secretly flowing to politicians. That’s still a danger, but these days, the biggest weakness of our campaign finance system is not what’s illegal, but what’s legal. As Dan Eggen of theWashington Post put it, “there’s little need for furtive fundraising or secret handoffs of cash.” The rules increasing allow people and corporations with great wealth to skew public policy toward their interests—without risking a jail time, or a fine, or any penalty at all. It’s an influence free-for-all. The Washington Post reminds us what the country faced in the time of Watergate: “Money ran wild in American politics. One man, W. Clement Stone, gave more than $2 million to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. The Watergate break-in was financed with secret campaign contributions. Fat cats plunked down cash for ambassadorships, and corporations for special treatment.” Fred Wertheimer, who has been pushing for campaign finance reform for decades, recounts that the corruption of old got results: “The dairy industry gave $2 million to the Nixon campaign and soon got the increase in dairy price supports they were seeking. Nixon overrode his Agriculture Department’s objection to put these supports in place.”       

Full Article: Campaign finance after Citizens United is worse than Watergate. - Slate Magazine.

National: With Elections Awash in Cash, There’s Plenty of Blame to Go Around | NYTimes.com

David Axelrod, President Obama’s political strategist, recently invoked a common perception about the 2012 campaign by blaming the Supreme Court for empowering 21st-century “robber barons trying to take over the government.” But that explanation does not account for another development that probably has been just as influential as the court’s Citizens United decision in creating the flood of money into the election: the demise of the public financing system for elections, hastened by Mr. Obama’s decision four years ago to abandon it. So far, Mr. Obama, Mitt Romney and their respective parties have raised more than $1.2 billion — five times the amount raised by all “super PACs” combined — as they race frenetically for the cash they need to pay for television advertising, sophisticated technology and old-fashioned get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor is there any reason to expect a slowdown. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney plans to take the $92 million per candidate on offer from public financing for this general election season, and combined they have raised less than $10 million for spending on the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than 95 percent of their receipts so far are for use only through the late-summer nominating conventions, meaning they still have far to go to fill their general election bank accounts.

Full Article: With Elections Awash in Cash, Looking for Culprits - NYTimes.com.

Editorials: Citizens United: Watergate redux | Fred Wertheimer/Politico.com

When the Supreme Court issued its disastrous Citizens United decision, five justices took the nation back to the era of secret money, unlimited campaign contributions and corporate funds at the core of the Watergate scandal. On June 17, 1972, a burglary at the Watergate Hotel began the unraveling of the worst political and campaign-finance scandals of the 20th century — and the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Yet today, massive amounts of secret money, unlimited contributions and corporate funds are again flowing into federal elections. The same elements that corrupted government decisions and officeholders in the early 1970s have returned. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, it is “déjà vu all over again.” During the Watergate scandals, we had the benefit of the special prosecutor, congressional hearings led by Sen. Sam Ervin and aggressive investigative journalism to crack through the secrecy and reveal the depths of government corruption. Such official government efforts are absent today, however, even as huge, and/or secret contributions are flowing into the 2012 presidential and congressional races. This money has the power to influence future government actions — just as huge, secret contributions were used in the Watergate era to buy government decisions. After Watergate, 20 corporations were criminally convicted for illegal campaign-finance activities. The hotel break-in itself was financed with secret campaign contributions.

Full Article: Opinion: Citizens United: Watergate redux - Fred Wertheimer - POLITICO.com.

Editorials: Is Campaign Disclosure Heading Back to the Supreme Court? – Don’t expect to see Karl Rove’s Rolodex just yet | Rick Hasen/Slate Magazine

The news this week that a federal appeals court has refused to block a lower court ruling requiring the disclosure of more funders of campaign ads has campaign finance reformers tasting their first victory in a long time. “It’s the first major breakthrough in overcoming the massive amounts of secret contributions that are flowing into federal elections,” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 told the Los Angeles Times. But don’t expect to see Karl Rove’s Rolodex just yet. Crossroads GPS and other groups have found that raising money from donors who don’t want to be disclosed is good for business, and they’ve got a few ways to keep the unlimited money poured into campaigns secret yet. And before you get too excited it’s worth considering that the Supreme Court could well help them keep their secrets in 2012, even though the court has so far been a big supporter of disclosure laws.

Since 1974, federal campaign finance law has required the disclosure of campaign donors and spenders. Opponents of disclosure have long argued that at least some disclosure is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and association, because compelling someone to reveal the names of those funding political speech will chill vigorous participation in politics. As I’ve explained, the Supreme Court rejected that constitutional challenge in the 1976 campaign finance case, Buckley v. Valeo. Confronted in that instance with a law that required disclosure of even very small contributions, the court held that the disclosure laws were justified by three important government interests: First, disclosure laws can prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption. Second, disclosure laws provide valuable information to voters. (A busy public relies on disclosure information more than ever.) Third, disclosure laws help enforce other campaign finance laws, like the ban on foreign money in elections. But the court has repeatedly said that if someone could demonstrate a real threat of harassment, they could be exempt from the disclosure laws.

Full Article: Don’t get too excited about promises of imminent campaign finance disclosure. - Slate Magazine.

National: Election decision may force disclosure of secret donors | latimes.com

Advocacy groups spending millions of dollars to influence the 2012 election now face the prospect of having to reveal their secret donors, after a federal appellate court panel refused to block a lower-court order requiring the disclosure. In a 2-to-1 decision issued Monday evening, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel here declined to stay a ruling by a federal judge requiring tax-exempt organizations that run election-related television ads to disclose their donors. The panel’s decision was a significant victory for campaign finance reform advocates who have been fighting against the deluge of money — much of it from undisclosed donors — that has flooded the political landscape in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions, including the 2010 Citizens United case. 

Full Article: Election decision may force disclosure of secret donors - latimes.com.

National: Election decision may force disclosure of secret donors | latimes.com

Advocacy groups spending millions of dollars to influence the 2012 election now face the prospect of having to reveal their secret donors, after a federal appellate court panel refused to block a lower-court order requiring the disclosure. In a 2-to-1 decision issued Monday evening, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel here declined to stay a ruling by a federal judge requiring tax-exempt organizations that run election-related television ads to disclose their donors. The panel’s decision was a significant victory for campaign finance reform advocates who have been fighting against the deluge of money — much of it from undisclosed donors — that has flooded the political landscape in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions, including the 2010 Citizens United case. 

Full Article: Election decision may force disclosure of secret donors - latimes.com.

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.”

Full Article: Campaign Finance Disclosure Decision Means Rove, Others Could Suddenly Have To Disclose Donors.

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.”

Full Article: Campaign Finance Disclosure Decision Means Rove, Others Could Suddenly Have To Disclose Donors.