A bipartisan backlash is growing against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to insert an obscure measure into a year-end spending bill that would allow unlimited spending by political parties in coordination with candidates. McConnell — who has long believed that money is an expression of free speech and that restrictions should be removed on political spending — is trying to mimic a tactic that was employed last year. In late 2014, congressional leaders from both parties used a massive year-end bill as a vehicle to greatly increase the amount of money that can flow into political parties. But while last year’s rider was snuck in at the last minute, this year McConnell’s plan has been smoked out early. The backlash now comes from both the left and — perhaps surprisingly given conservatives’ fervent advocacy of looser restrictions on political spending — the right, but for different reasons.
Congress is getting ready to give itself loads of extra campaign dollars again this holiday season. The catchall spending bill scheduled for a vote by Dec. 11 is what’s known in Washington as a “Christmas tree”: legislation festooned with amendments that are gifts to legislators and their home districts, or that create new, ideologically based policy that has little to do with the bill’s purpose, which is funding the government. Now the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and some House Republicans are reportedly planning to add four campaign finance riders to the $1.1 trillion bill’s already-groaning branches, hoping to help Republicans in elections next year. Mr. McConnell has personally put forward the rider that would expand his colleagues’ campaign coffers. It would allow the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its Democratic counterpart to escape restrictions on expenditures they make in coordination with an individual candidate.
Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a must-pass government funding bill that would vastly expand the amount of cash that political parties could spend on candidates, multiple sources tell Politico. The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign-finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates. Pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime foe of campaign finance restrictions, the coordination rider represents the latest threat to the increasingly rickety set of rules created to restrict political fundraising and spending on elections.
Despite backlash from Democrats, good government groups think the language in the year-end spending bill that alters campaign finance law benefits both parties’ pocketbooks too much for it to be carved out. The watchdogs were among the first to criticize provisions buried deep in the “cromnibus” released Tuesday night that would dramatically ease spending limits on individual contributions to national political party committees. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi followed suit. The California Democrat said she learned about the provisions only one day before the carefully negotiated agreement was released. Pelosi, one of the top fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced she’s “deeply troubled” by how that part of the package would increase by tenfold the amount of money wealthy individuals can contribute. Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Steve Israel of New York, former chairmen of the DCCC, joined in the criticism of the legislation that would allow a single individual to contribute to each national party’s three committees a total of $1.5 million per two-year election cycle.
Senate Democrats are making one last try to bring their chamber’s campaign finance records into the 21st century, but their effort to attach to it a critical government funding bill will likely require them to make concessions to Republicans to succeed. Unlike House candidates, presidential hopefuls and political action committees, Senate candidates are not required to electronically file their campaign finance reports. The result: Reporters, campaign finance experts and everyone else must manually scroll through Sen. Mary Landrieu’s latest pre-runoff fundraising report, which clocks in at nearly 1,300 pages and is not searchable. So some Senate Democrats are pushing for a bill requiring e-filing to be attached to an expected omnibus government spending bill that would fund the government until next September, according to sources in both parties familiar with the discussions. With Republicans taking the Senate in January, Democrats are hoping for one last opportunity to modernize the campaign finance record-keeping by marrying it with the must-pass omnibus.
The next Senate was just elected on the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election. What are the chances that it will take action to reduce the influence of money in politics? Nil, of course. The next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has long been the most prominent advocate for unlimited secret campaign spending in Washington, under the phony banner of free speech. His own campaign benefited from $23 million in unlimited spending from independent groups like the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Realtors and the National Federation of Independent Business. The single biggest outside spender on his behalf was a so-called social welfare group calling itself the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which spent $7.6 million on attack ads against his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It ran more ads in Kentucky than any other group, aside from the two campaigns.
A Kentucky judge on Monday rejected a court motion filed by Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes seeking an immediate injunction to stop Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign from sending out mailers that have the appearance of an official Kentucky notice. The mailers, reported Friday by TPM, read “ELECTION VIOLATION NOTICE” and go on to warn voters that they may be acting on “fraudulent” information from the Grimes campaign. The tactic ultimately amounts to a creative attack on Grimes, although the mailers could create the impression that the voters who received them are at risk of committing voter fraud if they cast a ballot. Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd denied the Grimes motion, spokespersons for the Grimes and McConnell campaigns confirmed on Monday. Grimes is “exploring options” on what to do next, her spokesperson said.
A Kentucky law banning election-day campaigning near polling places was struck down Tuesday by a federal judge, who ruled the 300-foot buffer impedes free speech by reaching private homes and yards. The ruling by U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman came three weeks before voters head to the polls to decide a long ballot of local, state and federal races. Those races include the hard-fought U.S. Senate campaign pitting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. The ruling means that a broad range of electioneering activities would be allowed near the polls, said Christopher Wiest, one of the attorneys for the northern Kentucky man who challenged the state law. “What this means is there is now complete freedom of speech in and around polling places on Election Day,” Wiest said by phone. “People can hand out fliers, talk to voters. They can wear (campaign) T-shirts, they can hold signs. All that is now fair game.”
Kentucky: State Republicans question Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate’s ballot signatures | Lexington Herald-Leader
The Republican Party of Kentucky has asked the state’s county clerks to review and verify the signatures that Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate David Patterson filed to get on the ballot. State GOP chairman Steve Robertson told the Herald-Leader on Thursday that Republicans found “clearly fictitious and fabricated names,” citing an example of a signature belonging to a purported voter named “Ben Dover” who listed his address as an obscene phrase. In a letter to county clerks, Robertson asked the clerks to verify the names and addresses of people who signed a petition in favor of Patterson getting on the ballot with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.
As Senator Mitch McConnell, an outspoken opponent of regulating campaign spending, has conceded, trying to put limits on political donations is not easy. In McConnell’s words, it’s “like putting a rock on Jell-O. It oozes out some other place.” But if it was difficult before the Supreme Court’s decision this week in McCutcheon v.FEC, it is likely to be impossible now. It was precisely to address the possibility that wealthy people might try to circumvent restrictions on political contributions that Congress not only limited how much money individuals can directly give to political candidates, but also capped the total amount they can donate to all candidates in any election cycle. The Court’s most recent decision, by invalidating all aggregate limits on donations, has vastly increased the amount of Jell-O that campaign finance laws now must contend with. And still more disturbingly, the decision’s rationale invites further challenges to Congressional limits on campaign spending. When this Court gets through, there may be no rock left at all—only Jell-O.
Shaun McCutcheon never thought the case that bears his name would make it this far. But Tuesday, the 46-year-old electrical engineer, conservative activist and donor will watch the Supreme Court hear the case that could erase Watergate-era caps on campaign donations. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the lawsuit challenging the total amount of money a single donor can give to all federal candidates could have far-reaching implications for the way campaigns and political parties are financed. The court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has entered the vernacular as shorthand for the explosion of money in politics. That case, along with another that allowed the creation of super PACs, led to donors writing multimillion-dollar checks. Because of the way modern campaigns are financed — by candidates partnering with federal, state and local parties — McCutcheon’s lawsuit could have the consequence of allowing politicians to ask a single donor for $1 million a pop, or more. To McCutcheon, the lawsuit is over a fundamental matter of freedom. He argues the government has no right to set overall caps on donations in the first place. To campaign-finance reformers and government watchdogs, it’s a potential nightmare — the latest in a long series of Supreme Court cases that have allowed Big Money to dominate politics.
National: Mitch McConnell Will Ask Supreme Court To Scrap Campaign Contribution Limits Entirely | Huffington Post
On Oct. 8, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will argue to the Supreme Court that all campaign contribution limits should be eliminated and that candidates should be able to accept unlimited donations. Although McConnell is not a party in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court has granted the Senate minority leader time during oral argument to present his views: that campaign contribution limits are an unconstitutional burden on free speech and that the court should give contribution limits a higher level of scrutiny than it has in the past. McConnell will be represented by lawyer Bobby Burchfield. McCutcheon v. FEC challenges the aggregate limit on donations to federal candidates, political parties and political action committees, which bars an individual donor from giving more than $123,200 in total during the 2014 election cycle. McConnell wants to go much further by forcing courts to treat all campaign contribution limits as they treat campaign expenditure limits, which were found to be an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision.
It used to be broken by ideological divisions. But today it is broken by simple party politics. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) – the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal campaign finance laws – is being swept under the bus of partisan one-up-manship. Republicans have gained a temporary one-seat majority on the Commission and they may take advantage of it for partisan purposes – namely, to associate the Obama Administration and Democrats generally with a conspiracy of using federal agencies to attack conservative nonprofit political organizations. In an unexpected twist, congressional Republicans Darrel Issa (R-Cal.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) have teamed up with at least one Republican colleague at the FEC in an effort to tie the agency to the ongoing story of whether high-level IRS staff inappropriately targeted the tax-exempt applications of groups based on partisanship. An email exchange from FEC staff to IRS staff requesting public information about the tax status of a conservative political organization prompted accusations of collusion between the two agencies for conspiring to persecute conservatives.
Caroline Hunter’s six-year term on the Federal Election Commission expires today. If recent history is any guide, what will happen next is … nothing. Of the six seats on the FEC, which interprets and administers the nation’s election laws, one is vacant and the others are occupied by commissioners with expired terms. It’s tempting to conclude from this that inertia dominates the FEC but that would be mistaken: The commission is more destructive than mere inertia could possibly allow. The most recent effort to instill even rudimentary accountability at the agency took place four years ago, in May 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated labor lawyer John Sullivan to a seat. Sullivan’s nomination sank in senatorial quicksand, and he never made it to the FEC. His nomination represents the bulk of the Obama administration’s work in the field of campaign finance reform.
A Senate committee applied the brakes Thursday to a proposal by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to let overseas military members vote electronically, citing concerns about the potential for hackers to alter ballots. At the urging of Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, the committee voted along party lines to amend the bill to require ballots to be returned by mail, instead of fax or electronic transmission. The amendment also set up a study of electronic voting, to be completed by Nov. 27. After the committee unanimously approved the amended version of Senate Bill 1, Stivers acknowledged that he had consulted with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell about the measure. McConnell, a Republican, is seeking re-election next year. Many Democrats are urging Grimes to run against him. “We asked Sen. McConnell’s office to look at it because he has been involved in it,” said Stivers, adding that McConnell’s office is aware of voting procedures prescribed by the U.S. Department of Defense. Stivers said McConnell did not recommend changes to the bill. “No, these were from the county clerks association,” he told a reporter after the meeting.
If Rep. Todd Akin (R) does drop his Missouri Senate bid within the next 24 hours, as the GOP establishment is pressuring him to do, at least his timing will be impeccable. Missouri state law allows a nominated candidate to withdraw his or her bid for office by 5 p.m. on the 11th Tuesday before the election which, as it turns out, is tomorrow. If Akin does drop his bid before tomorrow’s deadline, the state’s GOP central committee would pick his replacement. This statutory fact alone is why Republicans — from National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — are coalescing around a 24-hour ultimatum.
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.
A battle between leaders of the two parties over campaign finance rules intensified this week as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) accused Republicans of flat-out threatening the Internal Revenue Service after they warned the agency not to tighten oversight of anonymous money groups misusing the tax code. The squabble is about how forcefully to crack down on groups approved under special 501(c)(4) tax status by claiming to primarily engage in “social welfare,” but which pour significant resources into political activities. Democrats want a strict cap on how much money they may spend for politics; Republicans prefer the ambiguity of the status quo. Beneath the issue is a sea of anonymous spending in which pro-GOP groups are drowning Democrats. By using 501(c)(4) status, these “political charities” are allowed to keep their donors anonymous, leaving voters unable to evaluate which interests might be funding ads or what their motives are.
National: Senate Republicans block Democratic bill to require disclosure of large political donors | The Washington Post
Senate Republicans blocked Democratic-backed legislation requiring organizations pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaign ads to disclose their top donors and the amounts they spend. GOP opposition prevented Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to bring what is known as the Disclose Act to the Senate floor. The vote was 51-44. Democrats revived the act during a presidential election campaign in which political action committees and nonprofit organizations, funded by deep-pocketed and largely anonymous contributors, are dominating the airwaves with largely negative political ads. Another version of the Disclose Act passed the then-Democratic-controlled House in 2010 but was similarly blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Republicans cite First Amendment rights and say the bill favors unions in opposing the legislation.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted unanimously Monday and again on Tuesday to block adoption of the Disclose Act, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s legislation to require disclosure of political donations of more than $10,000 within 24 hours of the money being spent. The votes were no less remarkable for having been predictable. For years, congressional Republicans had vowed that disclosure of donations and spending was the one sure route to an honest campaign-finance system. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the field general who for two decades has organized the party’s attacks on campaign-finance regulation, including the McCain-Feingold reforms, once spoke eloquently of the sanctity of the First Amendment and of the merits of disclosure. What’s more, because McConnell in the 1990s had also come around to opposing constitutional amendments against flag burning, he had credibility as a First Amendment champion.
During their long campaign to loosen rules on campaign money, conservatives argued that there was a simpler way to prevent corruption: transparency. Get rid of limits on contributions and spending, they said, but make sure voters know where the money is coming from. Today, with those fundraising restrictions largely removed, many conservatives have changed their tune. They now say disclosure could be an enemy of free speech. High-profile donors could face bullying and harassment from liberals out to “muzzle” their opponents, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a recent speech. Corporations could be subject to boycotts and pickets, warned the Wall Street Journal editorial page this spring. Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News. “I think it’s shameful.” Rove helped found American Crossroads, a “super PAC,” and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that does not reveal its donors. “Disclosure is the one area where (conservatives) haven’t won,” said Richard Briffault, an election law professor at Columbia Law School. “This is the next frontier for them.”
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.
Addressing what he called “the most important issue in America that nobody is talking about,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned Wednesday that the National Popular Vote movement is “getting dangerously close to achieving their goal of eliminating the Electoral College without actually amending the Constitution — without anybody even noticing, unfortunately, what they’re up to.”
The National Popular Vote is a compact among state legislatures under which they pledge that they’ll award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes nationwide, even if that candidate was not the majority choice of their state’s voters.
So far, California, seven other states, and the District of Columbia (all of which have large Democratic majorities) have passed legislation taking the National Popular Vote pledge. Those states and D.C. account for 132 electoral votes. The compact says it is to take effect when states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes have agreed to it.
An obscure but well-funded campaign to reinvent the Electoral College and elect the president via a national popular vote has alarmed GOP leaders, who have mounted a counterattack with the help of a newly revived nonprofit. The fight over the Electoral College is “the most important issue in America nobody’s talking about,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a Wednesday forum co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the State Government Leadership Foundation, a GOP-friendly nonprofit that has recently unveiled a new website and ramped up its operations.
The National Popular Vote campaign would replace the Electoral College system, which assigns electors to states based on the size of their Congressional delegations and requires a candidate to win at least 270 of 538 electoral votes to become president. Eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that would instead deliver their Electoral College slates to the candidate who won the most popular votes nationwide. The laws will go into effect when enough states pass similar legislation to break the 270-vote threshold.