“Colbert Super PAC” exposed the troubling realities of money in politics more effectively than any PSA. But the crippling flaws in our campaign finance system that it was created to highlight have not abated in the years since—in fact, they’ve worsened substantially. The massive $144 million that Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls collectively raised in the third quarter of this year doesn’t include the untold millions funneled into their super PACs by deep-pocketed donors. When those numbers are disclosed in January, they will undoubtedly reveal that the money flowing to shifty outside groups is larger than ever. That is not even to count the funds being raised and spent in this election by candidate-allied nonprofit organizations, whose finances we will see, only in part, after the election is over. A little over a year after the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I appeared on national television to walk Stephen Colbert through the legal intricacies of establishing his super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and his dark money 501(c)(4), Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Shhh. Though my appearances on his show were no more than a few minutes each, during our discussions Stephen demonstrated his uncanny ability to take a complex, nuanced problem and distill it down to the absurd facts at its core. For example, one particularly memorable exchange from my first appearance came after I reminded him of the applicable regulations if he chose to form a PAC.
Editorials: To Get Ahead in Congress: Skip Governing, Raise Money | Trevor Potter and Meredith McGehee/Politico
When Congress returns from recess next week, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who resigned after Politico raised questions about his mileage reimbursements, will not return with it. Before Schock becomes a footnote in history, it’s worth reflecting on how he represents everything wrong with the way Congress raises money. The dismissals of Schock as simply a “show horse, not a work horse,” to use the old phrase, misses the more interesting—and disturbing—story. The rise and fall of Schock embodies the reality of the current campaign finance system. Members are now valued by the Leadership and fellow Members because of their fundraising prowess, not their legislating abilities. Aaron Schock will only be missed in Congress for his ability to raise significant amounts of money for himself and his party. Known for connecting himself and others with big donors, he had little time to do any of the things he was elected to do by his constituents in Peoria, nor paid to do by all of us taxpayers.
Editorials: The Supreme Court needs to get smarter about politics | Trevor Potter/The Washington Post
At one point during the oral argument Tuesday in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that he didn’t understand the legislation in question. “This campaign finance law is so intricate that I can’t figure it out,” he said. “It might have been nice to have the, you know, the lower court tell me what the law is.” Scalia meant to be playful. But as the argument progressed, it became clear that the justices really don’t know enough about money in politics. They expressed skepticism about “wild hypotheticals that are not obviously plausible” — when in fact we’ve already seen those scenarios play out. They talked a lot about the FEC’s “earmarking” and “coordination” rules, but they didn’t seem to recognize that those rules are impossible to police and that a dysfunctional FEC isn’t doing much policing anyway. And the conservatives on the court seemed to fail to understand what leads to corruption or the appearance of corruption — with Justice Samuel Alito going so far as to suggest that giving a very large check to a political fundraising committee isn’t inherently a problem, because the committee could take the money and burn it. “Well, they’re not,” replied Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. “They are not going to burn it.”
Editorials: A Simple Plan to Drastically Improve Voting, Stop Fraud, and Save Money | Trevor Potter/The Atlantic
Bipartisan agreements seem possible on immigration and perhaps even on guns. Could election reform be next? Is there an opportunity to move past the partisan rancor of the voting wars and modernize America’s out-of-date election system? We all know it needs improvement. Long lines on Election Day are only the most visible symptom, as some voters from Florida to Virginia to Ohio waited up to seven hours to make their voice heard in last year’s election. The culprit often turns out to be the old-fashioned, paper-based registration system used across the country. According to the Pew Center on the States, approximately 51 million Americans are not registered to vote but should qualify to do so. One in eight registrations contain errors or are no longer valid. Nearly 2 million dead people appear on the voter rolls. In 2008, estimates are that at least 3 million voters who thought they were registered showed up at the polls, only to be turned away because of registration problems.