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.
Over the past year, campaign finance reformers—including Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer and Campaign Legal Center president (and Stephen Colbert’s “personal lawyer”) Trevor Potter—have notched several important wins. Don’t call it a full-fledged comeback. But the reformers’ recent victories signal that Bopp & Co.’s once-unstoppable momentum may finally be slowing. The reformers’ biggest recent win came in March, when a federal judge struck down a loophole that had let groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity run ads without disclosing their donors. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and several pro-reform groups had sued the Federal Election Commission, arguing the loophole contradicted disclosure laws passed by Congress. Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed. A month later, Berman Jackson refused to delay her ruling from going into effect, thus forcing dark-money groups to rework their advertising strategies in order to keep donors secret.
Full Article: The Reformers Strike Back! | Mother Jones.