Citizens United President Claims Decision “Leveled the Playing Field”

Today Right Wing Watch reported on Citizens United president David Bossie bragging that the Supreme Court decision bearing the organization’s name “leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.”

It’s pretty hard to figure how Citizens United, the 2010 decision that opened the floodgates for unlimited outside political spending, could be understood to have “leveled the playing field.” As outside spending has skyrocketed in the years since that disastrous decision, it has become increasingly hard to hear the voices of everyday Americans over the roar of big money. Far from leveling the field, decisions like Citizens United have drastically tilted the field even more toward wealthy special interests and away from ordinary people.

But Bossie is right about one thing: Citizens United certainly had a big impact on the 2014 midterms. In an election where Republicans beat Democrats across the board, the millions spent by conservative outside groups “dwarfed” that spent by liberal groups, Politico’s Kenneth Vogel noted today. “Establishment Republican money finally got what it paid for,” he wrote.

That Bossie is proud of the decision’s impact on an election expected to go down as the most expensive midterm in history reveals a very different agenda behind the conservative organization’s work. Hint: it’s not about a level playing field.
 

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Ensuring accountability in a post­-Citizens United era

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision was quickly followed by warnings of the disastrous consequences of opening the floodgates for corporate spending in future elections, but few would have predicted something as bizarre as what was recently discovered in Delaware.

“Restoring Our Future,” a pro-Romney Super PAC, recently received a generous donation of $1 million from W Spann LLC. However, little is known about the firm that only operated in the state for a period of four months, including even the most basic information about its owners. And experts suggest that this arrangement may well be illegal.

“If they put money into the corporation specifically for the purpose of making a political donation that would constitute, in my view, illegally making a donation to avoid disclosure,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center.

While individuals can of course make contributions to PACs and other political organizations, there are disclosure laws in place to help voters and watchdogs understand where the money is coming from. But because the owners of this corporation don’t need to make their names public, Ryan and others suspect the mysterious firm, W Spann LLC, was set up in order to make a large contribution and avoid disclosing any information about the money’s origins.

Ryan’s group along with other watchdog organizations such as the Public Campaign Action Fund and Democracy are calling on Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden as well as officials from the Justice Department and FEC to look into this questionable conduct. But as we wait to see what happens next, it’s clear that this is yet one more of the many examples illustrating how destructive the Citizens United decision has been to our democracy.

With the important elections in 2012 a little more than a year away, it is incumbent on our elected officials to enact meaningful remedies to ensure the integrity of our elections is protected.

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Who's Who in Today's DOMA Hearing

Cross-posted on RIght Wing Watch

Senate Republicans have called Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, David Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center as witnesses in today’s hearing on the “Defense of Marriage Act.” The groups these witnesses represent have a long record of extreme rhetoric opposing gay rights:

CitizenLink, Focus on the Family’s political arm, is a stalwart opponent of gay rights in every arena:

• Focus on the Family has consistently railed against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, demanding the discriminatory policy’s reinstatement.

• The group claims anti-bullying programs that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived youth in schools amount to “homosexual indoctrination” and “promote homosexuality in kids.”

• The group insists that House Republicans investigate the Justice Department over its refusal to defend the unconstitutional Section 3 of DOMA.

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is backed by the far-right Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch- backed Castle Rock Foundation, all well-known right-wing funders.

• George Weigel of EPPC wrote in June that “legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause.”

• Ed Whelan spearheaded the unsuccessful and widely panned effort to throw out Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision finding California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on the grounds that Walker was in a committed same-sex relationship at the time of the decision.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which bills itself as a right-wing counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, is dedicated to pushing a far-right legal agenda:

• The ADF has been active on issues including pushing "marriage protection," exposing the "homosexual agenda" and fighting the supposed "war on Christmas."

• The ADF claims 38 “victories” before the Supreme Court, including: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money on elections in the name of “free speech” and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), which allowed the Boy Scouts to fire a Scout Leader because he was gay.

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ALEC’s Elections Agenda

Justin wrote earlier today about the trove of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that the Center for Media and Democracy released today. ALEC, which is funded largely by corporate interests, is a driving force behind a whole lot of state-level legislation that helps out big business at the expense of individual citizens – legislation that curtails workers’ rights, undercuts public education and other essential government services and, most importantly, and big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.

The agenda that ALEC helps to spread to state legislatures doesn’t just help give the group’s corporate funders a leg up – it also helps them keep American voters from wresting away any power they have in the electoral process.

The Nation’s John Nichols went through the ALEC legislation and found not only model Voter ID language – variations of which have been introduced in 33 states this year -- but various attempts to keep voters from imposing campaign finance limits:

Beyond barriers to voting, ALEC is also committed to building barriers to direct democracy. Horrified by the success of living-wage referendums and other projects that have allowed voters to enact protections for workers and regulations for businesses, ALEC’s corporate sponsors have pushed to toughen the rules for voter initiatives. “The legislative process should be the principal policy-making vehicle for developing state law,” declares one 2006 resolution, which specifically mentions concerns about state minimum wage laws, taxation and “the funding of other government programs and services.” ALEC’s Resolution to Reform the Ballot Initiatives Process recommends making it harder to qualify referendum language and suggests that proposals on fiscal issues should require supermajorities to become law.

ALEC is also determined to ensure that citizens do not have the final say on who is elected president, an agenda outlined in such documents as its Resolution in Support of the Electoral College and its ardent opposition to the National Popular Vote project (which it has warned would “nationalize elections and unravel Federalism”). A related resolution encourages state legislatures to formally complain that an interstate compact to defer to the popular will “would allow a candidate with a plurality—however small—to become President.” While ALEC worries about the candidate with the most votes winning, it has no problem with policies that increase the likelihood that the candidate with the most money and corporate support will prevail. Its 2009 Resolution Supporting Citizen Involvement in Elections bluntly “opposes all efforts to limit [citizen] involvement by limiting campaign contributions.” A resolution approved last year expresses support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. ALEC even opposes moves to give shareholders a say in the expenditure of corporate funds on campaigning. At the same time, ALEC urges legislators to fight the “federal takeover” of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.

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Disclosure Critics are Missing the Point

Legislative efforts to combat the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizen’s United decision, which opened the door to unlimited, secretive spending by shadowy groups, have been having a tough time getting past corporate lobbyists and Republicans in Congress. First, Congress failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would have shed light on the secretive groups that funnel corporate money into American politics. Then, last April they put up such a fuss about a leaked executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their political spending that the order was put on hold.

Now, another effort to bring some accountability back into post-Citizens United elections is meeting with a predictable response. As reported by Mother Jones, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced an amendment last Thursday to a defense authorization bill that would legislatively accomplish the proposed Executive Order’s goals. However, such proposals have been criticized by Republicans in Congress such as Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) for attempting to politicize the contract procurement process. Such critics are missing the point, as Rep. Eshoo points out, because “When contractors can spend money in elections, the contracting process is already politicized.”

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Don’t Speak: The Supreme Court’s New Theory of Free Speech in Elections

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they want to influence elections. Yesterday, the Court ruled that wealthy candidates and campaign donors have the First Amendment right not to have their spending matched by their opponents.

Welcome to the new logic of free speech in elections.

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that a crucial provision of Arizona’s landmark clean elections law, which provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates who are up against particularly well-financed opponents, to be unconstitutional. Why? Because the provision to put publicly financed candidates on even footing with their privately financed opponents “chills” the speech of wealthy individuals and groups who want to pour money into elections.

Yes, if you’re a wealthy person or interest group looking to buy an impact in an election, you might be put off by knowing that, because of matching funds, you would never be able to overwhelm a publicly funded opponent into comparative silence. But, looking at it from the other side, if you’re a candidate who wants to spend your campaign talking to voters rather than donors, you might hesitate to take public financing if you knew you would never be able to even come close the funds of your opponent – without matching funds, the public financing system is all but useless. By taking away the mechanism by which a greater number of candidates can make their voices heard, the Court has stifled speech, rather than protected it.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a zinger-laden dissent, took on the majority’s “more speech is less speech” argument:

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona's anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the "opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people."

People For’s Marge Baker had this to say:

The Roberts Court has once again twisted the Constitution to benefit the wealthy and powerful while leaving ordinary Americans with a diminished voice. Like in Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited legislatures from limiting corporate spending to influence elections, the Court’s majority has strayed from the text and history of the Constitution in order to prevent citizens from maintaining control over our democracy. The Roberts Court would do well to remember that the Constitution was written to protect democracy for all people, not just the rich and powerful. Today it has ruled not only that the wealthy have a right to spend more but that they have a right that everyone else spend less.


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Netroots Nation Panel: After Citizens United: Combating Corporate Power in Elections

A year and a half after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, many Americans are upset about the increased corporate power in elections, but are often at a loss about what to do about it. People For will be hosting a panel at Netroots Nation this weekend exploring ways progressives can harness the energy of those who are fed up with unchecked corporate power:

After Citizens United: Combating Corporate Power in Elections
Thursday, June 16th 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
Panel, L100 I

The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. FEC handed corporate interests enormous unchecked power in the democratic process. Last November, in the first election since the decision, we saw its real results: outside groups, many of whom kept their donors secret, poured unprecedented amounts of money into campaigns to elect pro-corporate members of Congress. Now, as the GOP House majority attempts to pass radical deregulation and slash social services, corporate interests are seeing a powerful return on their investments. This panel will explore ways that progressives can harness the widespread anger about Citizens United to create strong state- and local-level movements, find solutions at the federal level and prevent corporations from buying the 2012 elections.

The panelists include former Mother Jones publisher Jay Harris, journalist Laura Flanders, United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard, The Nation correspondent John Nichols and Huffington Post reporter Amanda Terkel.

For background on the post-Citizens United elections economy, take a look at our report, Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy.

And if you’re in Minneapolis for the conference, stop by our booth in the exhibit hall to say hello and pick up some PFAW swag.

 

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Judge Rules that Corporations Can Give Directly to Candidates

And the Citizens United slippery slope continues…

A judge has ruled that the campaign-finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision last year in his analysis.

In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of an indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton's Senate and presidential campaigns.

Cacheris says that under the Citizens United decision, corporations enjoy the same rights as individuals to contribute to campaigns.

The ruling from the federal judge in Virginia is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to corporate spending on campaigning by independent groups, like ads run by third parties to favor one side, not to direct contributions to the candidates themselves.

...

"(F)or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech," Cacheris wrote in his 52-page opinion. "Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within (the law's) limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing."

Judge Cacheris – one of President Reagan’s earliest judicial nominees – acknowledged that another court addressing the issue has ruled that Citizens United does not invalidate a ban on corporate campaign contributions.

If the ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates were to be struck down by the Supreme Court, it would deal the biggest blow yet to federal clean elections laws that have been in place for over a century.

The first election after Citizens United turned into a corporate spending free-for-all. But it was just the beginning of what, without correction, may be a new regressive era of money in politics.
 

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New Corporate-Funded ‘Super PAC’ Created By The Man Who Helped Make Citizens United Possible

GOP activist James Bopp Jr. has played a critical role in eviscerating campaign finance regulations throughout his career as a Republican attorney. He successfully argued in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life that Congress couldn’t prevent corporations from using money from their general treasuries on so-called “issue ads,” and he initially represented the right-wing group Citizens United in the landmark case that ushered in massive corporate involvement in politics (although he did not argue the case in Supreme Court).

After fighting for the power of corporations to increase their already-substantial role in public affairs, now Bopp is launching a pro-GOP political group that seeks to cash-in on the glut of corporate money. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that Bopp is one of the founders of the newly formed Republican Super PAC and is set to expand corporate involvement in politics to an even greater degree by having candidates participate in the fundraising for undisclosed corporate dollars:

"The different thing here with our PAC is that we are going to harness the political fundraising of candidates and parties," he says. He explains that the committee will allow candidates and parties to fundraise for their campaigns and party organs at the same time they solicit unlimited, anonymous contributions to the super PAC.

Here's how it works: Say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approaches the CEO of Exxon for a contribution to his reelection campaign. Under federal law, the CEO can only give Boehner $2,500. In the past, that’s the end of the conversation. But Bopp's plan envisions Boehner and his campaign asking that same donor—and his company—to pony up more money, as much as he wants, for the Republican Super PAC. The donor can even specify that the money be spent supporting Boehner or attacking his opponent. Then Bopp's PAC can buy ads, send out mailings, canvass neighborhoods, and do all the other things a political campaign typically does on Boehner’s behalf.



The Republican Super PAC is the logical outgrowth of Citizens United and a series of other recent court decisions that have overturned long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Bopp says these rulings allow his new group to go into uncharted campaign finance terrain. "This is perfectly legal," Bopp insists.
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Small Businesses Rally Support for Campaign Finance Transparency

The Obama administration is planning to issue an executive order that would require government contractors to disclose their political contributions. This will at least shed light on whether taxpayer dollars are used to influence elections now that, because of the Citizens United decision, corporations -- including government contractors -- are permitted to spend unlimited money from their general treasuries on elections.

Of course, massive corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would prefer that these political donations remain a secret in order to preserve their enormous advantage in our current pay-to-play system.

It’s no surprise that their staunch ally Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform committee, is holding yet another politically-motivated hearing, with a stacked witness list, to find out if “President Obama’s proposal would curb free speech and hurt small businesses.”

A coalition of representatives from the American Independent Business Alliance, the American Small Business Council, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and small business owners find this suggestion laughable. In a press telebriefing held this morning, the panel described how it is in fact the exact opposite—the current scenario in which large corporations make political contributions without disclosure requirements – that is detrimental to small business.

Panelists expressed their dismay at how government contracts are awarded to large corporations, when small businesses can provide a better product at significantly lower cost. They wonder what they have to do to get the same sweetheart deals that the large companies with deep pockets and lobbying shops are getting. The problem is that we’ll never know unless these corporations are forced to disclose their political contributions. The fact that they won’t shows that they have something to hide—and Americans would surely demand better stewardship of their tax dollars if they knew that their money was ultimately being used for political purposes instead of on services to benefit the public interest. As Marybeth Gardam, owner of EarthStuff LLC summarized, “Transparency is a small business value.”

It is also an American value, and one that we should demand throughout our political system.

People For president Michael Keegan has more on the disclosure proposal in the Huffington Post.

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