Conservatives, As Well As Liberals, Can't Stand Big Money in Politics

 The unpopularity of our post-Citizens United campaign finance system knows no partisan bounds. As wealthy donors have continued to pump larger and larger amounts of money into our elections, a vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, have decided that the system needs to be changed. Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans want more disclosure by outside spending groups, and only 12 percent of Republicans believe that the new campaign finance laws have made the process of nominating presidential candidates better.

 While many in Washington treat this as a partisan issue, at the local and state levels, Republican officials have joined the fight to get money out of politics.  Resolutions urging Congress to adopt an amendment that would set limits on campaign expenditures passed in statehouses with bipartisan support, and 159 Republican officials mostly at the state level have stated their opposition to the Citizens United decision. Now, conservative grassroots activists are starting to turn their attention to this issue.  

 Last Friday, conservatives from organizations such as the Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute met at a forum titled “Finding Common Ground on Money-In-Politics in Washington,” where they explored ways to improve the campaign finance system that could appeal to Americans on both sides of the aisle. Some ideas floated were to reform the makeup of the gridlocked Federal Election Commission, to better enforce bans on foreign contributions to elections, and to incentivize small donations through tax credits.

 

“To leave the field void, to say no one on the right is talking about money in politics, I think is a problem,” said John Pudner, a GOP strategist and executive director of Take Back Our Republic, an organization that promotes campaign finance reform from a conservative perspective.

 

 Public officials from both major parties have spoken out in favor of campaign finance reform, including Democratic Senator Todd Udall, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Even former Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has expressed her frustration with the “absurd” amount of money in our political system. With the movement to get money out of politics enjoying bipartisan support, it’s only a matter of time until this passion turns into real reform at the legislative level.

 

PFAW

Jeb Bush, Of All People, Says He Wants Lobbying Reform

On Monday, July 20th Jeb Bush announced that he wants to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. by setting a six-year moratorium on former members of Congress registering as lobbyists.  Bush said, ““We need to help politicians rediscover life outside of Washington… which — who knows? — might even be a pleasant surprise for them.” His comedic interjection is an indication of the stance he has decided to take on this issue, posing as a Beltway outsider who can see, and wants to reform, Washington’s corruption.

But Bush is anything but a political outsider. His father and brother spent a combined 20 years in the White House and he was Florida’s governor for eight years, after which he became a political consultant. Neither is he rejecting the money that lobbyists are currently collecting on his behalf: he has eight lobbyists working together to raise more than $228,000 for his campaign. That’s on top of his efforts to skirt campaign finance rules by spending months raising millions of dollars for a superPAC that purports not to coordinate with his own presidential campaign. Bush is the ultimate establishment candidate, regardless of whether or not he has spent time on the Hill.

And while this specific proposal is well and good, it’s also glaringly insufficient. The reforms Bush supports would not stop much of the lobbying that does occur in Washington. The six-year ban would only apply to registered lobbyists, a designation easily avoided by not engaging in specific activities or spending less than 20 percent of one’s time actually lobbying. There are simply too many loopholes Bush’s plan would not cover for real reform to occur.

Jeb Bush made this announcement in an effort to capture some of the grassroots anger at the role of money in politics. But, hopefully it will also ignite some real debate and raise public awareness of the reforms we would need to make a meaningful difference.

PFAW

Yet Another Poll Shows Americans’ Frustration With Big Campaign Spending

 As the primaries for the 2016 elections get closer, we can expect to see the effects of big money in politics – the new normal after the 2010 Citizens United decision – in full force. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised $114 million through both his campaign and Right to Rise, a super PAC backing him. With the Koch brothers alone already pledging to raise $889 million through their network of wealthy donors, it’s likely that this election’s expenditures will well exceed the over $1 billion spent in the 2012 federal elections. As a result, many Americans are fed up with this new campaign finance system.

 A Monmouth University survey released yesterday revealed that only 10 percent of Americans say that the influx of campaign spending post Citizens United has made the presidential nominating process better. Further, 42 percent expressed concern that the new campaign finance landscape makes it more likely that an unqualified or unserious candidate would be able to stay in the race longer.

 These statistics are hardly surprising. A New York Times poll showed that 85 percent of Americans think that the campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be “completely rebuil[t].” In addition, three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would limit campaign spending, and 5 million have signed a petition in favor of such an amendment. All around the country, Americans are organizing to let their legislators know that they’re tired of big money’s undue influence in their elections.

 “The public is starting to worry that the Wild West nature of campaign finance is damaging the way we choose presidential candidates,” said Patrick Murray, the polling institute’s director. 

 

 With the public standing strong against letting the wealthy few buy their elections, a national conversation about the harmful effects of Citizens United is taking place, blazing a trail for real reform.

PFAW

Organizations Unite in Fight Against Big Money

Today PFAW and 11 other organizations released “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Agenda,” a money in politics reform agenda directed at 2016 presidential candidates. The memo details a specific set of policies and encourages candidates to commit to supporting them.

Goals of the agenda include amplifying the voices of everyday Americans through meaningful contribution limits, real-time disclosure of political contributions, overturning cases like Citizens United through the Democracy For All constitutional amendment, and enforcing existing campaign finance laws to help ensure that money is not allowed to overshadow the priorities of the people.

According to the agenda:

The size of your wallet should not determine the strength of your political voice. But, in a long series of decisions beginning with Buckley v. Valeo and escalating with Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has cemented a flawed reading of our Constitution that strips the ability of We the People to impose common sense limits on election spending.

"Fighting Big Money, Empowering People” has been distributed to every announced 2016 candidate, many of whom have already voiced their support for fighting big money in elections. It’s time to move from rhetoric toward a commitment to specific, comprehensive solutions.

You can share the graphic below to show your solidarity with getting big money out of politics and returning power to everyday Americans. Together we can make a democracy where everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules.


PFAW

The Vice President Calls for Action to Fight Big Money in Politics

Last week the fight against big money in politics received renewed, and passionate, support from Vice President Joe Biden. During a speech to young activists at the Make Progress summit on July 16th, Biden issued a call to action:

"We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money. We can demand that the people we support don't yield to millionaires and billionaires. [Instead, they can] take their money in limited amounts, but what are we doing?"

The Obama administration has already declared its support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (2010), but the Vice President called for a more immediate form of action: holding candidates accountable. "Folks, we ought to start in our own party. You ought to be demanding of all of us, all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn't rest on millionaires and billionaires."

This was a speech tailored to mobilize activists who have been part of a slow fight since 2010. Although progress has been made, with over 650 cities, 16 states, and 73% of Americans in support of a constitutional amendment, we have yet to see any real change in the way campaigns are funded. The 2016 presidential race is already seeing the effects of Super PAC funding and that influence will only continue to grow.

Biden clearly intended to inspire a new generation of activists by focusing on what the attendees themselves could do to help fix the system, saying, “If you're ever going to be involved in public service this is the time to do it, because things are changing.”

Hopefully the Vice President’s passion and optimism is an indication of the change that is coming in our campaign finance system. As Vice President Biden put it, the current system of auctioning our elections to the highest bidder is “a hell of a way to run a democracy."

 

PFAW

Campaigns and Their Super PACs: Not As Autonomous As One Would Hope

Thanks to damaging Supreme Court decisions and a gridlocked FEC, Super PACs have become a central element in our presidential elections. Yet, Americans could at least comfort themselves with the notion that these PACs and the candidates they support were at least required to operate independently from one another. A recent article in the Washington Post proves otherwise.

The article argues that a close reading of the Federal Election Commission rules shows that candidates and interest groups can do more than make public statements about their needs and hope their counterparts are listening; they can actually communicate with one another directly. According to the Washington Post piece, “Operatives on both sides can talk to one another directly, as long as they do not discuss candidate strategy. According to an FEC rule, an independent group also can confer with a campaign until this fall about “issue ads” featuring a candidate. Some election-law lawyers think that a super PAC could share its entire paid media plan, as long as the candidate’s team does not respond.” The coordination is more extensive than people imagine, and, apparently, perfectly legal.

But even the lawyers working on this issue do not agree on what is legal and what is not. Phil Cox who works for America Leads (a Super PAC supporting Chris Christie), says, for example, “The system makes no sense. It’s crying out for reform. We need to put the power back in the hands of the candidates and their campaigns, not the outside groups.” Bob Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer, agrees,

“The problem isn’t that the law isn’t being enforced — the problem is that we need to rethink the whole thing from the ground up.”

This coordination is already affecting the 2016 elections. But even beyond returning power to the candidates, we need to return the power of influencing elections back to the people. Because, in the end, it is the people who need to be represented and therefore, heard. Perhaps this regulation avoidance will cause people to realize that it is the system that needs reform.

PFAW

PFAW Members, Local Activists Hold Kelly Ayotte Accountable For Opposing Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

People For the American Way members and other supporters of the movement to get big money out of politics delivered a clear message last night about Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s refusal to support a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United.

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Activists took to the South Willow Street Bridge in Manchester to hold boxes with LED lights to spell out the words “AYOTTE WON’T #GETMONEYOUT.” Ayotte has described a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics as “dangerous” – despite the fact that a majority of New Hampshire voters who support such an amendment.

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Voters in New Hampshire and beyond are increasingly concerned about the amount of money in politics, and the proposed constitutional amendment would dramatically curb political spending to help ensure that our elections can’t be bought by wealthy special interests. New Hampshire activists are committed to holding Ayotte accountable for her refusal to support the movement to undo big money’s corrosive influence on our elections.

 

PFAW

Bush Fundraising Numbers Illustrate The Problem of Big Money in Elections

 Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released his fundraising amount for the upcoming elections. Right to Rise, a Super PAC backing the candidate, announced that it had raised $103 million in the last six months, while Bush’s campaign had raised $11.4 million in the two weeks since his announcement, bringing the fundraising total to a stunning $114 million, 17 months away from Election Day. For comparison, at this point in 2011, Restore our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, had raised only $12.2 million.

 These shocking figures demonstrate the growing influence of big money on our elections and political process. $1 billion was spent in the 2012 federal elections, and the Koch brothers alone vowed to raise at least $889 million in 2016 from other wealthy donors. Since the wealthy have policy views that are strikingly different from that of the rest of Americans, this new system has disturbing implications for the state of democracy in the U.S. A Princeton study found that the viewpoints of the bottom 90 percent of income earners have no significant effect on public policy.

 One particularly troubling aspect of the Right to Rise fundraising numbers is their definition of “small donors” as those who donated less than $25,000. The fact that the Super PAC considers $25,000 to be the cutoff for small donations raises questions of exactly how much the 500 who raised more than that amount donated.

 Most Americans agree that the campaign finance system has gotten out of hand. Three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to set limits on campaign spending, and even presidential candidates such as Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton have stated their support for overturning  cases like Citizens United through a constitutional amendment.  With the American people so determined to maintain the integrity of our elections, a national conversation about the influence big money in politics is unfolding, laying a foundation for real reform in 2016 and beyond.

 

PFAW

Americans Push To Shed Light on Dark Money

 With outside contributions in the 2012 federal elections totaling $1 billion, and with the Koch brothers alone already pledging to spend $889 million from their political network in 2016, it’s no wonder 85 percent of Americans agree that the campaign finance system needs serious reform. A particularly disturbing aspect is the prevalence of “dark money,” or political spending by outside Super PACs and so-called social welfare groups with no disclosure requirements. In the 2014 elections, 31 percent of all independent campaign spending was from groups that had no obligation to disclose their donors.

 Despite deep concern from their constituents, Congress has been hesitant to take action against dark money being funneled into our elections. Though Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Disclose Act, which would require that all organizations disclose their political expenditures, Senate Republicans blocked the Senate majority from being able to vote on it.

 The American people haven’t given up just yet. 73 percent support a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to limit political spending. Further, more than 550,000  have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

 Just this week, advocates for campaign finance reform experienced a major victory when the DC Circuit unanimously upheld the “pay-to-play” provision that bars federal contractors from donating to federal candidates and party committees. In addition, presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham, and Hillary Clinton have all expressed support for removing big money’s electoral influence. 

 “We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people,” said Clinton in her kick-off campaign speech.

 The movement against dark money clouding our elections has experienced a momentous push as Americans demand a more transparent campaign finance system.

 

 

PFAW

Unanimous D.C. Circuit Rejects Attacks on "Pay to Play" Prohibition

The D.C. Circuit did something today it doesn’t do very often:  It issued a unanimous en banc opinion.  All 11 judges on the court, conservative as well as progressive, rejected as meritless an effort to strike down a federal law prohibiting federal contractors from contributing money to federal candidates, parties, or committees.  This common-sense “pay to play” prohibition has been on the books for 75 years and, fortunately, will remain in force.

In Wagner v. Federal Election Commission, the plaintiffs are individuals who are also federal contractors, and they claim their First Amendment rights are violated by the ban.  In an opinion written by Chief Judge Merrick Garland, the court disagreed.  The court showed how the federal ban serves two key governmental interests: (1) preventing real and perceived corruption (even as narrowly defined by the Roberts Court); and (2) protecting merit-based government administration.

The opinion delves in great detail into the history of campaign finance corruption involving contractors, as well as others similarly situated to contractors (such as federal employees).  Decade after decade, from the 19th century to the 21st, the judges take us on a tour of one example after another, on both the state and federal level, of the corrupting influence of money.  It is hard to read this section of the opinion and not want to shower afterward.

Refreshingly, the court doesn’t close its eyes to how the world really works.  For instance, the plaintiffs argued that the introduction of formalized competitive bidding since the ban was passed in 1940 immunized the system from the type of political interference that motivated passage of the statute.  But as several of the examples show, contracting is anything but immune from political interference, including from members of Congress and the executive branch.  As the court writes:

Unlike the corruption risk when a contribution is made by a member of the general public, in the case of contracting there is a very specific quo for which the contribution may serve as the quid:  the grant or retention of the contract.  Indeed, if there is an area that can be described as the “heartland” of such concerns, the contracting process is it.

Today’s opinion applies only to bans on contributions to candidates, parties, and committees; the issue of independent expenditures wasn’t before the court.

But here’s a question to ponder after reading this opinion’s long history of corruption surrounding the nexus of federal contracts and money in politics:  If a contractor publicly giving $100 to a candidate creates an appearance of corruption that can be banned, then why do we let that contractor secretly give $1 million in dark money to some shadowy entity buying ads slamming that candidate’s opponent?  Shouldn’t we know how the money is flowing?  As today’s court ruling shows, federal contractors are right at the nexus of concerns about money in politics.

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