Entries in Citizens United (3)


Corporate Money in State Races Likely After Supreme Court Decision

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court’s decision upholding Citizens United in Montana Monday proved one thing: that corporate money in politics is here to stay.

In a short, anonymous (per curiam) decision, the court effectively ruled 5-4 to invalidate a Montana state law that prohibits corporate spending in connection with candidates and elections, contradicting the Montana Supreme Court’s rejection of a challenge to it.

In doing so, the court upheld its own landmark campaign-finance decision in all 50 states.

“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the majority justices wrote.

In setting that standard, the Supreme Court paved the way for corporations to spend money on elections in other states where, despite the Citizens United ruling, laws still ban the practice. In 2010, 24 states banned election spending by corporations and/or unions, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted.

“Today’s immigration ruling will have a significant impact on our country, but a case can be made that this Montana ruling will have every bit as much of an impact on a larger population, on a larger host of issues, because it now opens up free speech to groups who have in the past been prohibited from being involved in elections,” said GOPAC President David Avella, whose political training group supports Republicans in state and local races.

In states that still ban corporate spending, Avella said super PACs have yet to form, and that independent groups have hesitated to begin using corporate money to support or oppose candidates. Because laws remain on the books, and because it might take a while for state legislatures to remove them following the Supreme Court’s Montana ruling, Avella said corporate money might not flood into state races this year.

“That will be interesting to see, whether it happens in this cycle, whether it happens in the 2012 cycle,” Avella said. “It may take us until the 2014 cycle to start seeing more of a movement that way. Certainly, this ruling has to encourage advocates of free speech to start standing up for their rights at the state level.”

With corporate money cemented into place at the federal and state levels, campaign-finance reformers are left to pursue another issue entirely: disclosure.

With the Montana matter closed, the vanguard of campaign-finance haggling is now being undertaken by the Obama campaign, which is pressing for a disclosure of donors by Crossroads GPS, a prominent, Karl Rove-co-founded 501(c)4 nonprofit group affiliated with but technically separate from the American Crossroads super PAC.

Obama for America and Democratic National Committee General Counsel Robert F. Bauer submitted a complaint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) earlier this month arguing that Crossroads GPS meets certain standards that should require it to begin disclosing the names of its donors to the FEC.

Pursuant to federal law and Supreme Court decisions, a group must disclose its donors’ identities if the group’s “majority purpose” is to influence elections. To avoid crossing that threshold, 501(c)4 groups engage in “issue advocacy” that sometimes involves mentioning candidates, and can look and sound like election activity. Groups claiming 501(c)4 status implicitly maintain that a “majority” of their activity is geared toward “issue advocacy” or some other non-electoral aim.

The Obama campaign contends that Crossroads GPS has crossed that threshold.

“There has never been any doubt about [Crossroads GPS's] true purpose: to elect candidates of its choice to the presidency and the Congress,” Bauer wrote in a letter to the FEC. The complaint cited TV ads, aired in battleground states, in which Crossroads GPS disparaged Democratic candidates, including President Obama, but did not exhort listeners to vote against them.

Obama lodged no such complaints against super PACs and other well-funded groups like unions, who produce the same types of ads in support of him.

The future of this challenge is uncertain. The FEC uses a broad array of factors to determine whether a group like Crossroads GPS must disclose. In its evaluation of the Swiftboat Veterans and POWs for Truth’s 2004 activity, for instance, the FEC announced in 2007 that it had examined statements made to donors, public statements on the group’s website, statements by a member of the group’s steering committee on a news program, and statements in fundraising solicitations. Internal documents are also fair game.

The FEC does not announce its investigations publicly, so it’s unclear whether the commission is looking into the Obama campaign’s complaint. A six-member panel of three Republicans and three Democrats, the FEC has a reputation both for reluctance to police campaign-finance violations and for deadlocking on decisions with partisan implications.

But if it does pursue the matter of disclosure -- with Crossroads GPS, or with other groups of the same ilk -- there’s no guarantee that the FEC will do anything before the November election.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Citizens United’ Bounces Back to Supreme Court

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Will the Supreme Court take another crack at its "Citizens United" ruling?

Justices are scheduled Thursday behind closed doors to discuss Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark 2010 decision holding that corporations can make unlimited independent expenditures using general treasury funds to support or oppose candidates.

Why would the justices revisit a case so soon after ruling on it? Because a lower court -- the Montana Supreme Court -- issued a ruling in 2011 that appears to contradict Citizens United.

The Montana court upheld a ban on corporate spending in Montana state elections, ruling that “unlike Citizens United, this case concerns Montana law, Montana elections and it arises from Montana history.”

The Supreme Court agreed in February to block temporarily, or “stay,” the Montana decision from going into effect until it decides whether to take up the case. Now, parties from both sides have issued written briefs in the case, and the Supreme Court must decide how to deal with it.

Critics of the Montana decision charge that the state’s Supreme Court showed “disrespect for the Constitution.” Lawyer James Bopp Jr. has filed a motion with the Supreme Court urging the justices to reverse the lower court decision with no additional briefs or arguments. That’s called a “summary reversal.”

“This case involves a failure to respect precedent,” Bopp, the Indiana Republican Party National Committeeman, writes. “A state court must not be allowed to force this Court into yet another round of briefing and oral argument on a recently decided issue by refusing to follow controlling precedent.”

But Steve Bullock, Montana’s attorney general, has filed a brief asking the court to agree to hear the Montana case with briefs and oral arguments. “Even on the broadest reading of Citizens United,” he writes in court papers, “this case presents an opportunity for the Court to clarify its applications.”

And Bullock is not the only one who hopes the court will agree to grant a full hearing and perhaps a second look at Citizens United.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer (both dissenters in Citizens United), agreed in February that the court should temporarily block the Montana decision from going into effect. The “stay” was necessary “because lower courts are bound to follow this court’s decisions,” Ginsburg said.

But she also quoted a key passage of Citizens United and wrote, “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations, ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’”

She said she hoped the court would agree to hear the case and decide whether “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

The court could issue its decision as early as Monday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Divided Court Strikes Down Provision of Ariz. Public Financing Law

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In its first major campaign finance ruling since Citizen’s United, a divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a key provision of an Arizona public financing law.

The law allows a candidate who qualifies for public financing to receive a lump sum grant from the government if he or she refuses to accept private contributions. It also says that participating candidates can qualify for additional matching funds from the government if their opponents -- who chose not to participate in public funding -- spend more than the initial grant.

In its opinion the majority targeted this so called “trigger mechanism” and found that it violated the free speech rights of non participating candidates.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for himself and the four other conservatives on the bench, wrote the matching funds provision “substantially burdens the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups without serving a compelling state interest.”

He said that laws “like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand.”

But Justice Elena Kagan, who argued the Citizen’s United case on behalf of the government before becoming a Supreme Court Justice, issued a forceful dissent on behalf of herself and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.

She emphasized that the law was passed in order to stem corruption.

“The First Amendment’s core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant, political system full of robust discussion and debate” she wrote.

Kagan who took the unusual step of reading her dissent from the bench said,  “No fundamental principle of our Constitution backs the Court’s ruling; to the contrary it is the law struck down today that fostered both the vigorous competition of ideas and its ultimate object -- a government responsive to the will of the people. Arizona deserves better.”

The law, the Citizens Clean Elections Act, was passed in 1998 following a string of corruption scandals in the state. The ruling will affect public financing laws in several other states with similar trigger mechanisms, but it won’t affect those public financing systems, such as the presidential system, that do not. The ruling leaves standing a 1976 Supreme Court decision that found public financing in general was constitutional.

Supporters of the plan argued it helped to prevent corruption while also encouraging candidates to take public financing and promoting competition in races. The matching funds provided by the government are capped at three times the initial grant.  

But opponents said it was a violation of the rights of the free speech rights of the non-participant candidates.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio