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Entries in Montana (2)

Monday
Jun252012

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

Monday
Feb132012

Scott Brown’s Anti-Third Party Pact Written By Third Party

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and his chief 2012 rival, Elizabeth Warren, made history when they signed a “People’s Pledge” to limit the influence of third-party interest groups and Super PACs in their hotly watched Senate race.

But with the ink still wet, the newly minted Massachusetts pact is already unraveling.  The pledge by Brown, a Republican, and Warren, a Democrat, to expel third-party interest groups from their race was written by one of the third-party groups the pledge sought to block, The Huffington Post reported Monday.

The pledge that Brown sent out to reporters as a Microsoft Word document was created by Sean Caincross, the top lawyer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to the document’s electronic signature.

The NRSC is a national group that works to elect Republicans to the Senate. The group’s spokesman, Brian Walsh, told The Huffington Post that NRSC’s involvement “shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

“As with our Democratic counterparts, the NRSC frequently provides advice and counsel to all of our campaigns,” Walsh said.

As the Massachusetts anti-PAC pact falters, a similar attempt to implement an anti-outside-influence agreement in the Montana Senate race crumbled Monday.

Incumbent Sen. Jon Tester challenged his Republican rival Rep. Denny Rehberg to sign an agreement last week to reject donations or money spent on their behalf from third-party groups outside of Montana.

“It’s a shame that third-party organizations are allowed to pollute our records and drag our character through the mud with no transparency and no accountability,” Tester wrote Wednesday in a letter to Rehberg. “Let’s let only you and me -- and our campaigns -- do the work of illuminating the issues and the differences that separate us.”

Rehberg responded Friday by taking Tester’s pledge a step farther. Instead of only limiting money from out-of-state groups, Rehberg also wanted to block donations from lobbyists and political action committees and called for both campaigns to return any money already received by such people or organizations.

Tester rejected the counterproposal Monday, saying Rehberg can’t be trusted to adhere to such an agreement. Tester’s campaign manager, Preston Elliott, said in a statement that Rehberg’s response was “just more dishonest politics.”

Erik Iverson, Rehberg’s campaign manager, denounced Tester’s decision Monday evening.

“By rejecting that proposal Senator Tester is admitting there simply isn’t enough support in Montana for the failed policies he and President Obama have given us,” Iverson said in a statement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio