The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision today dealt another serious blow to the regulation of money in politics. In its 5-4 decision, the Court struck down the federal aggregate contribution limits, which restrict the amount one person can contribute to all candidates, parties, and political committees combined. As a result, one person can now give more than $3.6 million to one party’s candidates and committees in a single election cycle (under the limits, one could give “only” $123,200 per election cycle). With a sufficiently sophisticated joint fundraising apparatus, this money could be given in response to a solicitation from a single party leader.
While this is troubling by itself, the more sinister part of the decision lies in the groundwork the decision laid for future money in politics cases.
The Court doubled down on its holding that corruption only includes contributions given with the expectation of receiving official action in return — essentially a direct bribe in the guise of a political contribution. The Court also acknowledged that contributions can be used to gain ingratiation with and access to government officials while not reaching the level of outright bribery. But the Court praised this relationship rather than condemning it:
“We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford. . . . They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”
This vision of the Constitution is wrong. It elevates wealthy donors who can afford to buy influence over 99.99 percent of Americans, who have an equal right to representation. Although the Court may talk in the language of protecting constituents, the outcome is clear — big donors can give to however many candidates they want, regardless of whether they can vote for those candidates or would be constituents of those candidates. This case is about big money, not constituents.
Beyond this, the overtones of the decision suggested that contribution limits may be subject to harsher constitutional scrutiny in the future. If the Court changes this standard for review, it will be more difficult to successfully defend contribution limits from First Amendment challenges in future cases. The Campaign Legal Center’s Trevor Potter describes this danger in a blog post that predates the McCutcheon decision.
There are still meaningful ways to limit the power of big money in our political system. We need to enact disclosure laws to eliminate dark money, elevate the voices of ordinary voters through small donor public financing, strengthen rules against coordinated spending and the circumvention contribution limits, and ensure existing rules are enforced.
But until then, even more money will flow directly to candidates, further marginalizing average voters at the expense of the wealthy. While this is just the latest step in a long line of recent cases weakening our campaign finance system, the decision strongly signals that more is still yet to come.
By: David Earley, Brennan Center For Justice, April 2, 2014
“It is time to Draft Ted Cruz for president,” says RedState diarist “razshafer,” and to that end, Raz has established RunTedRun.com, and an affiliated Draft Ted Cruz for President PAC. Raz is, Dave Weigel explains, Ted Cruz’s (now former) regional director Raz Shafer, and not just some person using Cruz’s name to convince conservatives to send along their lucrative email addresses.
Here is part of Shafer’s pitch:
I know there are other candidates who may run as conservatives, but I believe Ted Cruz has demonstrated that he’s the only consistent conservative who will do what it takes to roll back Barack Obama’s agenda. He’s the only one who has the passion, principles, and courage needed to deliver real results for Americans.
I’ve never spoken to Ted about him running for president and I honestly don’t know if he will do it, but I do know he won’t succeed unless freedom-loving Americans like you and me begin organizing this effort now.
Ted Cruz is the people’s candidate and we need to be the ones driving the effort to elect him.
So if you’re ready to be proud of your vote again and you agree that Ted Cruz should run for president, please do three things:
Go to RunTedRun.com and sign the official Draft Ted Cruz for President petition.
Urge your friends and family to join you.
Donate whatever you can to help us spread the word and build support.
My advice, even if you do support Ted Cruz and think he should run for president, is don’t do any of this. It is a waste of your time and you will be exploited. Your name and contact information will be sold. You will have no effect whatsoever on Cruz’s decision to run for president or not. Your monetary donation will have no effect whatsoever on Ted Cruz’s potential 2016 electoral chances.
Unless you have a lot of money, and giving that money to politicians is how you gain access to those politicians in order to convince them to advance your agenda, most of the time you shouldn’t give money to politicians. Especially credible presidential candidates and sitting members of Congress. Mainly because most presidential candidates and sitting members of Congress are awful, but also because generally they already have a lot of money, have access to more money, and don’t need yours. (Again, this all assumes you’re not very rich. The very rich waste plenty of money on losers and dumb causes, but they can afford it. Plus, many of their political investments show some pretty impressive returns.)
You really shouldn’t donate money — or give away your contact information — to shady (or even reputable!) organizations devoted to “drafting” someone or other to run for president. Especially if the person they are drafting is probably already going to run and doesn’t need some sort of pseudo-grass-roots demonstration of mass appeal and fundraising ability. Ted Cruz knows he is popular and can raise money and he probably will at least pretend to run for president, unless he decides it would be more lucrative to just be a right-wing media star, in which case you have still wasted your money.
This isn’t just about Ted Cruz! Hillary Clinton is almost definitely running for president too, and she really doesn’t need your support. She has a vast fundraising network and national campaign experience; you don’t need to sign a petition (or, god forbid, write a check) to nudge her toward deciding to run again. She has already done extensive polling on the subject of whether Americans are “ready for Hillary,” and (I can’t stress this enough) she has very rich friends who will write her much bigger checks than you will.
Sometimes, these PACs or other groups dedicated to drafting someone to run for office are truly aimed at convincing reluctant candidates that they have enough already existing support to make a presidential campaign feasible. In that case, your name and donation could make a real difference! And then you end up with Wesley Clark 2004. But for the most part, national politicians don’t need or deserve your money, and people running officially unaffiliated outside groups shouldn’t be gifted your valuable data. Don’t draft anyone.
By: Alex Parene, Salon, March 20, 2014
“The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways”: FEC Investigation Into Michele Bachmann’s Election Campaign Now Focusing On Marcus
In 2011, Michele Bachmann claimed God spoke to her and told her to run for president. Apparently, the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Minnesota Congresswoman’s presidential campaign was a disaster on the inside even more than on the outside, as evidenced by all the ethics investigations she’s facing. Now Marcus Bachmann, the Congresswoman’s husband, is the subject of a Federal Elections Commission investigation, according to the New York Times.
“The latest is a federal inquiry into whether an outside ‘super PAC’ improperly coordinated strategy with Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign staff, including her husband, in violation of election laws,” the Times reports
In a complaint to the F.E.C. in February, Peter Waldron, a Florida Republican operative hired to enlist evangelical Iowa pastors, described overhearing the president of the super PAC ask Brett O’Donnell, a senior campaign adviser, about radio and TV stations.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Waldron said Mr. O’Donnell had replied, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Election law prohibits substantial coordination, though not all contacts, between campaigns and super PACS, Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Waldron, who calls himself a whistle-blower, also disclosed an e-mail from Mr. Bachmann describing a phone call Mr. Bachmann made to a donor asking for $7,000. In the e-mail, Mr. Bachmann wrote that the donor had agreed to give the money through the super PAC. He concluded: “Praise the Lord!! Thank you Peter for your servant leadership.”
Mr. Ryan said the call appeared to violate a rule against campaign staff members raising more than $5,000 for a super PAC.
Even the Times notes Waldron “has a controversial past,” and adds:
In 2006 he was jailed briefly in Uganda for possession of assault rifles, according to news reports. In the 1990s he led a Florida youth charity that received more than $600,000 in state and local grants before it collapsed amid questions about its effectiveness, according to The St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times.
But there’s so much more.
Waldron, who one year before the 2012 elections announced that the Holy Ghost had told him Michele Bachmann is the one for president, just published a new book, Bachmannistan: Behind The Lines, that claims Rep. Bachmann fired a staffer who had seven children, and another on the way, on Christmas eve.
Christian family values?
By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, September 6, 2013
“Fighting Big Money With Big Money”: Until Citizens United Overturned, Best Way Out Of Our Dilemma Is To Democratize The Money Game
If you are tired of seeing the debate on guns dominated by the National Rifle Association and yearn for sensible weapons laws, you have to love New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When most politicians were caving in or falling silent, there was Bloomberg, wielding his fortune to keep hope alive that we could move against the violence that blights our nation.
But imagine that you also believe the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a disaster for representative government because a narrow majority broke with long precedent and tore down the barriers to corporate money in politics. The decision also encouraged the super-rich to drop any inhibitions about using their wealth to push their own political agendas.
When it comes to policy, I fall into both of these camps — pro-Bloomberg on guns but anti-Citizens United. So I have been pondering the issue of consistency or, as some would see it, hypocrisy.
Put aside that the hypocrisy question rarely is raised against those who defend unlimited contributions except when the big bucks are wielded against them. Can I be grateful for what Bloomberg is doing and still loathe Citizens United? I say: Yes.
Are opponents of Citizens United and the new super PAC world required to disown those who use their wealth to fight for causes we believe in? I say: No.
To begin with, even before Citizens United, the regulations on “issue advertising” — most of what Bloomberg is doing now — were quite permissive for activities outside the period shortly before elections. The Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision already had given wealthy individuals such as Bloomberg a great deal of leeway.
And, unlike those who donate large amounts anonymously, Bloomberg is entirely open about what he’s up to. He is simply offsetting the political might of the arms manufacturers.
Supporters of universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines simply cannot be asked to repudiate the help they need to face down the power of the gun lobby.
To put it in an unvarnished way, I’m glad some members of Congress will have to think about whether enraging Bloomberg is more dangerous than angering the NRA. And Bloomberg’s advertising serves to remind politicians inclined to yield to the gun lobby that their constituents support universal background checks by margins of around 9 to 1.
The Supreme Court has stuck us with an unsavory choice. If the only moneyed people giving to politics are pushing for policies that favor the wealthy, we really will become an oligarchy. For now, their pile of dough needs to be answered by progressive rich people who think oligarchy is a bad idea.
But playing the game as it’s now set up should not blind anyone to how flawed its rules are. Politics should not be reduced to a contest between liberal rich people and conservative rich people. A donor derby tilts politics away from the interests and concerns of the vast majority of Americans who aren’t wealthy and can’t write checks of a size that gets their phone calls returned automatically. A Citizens United world makes government less responsive, less representative and more open to corruption.
That’s why many who welcome the continued political engagement of President Obama’s campaign organization are nonetheless concerned about its dependence on big-dollar givers. This creates a troubling model that other politicians are certain to follow. It would be far better if Obama concentrated primarily on building off the pioneering work his campaigns did in rallying small donors.
This points to the larger danger for those who tout their tough-mindedness about using the current system for progressive purposes while still claiming to be reformers: Politicians are growing so comfortable with the status quo that they largely have given up trying to change it.
Two who haven’t are Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), sponsors of the Empowering Citizens Act. It would provide a 5 to 1 match from public funds for contributions of $250 or less, thus establishing strong incentives for politicians to rely on smaller donors while offering the rest of us a fighting chance against the billionaires. Harnessed to new technologies, this approach could vastly expand the number of citizens who are regular contributors. Similar reforms are being proposed at the state level in New York, and Obama’s organization says it will push to get them passed.
Until Citizens United is overturned, as it should be, the best way out of our dilemma is to democratize the money game.
So, yes, let’s cheer for Mike Bloomberg. But let’s also insist on creating a system in which we will no longer need his money.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2013
Republican presidential primary frontrunner Mitt Romney (R) is taking a break from the campaign trail a day after finishing third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, stopping in New York City for multiple fundraisers and a visit with campaign surrogate Donald Trump. Romney will attend three fundraisers and haul in an expected $2 million this week, bolstering a fundraising total that has already made him Wall Street’s favorite candidate.
More than any other institution on Wall Street, Romney has ties to Goldman Sachs, the firm that was slammed in a New York Times editorial this morning by a resigning executive director who decried the firm’s “toxic and destructive” culture. Romney and his wife, Ann, have investments in almost three-dozen Goldman Sachs funds valued between $17.7 million and $50.5 million, according to his personal financial disclosure forms.
No Wall Street bank has been as generous to Romney’s campaign, his leadership PAC, and the super PAC that backs him as Goldman. According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports, Goldman Sachs employees have given the Romney campaign more than $427,000 during the 2012 cycle, nearly twice as much as he has received from any other major Wall Street bank (Citigroup employees have given roughly $274,000 to Romney, the second-largest amount). According to OpenSecrets.org, total contributions to Romney from Goldman Sachs, its employees, and their immediate family members totals more than $521,000.
The Free And Strong America Leadership PAC, which is affiliated with the Romney campaign, has received $30,000 from Goldman Sachs employees during the 2012 cycle. Goldman employees and their spouses, meanwhile, have given $670,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney.
After making billions of dollars in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008, Goldman Sachs benefited from a federal bailout that saved Wall Street banks. The company, like other Wall Street firms, stood opposed to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that was signed into law in 2010 and also fought regulations it contained, such as the Volcker Rule, which would prevent proprietary trading that made the bank billions but left taxpayers on the hook when it nearly collapsed. Romney has rarely missed a chance to tout his opposition to the law on the campaign trail, announcing that he’d repeal it even before he read it.
By: Travis Waldron and Josh Israel, Think Progress, March 14, 2012