Tag Archives: campaign finance

GetMoneyOut! – New York joins 16 other states

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New York has become the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United.

Just look at all the states that support overturning Citizens United:

California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Hawaii
Illinois
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Montana
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
Oregon
Rhode Island
Vermont
West Virginia

That’s nearly 40% of the U.S. population.

But we can’t stop now.  Fully 80% of Americans believe we must overturn Citizens United.

Having a constructive debate on the most important issues of our time requires a working democracy.  That idea requires a sensible campaign finance system and a government without a revolving door to and back from the lobbying industry.

Public Citizen was key to the successful campaign we waged in New Jersey in 2012 and Public Citizen was again important in New York.  We applaud everyone’s efforts.  Next up are Washington, Arkansas and New Hampshire, among others.

 

How far the movement has come!

mapamendmentjune152016

Public Citizen is not the only group committed to a 28th Amendment.  There are also these:

Money Out Voters In

http://www.moneyoutvotersin.org

America Promise

http://www.americanpromise.net

 

Please Note, UPDATE:  Soon after our victory in NY State, Rhode Island became the 5th state to call for an Amendments Convention to overturn Citizens United.  So you can add a 5th “V” to the map above.

NY becomes the 17th State – More of the story:

http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6400-new-york-becomes-17th-state-to-call-for-constitutional-overturn-of-citizens-united

 

Call on the President to take executive action

It is reasonable, constitutional and appropriate for the president in his duties to the American Public as the ‘Administrator-in-Chief’ to make those companies seeking federal contracts disclose their political spending.  We have a right to know how they spend money politically.  Even the Citizens United v FEC majority decision cites DISCLOSURE as the first remedy.

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The president is expected to administer the government effectively. This disclosure is one of the simplest ways, not involving a constitutional amendment or the passage of new laws, to make governance more accountable. But it does still require the president to make the call and administer his spending programs with this requirement going forward.

You may have previously signed a petition on this matter.  If so, THANK YOU.  Petitions have been delivered from several organizations to the White House over the last year and they have moved the debate closer to victory.  But now we are approaching a moment of truth.  The president is expected to decide soon.  It’s time to make a direct appeal.

Like most of the ‘Clicktivism’ campaigns we have suggested to you before, this one is really quite easy.  You call a number; you’re routed to a Comments Line at the White House.  You speak your mind free form or simply read from the script.  For the author of this blog it took about two minutes to get through and then say, “I want the president to sign an executive order demanding that federal contractors disclose their political spending.”

Common Cause explains the Action Here.  <–Click the link

Common Cause will guide you through the action and help you then spread the word for others to join our effort.  Please note that the action STARTED on June 8th, but will remain active for the remainder of this week and into next week.  But the sooner you call, the more obvious our coordinated effort will be to those in White House.  It’s easy, so why not do it now?

 

 

Money Control of Politics: The Broken American Promise and How to Fix It

Just a quick blog today to mention an event in Morristown, NJ on Thursday evening of this week. These speakers are excellent and will take you to the heart of the money in politics question. I strongly recommend making this event. New Jersey Get Money Out groups will have people there as well.  Don’t miss it.

Details and Registration here.  NJPPN Money Control Program – or check out the details below:

CthenK
Thursday, April 28, 2016

7:30pm – 9:30pm

CONVENT OF SAINT ELIZABETH

2 Convent Rd *
Morristown, NJ 07960

 

The Citizens United decision has led to an unprecedented influx of money in our elections, causing a shift of political power away from ordinary citizens and toward the large money donors. Witnessing growing governmental dysfunction and the non-responsiveness of elected officials, too many Americans no longer trust the political process. Our democratic system includes powerful mechanisms for repair, but fixing the broken American promise will require concerted citizen action.

Speakers:

 

Timothy K. Kuhner is associate professor of law at Georgia State University and author of Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution. He will discuss how the Supreme Court went wrong in applying a market-based analysis to the political sphere of our Constitution, and how this has caused the effective transformation of our form of government from a democracy to a plutocracy.

Jeffrey D. Clements is president of American Promise, co-founder of Free Speech for People and author of Corporations are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations. He will speak to how the political transformation has resulted in major legislative changes that benefit special interests rather than the public interest, and how this can be remedied by passage of the 28th amendment and other citizen action.

SEATING IS LIMITED

 

PRE-REGISTER TODAY at www.njppn.org or info@njppn.org

* Directions from Rt. 124/Madison Ave: turn off Madison Ave onto Convent Rd, cross tracks, make first right at guard station and park in front of large building w/portico.

 

North Jersey Public Policy Network is a non-partisan, 501c3 organization committed to providing authoritative information on key public policy issues to its network and to the public.

The Media Continue to Overlook the Biggest Story

By Tony Giordano    (posted by administrator)

What would you say is the nation’s most significant news story of the year? Of the decade?

If you’re like most people your answer would be highly influenced by the stories given the most attention by the news media—Ebola, ISIS, conflicts overseas, political polarization—to name a few.

In prior years I felt that climate change was the most significant story, and one that has been under-reported by the media. Although climate change is finally getting some attention, it’s not nearly enough considering the magnitude of the problem coupled with the inadequacy of the actions being taken.

But there’s another story that is perhaps of equal significance, albeit of a different nature, and continues to receive surprisingly little attention by most of the mass media. That is the story of the huge growth of money in politics and how it is destroying our democracy– by causing politicians to be preoccupied with their big campaign donors and lobbyists and to neglect the problems of everyday Americans.

Research is confirming what many have suspected—that our once proud democracy is being turned into oligarchy by all the big money flowing into politics as a result of recent Supreme Court decisions. One study found that economic elites and groups representing business have substantial impacts on government policy while average citizens have little or no influence. Another study looked at the U.S. Senate and similarly found that only the wealthy have an influence on policy.

For most of my lifetime I did not think it possible that something as precious and central to the American way of life– democratic government– could ever disappear from this land of Jefferson and Lincoln. For one, what I presumed would be such total, unmitigated outrage from the people and our elected representatives at even the slight prospect of declining democracy would surely prevent any further decline.

But sadly, there has not been much outrage, nor broad attention from the media or anywhere else, and nothing seems to be stopping the demise of our democracy. When elected representatives work primarily for the interests of their big donors and ignore everyday Americans, that’s not democracy.

The implications of this situation are many and far-reaching. The broad middle class now faces a multitude of grave problems that are largely being ignored by politicians. If you look at the political agenda that polls show most Americans support, you see that Americans want such things as climate change action, higher wages and protection of worker rights, stronger social safety net programs, higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, an end to corporate welfare, and tighter gun control.

However, when you look at what our elected representatives are doing or proposing, you find that they are not only ignoring the wishes of most Americans, they’re actually taking the opposite approach on many of these issues. That’s right– our elected representatives are doing the opposite of what most Americans want from their government!

A prime example is tax policy for corporations and the wealthy. While most Americans want these taxes raised, numerous loopholes and tax subsidies continue or have expanded, so that one in four large corporations paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2005, the last year for which data are available. Sixty years ago corporate taxes accounted for 1/3 of federal tax revenues compared to only 1/10 today. And tax rates on the wealthy have been greatly reduced over the same time.

This totally unacceptable state of affairs results from the huge sums of money entering politics through campaign finance and lobbying, primarily from large corporations and the wealthy. It is essentially legalized corruption.

Could the reasons for the lack of media attention to this situation have anything to do with the fact that the great bulk of the mass media in our nation— e.g. television, cable and radio outlets, internet services, magazines, newspapers– are owned by a small number of giant corporations, which themselves are major players in the big money game? They use campaign donations and armies of lobbyists to obtain government policies favorable to their business interests.

Apparently media companies don’t want to call attention to the system of legalized bribery that allows them to profit and dominate their industry, despite the fact that it is their duty to report something that so threatens our democracy.

It’s all about making money, then using it to buy politicians and make yet more. Meanwhile, millions of Americans quietly struggle to make ends meet and sustain a minimal quality of life.

To begin restoring democracy we need to completely overhaul campaign finance and institute public financing of elections. Ask your representatives to take a stand on the issue of money in politics.

This Story is a Re-post from Reader Supported News (RSN) with permission of the author.

Ten Brief Arguments for AMEND and REFORM

By Susannah Newman    (posted by administrator)

A&R

Recent SCOTUS decisions:

In 2010, Citizens United equated money with free speech under the 1st Amendment and restated in stronger terms that a corporation is the same as a natural born person with regard to campaign spending. A few months later, the Speech Now decision created the SuperPAC and this year the McCutcheon decision removed aggregate contribution limits by an individual from campaign finance laws. Finally, with the Hobby Lobby decision, SCOTUS has conferred corporate religious rights for bosses over the rights of employees.

Ten Brief arguments against these decisions to be taken together, in combination or separately:

The problem of money in politics can only be fixed by grassroots pressure on politicians to pass 1) a constitutional amendment, which will lay the path for 2) unchallengeable campaign finance reforms. 87%-90% of voters across the spectrum agree that overturning the above decisions is A MUST.

Big money has become deafening and drowns out the voices of the ordinary citizen, whose single vote cannot compete with the voting power given to the billionaire or the large corporation or unions through unlimited campaign donations.

A Constitutional Amendment giving Congress the power to limit election spending will RESTORE the 1st Amendment by amplifying the voices of ordinary citizens to a more equitable level; i.e. government by the people, not by the money. With such an amendment in place, necessary campaign finance reform laws, such as the Government by the People Act and the DISCLOSE Act) will be safe from a SCOTUS challenge.

While corporations are composed of people, they are NOT, in fact, people, but LEGAL ENTITIES created by the state. Nowhere in the Constitution is the word “corporation” even mentioned. (The founding fathers’ fear of corporate and moneyed power is well documented.) Today corporations are global and through these recent SCOTUS decisions, foreign interests can influence elections and therefore policy.

Who has more access to a congressional office: the one who gave $300,000 or the one who gave $30 to the campaign? Unfortunately, candidates must now go after the big money: one $100,000 donation is easier to get than ten thousand $10 donations. Good public servants are made complicit in this corrupting system.

For example, why is it that 90% of the American people want background checks on gun ownership, but Congress has NOT passed any common sense legislation to control gun violence? FOLLOW THE MONEY and its accompanying OVERT POLITICAL INTIMIDATION.

The greatest fear that any candidate has is that just before the election, some anonymously funded SuperPAC will drop $1 million in ads, etc… against him/her. To become insulated from this tactic, BIG MONEY donors are sought who, in turn, insist the candidate agree with the donors’ politics. This is a corrupting reality.

In 2012, 132 Americans funded 60% of SuperPAC money. By 2014, that number will represent only .01% of America, which clearly makes our governmental system no longer a representative democracy. Our current Congress is not dependent “on the People alone”, but on the Funders. This is corruption. Not bribery, but corruption. We need only look to the days of the Robber Barons to know how money in politics corrupts and, sadly, destroys lives.

While there is rarely actual, legally verifiable, quid pro quo corruption (politicians and plutocrats are too careful for that), evidence of implied corruption and policy-by-money is seen by voters all over the country. This has contributed to unparalleled cynicism and distrust of government; BIG MONEY is responsible for this.

Time is running out. We are quickly becoming a plutocracy and losing our democracy. Power now comes from money and public policy is driven by corporate interests over the long-term best interests of the People. We must AMEND the CONSTITUTION and then REFORM CAMPAIGN FINANCE.

We Have Answers from U.S. House Candidates in New Jersey

Okay – the quick and easy version of this blog.

 

We’ve got info from New Jersey candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives about their views on money in politics and amending the constitution to save the Republic.

 

See the NJOCU U.S. House candidate “Ask” Results

 

…or even quicker and easier, See the Summary

 

And now for the detailed version of this blog, in which we brag about how much work this was and how cool we are to have taken it all on!

NJOCU recently contacted candidates for the House of Representatives in the state of New Jersey.  We asked for the candidate’s views on money in politics as well as the candidate’s strategy, if any, for fixing the problem.  Formed in the wake of Citizens Untied, NJOCU has always seen a constitution amendment to overturn at least portions of that decision as necessary. For us, without an amendment, campaign finance regulation, lobbying reform, closing the revolving door, safeguards against cronyism, and a government of, by and for the people will always be under threat from politics and the courts.  There’s just too much evidence that the lure or possession of power will draw out the exploiters and the misguided.

We attempted to reach all the candidates; six were un-findable.  We sent them background information on the issue and an “Ask.”  We pointed out that the NJOCU coalition represents 27 statewide business associations and community and political organizations, and over 17,000 New Jersey petition signers determined to get big money out of politics.  NJOCU successfully spearheaded the passage of amendment resolutions in 13 NJ municipalities along with resolutions on both sides of the NJ legislature.  In other words, the New Jersey Legislature has already asked Congress for an amendment.

We asked each candidate for an endorsement of a constitutional amendment (by bill number if possible) or at least some legislative alternative that the candidate preferred.  If they didn’t see a solution or the need for a solution, then we respectfully asked them to explain that position.

We had to treat a non-response to our Ask as a non-endorsement of the amendment campaign and indeed of any other approach to fixing the problem of money’s corrupting influence over democracy.  How much we were able to offer our own knowledge of this far reaching topic to candidates, who are undoubtedly considering many issues right now, depended mostly on the availability and responsiveness of the candidate.  We are 100% volunteer-based so we could only reach out as far as the schedule and our resources allowed.

Our volunteers did attend in-person meetings with some candidates (our thanks to the candidates as well).  We also offered dialog over the phone and by email.  We made a real effort to show the candidates other solutions when they weren’t sure about the amendment idea.  In many cases we showed them the American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA) and the Government By The People Act (GBTP).  And finally we offered, upon request, the roughly 17,000 signed petitions in paper or PDF form.  Or if they wished, we showed them petition signers from only their relevant district.

THE RESULTS

 

BACKGROUND:

Every candidate was shown What’s Wrong with Money in Politics, three examples of amendment bills now in Congress, the list of states requesting an amendment proposal from Congress and the formal Ask document.  Beyond that, the background information varied according to what feedback the candidate provided to us.  Here’s an example of our Pitch.

What’s Wrong with Money in Politics is a list of effects that spring reliably from the moneyed approach to political campaigning and the effects of money aggregators like unions and lobbyists.  Note that the effects of money are counter-productive for both sides of the political spectrum.

Outside Spending, Outsized Influence (PDF) shows a who’s who of outside interests trying to manipulate New Jersey congressional races.  It’s immaterial which side they each represent, because in any election the most influential side can change, depending on which interest groups decide to meddle and for what objectives.  Nor is the problem limited to national politics.  Indeed, it may prove more significant at the state level, where local money is insufficient to turn back big outside moneyed interests who descend on state legislative races.  First we saw an outside group sue the state for having campaign finance laws.  Super PAC sues N.J. over contribution limits.    Then we all watched the money flow in from outside.  As the legal suit demonstrated, New Jersey as a state is forbidden by federal courts from truly regulating its own elections.

The Supreme Court has codified much of the problem by declaring that the expenditure of money is a form of free speech.  We believe that the right to speak one’s true convictions and the privilege of amplifying one’s own views to a level that drowns out all others are two very different things.  The court has also codified the idea that legal fictions, organizations and money aggregators can uniformly claim the same rights as that of a natural person and citizen.  There is already evidence of foreign nationals using their affiliations to inject money into election campaigns in the USA.  There are numerous other pitfalls to the concept.  In the Citizens United case, the court also settled into the view that election and lobbying laws can only address explicit quid pro corruption.  This is not merely wrong, but absurdly unrealistic.  If white collar crime were held to this standard, using a method that didn’t succeed 100% of the time would form a valid defense.

But it gets worse.  Recently the court declared it legal for one donor to give millions of dollars spread over the entire Congress or perhaps more likely over one party.  The court rejected precedent which held that the appearance of corruption IS corruption.  Handing over money to every congress person on a collection of key committees definitely looks like the purchase of influence.  Many voters in our democracy, upon seeing this, deeply question the system’s integrity.  But the court says it’s legal.  Thus the problem worsens even as many are trying to fix it.  For all of these reasons and several lesser concerns, NJOCU and many groups support at least one constitutional amendment to deal with the corrupting influence of money in politics.

In the 113th session of Congress there are two legislative strategies for amending the constitution.   Under the first of these strategies, two bills each propose one of two needed amendments.  One of the two amendments clarifies that persons and people in the constitution refer to actual persons and people, not artificial legal constructs.  The other amendment asserts the responsibility and authority of the people’s government to regulate campaign finance.  The second strategy combines both of these provisions into one bill that proposes one amendment.  As such, these two strategies represent three bills on each side of the congress, i.e. in the House and the Senate, or six bills total.  These two strategies have the greatest support in Congress (the most sponsors and co-sponsors).  For this reason these bills are explicitly mentioned in the NJOCU “Ask.”  We believe in a vigorous debate on how to best amend the constitution, but these bills form a good starting point.  There are other amendment proposals.  United 4 the People provides a complete list.

The New Jersey State legislature in 2012 passed AR86 and SR47 asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to deal with this problem.  15 other states have done similarly and within New Jersey 13 municipalities have joined the chorus.  The current list of local and state entities that have passed such resolutions.

There are also legislative steps that might be taken without a constitutional amendment.  The two most notable are the American Anti-Corruption Act (PDF) and the Government By the People Act (PDF).  The AACA directly regulates lobbying and revolving door practices and funds elections with vouchers.  The GBTP Act allocates public campaign funds that are so substantial that outside moneyed interests are disincentivized from competing.  The formula is still based on citizen support and does not level the playing field artificially.  Both bills have been vetted as constitutional even by current standards.

87% of ordinary people are angry at all the big money coming into our elections.  NJOCU, like so many Americans, wants the SCOTUS decisions that are responsible for this deluge of money overturned.  But even after amending the constitution, the working solution will be implemented as a law.  With an amendment, the law will be simpler and more effective, but it will still be a law.  NJOCU therefore supports the best laws we can possibly implement as soon as is possible, both before and after an amendment is passed.

At least 2/3 of nearly every identifiable political group in America is opposed to the corrupting influence of money in politics including such diverse groups as the Tea Party and MoveOn.org.  Republicans and Democrats both poll in opposition to the increasingly influence of money over policy.  Small business owners are one of the most concerned at 90%.  A recent Gallop poll showed that when money in politics was included among options it polled as the country’s second most important issue behind jobs.  It’s time to start talking, thinking and acting on this long endured distorting influence over our democracy.

 

What Can’t Be Said

In what will possibly be a landmark decision in the history of American democracy, reality is strictly off limits.

More Pols Taking Cash

Back in early October of 2013, activists rose together briefly to decry an expected court reversal of campaign finance limits.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Supreme Court took on a new case that argues in favor of more money in our election process.  3 ½ years after the Citizens United decision; after the emergence of Super-PACs; after a money-fueled roller-coaster ride through the Republican primaries, after Sheldon Adelson’s help and hindrance to Mitt Romney, after a $2B+ presidential race; and even after the longest, most sustained, and most well-organized effort ever mounted AGAINST the corrupting influence of money in politics; we were watching the Supreme Court now questioning long established donor limits – limits that Citizens United had not touched.  We were going backwards.

Contribution (donor) limits were found constitutional in Buckley v Valeo in 1976.  The reasoning in Buckley was that giving money to a candidate looks a lot like a bribe.  So far so simple.  Even if the donor has no such designs, the appearance of corruption is treated as corrupting of trust.  So, to avoid actual and apparent bribes, the amount that a donor may give to politicians may be limited by law.  The reasoning is clear.  With limits on each donor, no donor can stand out as deserving of political favors.  Importantly, campaign donations were not held to be expressions of free speech.  To campaign for office, the candidate expresses his or her own opinions.  There is no assumption that the donor’s views will be expressed at all.  So while a candidate can give to her own campaign and spend without limit, the donor has rules.  The current limits for each donor are $2600 per candidate per election cycle and $123,000 dollars total per election cycle.

Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon (along with the Republican National Committee), thinks that limiting the total amount he can give in any election cycle is unconstitutional.  His reasoning is that if he can give $2600 to any one politician, and that is not considered corrupt, then he should be able to give that amount to as many politicians as he likes and not be considered corrupt.  McCutcheon has said that he is not arguing with the dollar limit per candidate, only with the number of candidates (or total dollars).  But in his written arguments, he questions the relevance of contribution limits in a campaign finance landscape so altered (broken) by Citizens United.  When donors can give unlimited money to a PAC that campaigns for a candidate openly, and the total dollars reach stratospheric heights, is McCutcheon a victim of government censorship for following the direct candidate contribution rules?

The simple answer is “No,” but before exploring this twisty bit of nonsense, let’s back up and look at the reality of American politics under Buckley v Valeo, Citizens United and SpeechNOW.  Currently, the average Senator wakes up every morning needing to find another $20,000+.  By various estimates a congress person spends from 30 to 70% of her time beating the bushes for money.  Money is essential for continued political survival.  Congress people depend on money and that money comes from a tiny sliver of citizens.  According to Lawrence Lessig a mere 0.26% (roughly one quarter of one percent) of Americans give $200 or more to any candidate.  A smaller five one-hundredths of a percent give the maximum allowed to any candidate.  And only one one-hundredth of a percent give more than $10,000 total.  A mere 132 people provided 60% of all the (Citizens-United-SpeechNOW-enabled) PAC funding in the last election.  None of this reality was discussed on McCutcheon’s day in court.

Instead the court listened to assertions on both sides, and then repeatedly asked how this or that specific funding transaction might alter an election outcome or buy a favor.  Lyle Denniston on SCOTUS Blog asked, “If the Supreme Court really does not understand how money moves around in American politics, how can it fashion constitutional rules to prevent abuses?”  A good question.  But even more importantly, if the Supreme Court does not understand the basic concept of systemic corruption, the idea that the democracy is not representative of its people, then almost all of the detailed legalese is useless.  According to Jeffrey Toobin in New Yorker magazine, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, reduced the discussion of all corruption to the purchase of political favors – a giving of this for that (quid pro quo).  Systemic corruption cannot be mentioned.

McCutcheon’s arguments fail on several accounts.  Firstly consider his cynical question about the post Citizen United America of SuperPACs.  The legal argument used for allowing independent entities, not coordinating with a candidate directly, to solicit and spend unlimited amounts of money is that they are speaking freely as protected in the First Amendment.  Conversely, giving money directly to a politician has been held to not be free speech and it can look like a bribe.  But why limit the number of candidates – McCutcheon’s original question?  Because it takes more than one congress person to pass a bill.  And because one donor can stand out among all donors in precisely this way.  This is mind-numbingly simple.  Mr. McCutcheon wants to buy himself a congress or a party or a caucus or a committee.  Every day that his protégés meet to discuss the course of the democracy, they are nagged by their financial dependence on their patron.  There will be at least one and probably many situations where they will consider the impact of their actions on their patron ahead of the public at large and perhaps even ahead of their own specific constituency.

We the People are not obliged to prove that this system of wrong dependencies serves only quid pro quo corruption, but frankly, there’s absolutely no reason to think it doesn’t.  One gives the money.  Another gives the outcome.  The only question is really ‘how much corruption’ results.  And the answer, unfortunately, is ‘plenty,’ because it ALL looks like corruption.  Remember that the appearance of corruption has already been determined to be corruptive.  In study after study, the American people have voiced that they see the system as corrupted.  They disagree with Citizens United and expanded corporate personhood.  They distrust moneyed-interests.  They think there’s too much money in politics.  More than 2/3 of nearly every identifiable group in politics has some if not major issues with how things work, from self-identified Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party advocates, members of MoveOn, union workers to small business owners there is a basic mistrust of financially dependent politicians.  Our system is corrupted.

Just don’t try to tell that to the Supreme Court.

And that is the most painful aspect of this case.  Almost everyone who has considered this case, seeing that the obvious real corruption cannot be mentioned in arguments, presumes that the overall contribution limits are about to fall.  The system will tilt further off its axis.  The activists who complained on the steps of the Supreme Court building back in October – they meekly wait.  A decision is imminent, but there is no media campaign to shine a light on the issue.  The McCutcheon case needs public discourse that the SCOTUS might actually recognize.  But sadly it seems that if the people want to be heard, they’ll need to first find some very wealthy patrons.

McCutcheon is more of the same, and that’s a bad thing

Short version: Watch the video.

Happening today, October 8th 2013, the Supreme Court takes up the case of McCutcheon v FEC. If you hear anything about this in the broader media (mainstream or otherwise), it will probably make an ambiguous comparison the Citizens United v FEC case. Both Citizens United and McCutcheon attack components of the current campaign finance law of the land, known as the McCain-Feingold Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002. Back in 2010, Citizens United gutted some aspects of the BCRA, mainly those things having to do with ‘independent’ organizations spending money to influence elections.

In Buckley v Valeo 1976, the SCOTUS determined that politicians could spend whatever amount of money they wished to espouse their views.  This holding was a key component of the argument in Citizens United, that independent political groups should not econounter limits on either spending or collecting funds.  But Buckley v Valeo also found that giving money to a politician, even to help with the costs of campaigning, was very much like bribing him or her.  The larger the donation, the more logically this conclusion might be drawn. It is worth noting here that the courts have held in numerous decisions that the appearance of corruption is just as damaging as corruption itself. So in essence, the SCOTUS affirmed the authority of Congress to set the maximum donation levels. Per person, per year, the maximum donation is $2,600 (per 2-yr election cycle of Congress people) (double this number for married couples). They can also give to various political party committees, who can then route the (soft) money to each politician.

Finally the Congress sets an ‘aggregate’ per person (per donor) maximum. Each individual can donate a combined total of $123,000 to all of the politicians and parties they support. McCutcheon argues that if the amount he can donate to any one politician is limited, then the matter is settled and there can be no appearance of a bribe, regardless of how many politicians he supports. The obvious counter-argument is that McCutcheon wants the aggregate limit struck down simply so that he can corrupt a wider pool of players. Why own just one politician or a few, when you can own the whole Congress. If the plaintiffs in the McCutcheon case win, the wealthiest Americans could spend $3.6 million per election to shape America’s laws.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this case is that Republican National Committee has decided to openly flaunt its predilection for money-based politics and is named as a co-plaintiff in this new case along with McCutcheon. Thus the RNC stands in direct opposition to what Republican voters in numerous polls have said they believe on the topic of money in politics – that it is wrong and leads to cronyism.

But in fact, there have always been ‘money-is-good’ Republican politicians. Tom Delay was open about his belief that the wealthy should control the game. In Delay’s view, those who could pay to play were inherently worthy of his time. To the victor (in the private sector) rightly go the spoils. To Delay’s credit he did also believe that such a system should be transparent. Alas, his subsequent actions in that area did not demonstrate a real commitment to the ideal.

Then there’s Mitch McConnell, who in 2003 was among the first to argue against the constitutionality of the BCRA. McConnell’s case had no major impact on the enforceability of the act, but subsequently Citizens United did. In Citizens United, the SCOTUS attacked any effort of the BCRA to control the spending side of campaigns. Since the Citizens United case, McConnell has been one of the nation’s most outspoken supporters of the decision, pointing out that for-profit corporations have seemed well-behaved under the new rules. But as we all can see, campaign financing has expanded enormously and a handful of wealthy people have at times been able to direct the political discourse. Today, McConnell is again on the scene with McCutcheon. This time we’re not talking about independent campaign expenditures. Now we’re talking about handing money over to politicians. This article offers a clear explanation:
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/323503-putting-our-elections-in-the-hands-of-a-few
Note that McConnell sees McCutcheon as an opportunity to convince the SCOTUS to look beyond the plaintiff’s arguments on aggregate limits and question the very foundation of campaign integrity, i.e. that campaign donations look like corruption and therefore can be treated differently than expenditures. In his view – it’s all protected by the free speech clause in the First Amendment. McConnell’s odds are slim by most accounts, but understand that he has filed an Amicus Brief and HAS BEEN INVITED to the hearings to argue his case in full. If he were to succeed, virtually every campaign finance law in the country would fall. Inequality of financial success in the private sector would translate directly to political and therefore in time legal inequality.

Alas, even if McConnell’s more extreme argument is ignored now, it may still win eventually. The court can hear his argument, give it some life, but then not really decide on his case either way. The first step in an incremental attack on campaign finance regulation is to end the aggregate limits on donors such as Mr. McCutcheon. From that precedent, new cases can gain a foothold. It’s not as though such plaintiffs will ever lack for the financial resources to argue such cases.

 

Buckey v Valeo
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley_v._Valeo

Citizen United v FEC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission

Campaign finance in the United States
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_finance_in_the_United_States
Jeffrey Toobin writing for the New Yorker
On Citizens United
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/05/21/120521fa_fact_toobin?currentPage=all

On McCutcheon
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/07/supreme-court-another-citizens-united-but-worse.html

Road to victory – Statement to the Committee

Statement to the Committee

NJOCU’s Mark Doenges spoke and answered questions before the New Jersey State Senate’s State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee in June of 2012.  The following was his prepared statement.

Hello, honorable state legislators and committee members.  I’ve been asked by the people who support Senator Van Drew’s bill before you today to offer some of my thoughts on this issue.

Loudness.  If I were to speak to the committee today at 140 decibels, it would drown out every other voice in the room.  No one could hear anything but me.  I want you to understand that those of us who see problems stemming from the Citizens United decision and the role of money in politics, do not want to silence any views or curtail the freedom of speech.  We don’t come here today with specific legal language for US Constitution, nor do we think that every idea in the Supreme Court’s decision is without merit.  Certainly, the realities of campaign laws and reforms are complex.

But Loudness is not a right.  If I spoke at 140 decibels, I would not only silence everyone else in this room, I would deafen them.  Permanently.  Forget about telling me to be civil, because I wouldn’t hear you either.  If I were in your neighborhood, or on a street corner, or in the halls of Congress, I would not merely be shushed, I would be arrested.   And the laws of the land would uphold that arrest.

People throughout America can tell that money is yelling.  My suspicion is that even the sliver of people who don’t fully understand or admit it yet, still know it’s true.  Americans aren’t asking for certain ideas to be censored or for certain people or modes of communication to be limited.  We are simply saying that we all ~ we the people ~ have a right to free speech.  And our rights are being trammeled.

We also fundamentally disagree with the notion that corporations are people.  Yes, they have shareholders.  But they also have management, employees and customers.  So who then is this person? Corporations in fact are artificial entities chartered, as state legislators would understand very well, by State statutes.  The word corporation does not appear in the U.S. Constitution anywhere.

Having said this, I want to make clear that this bill says nothing ill of corporations or of their role in society.  This bill is certainly not anti-business.  Indeed it is pro-business.  Small business owners are right there among the people in this country who are saddened to see money treated as speech.  They may already be competing with larger, louder companies in the marketplace.  Now they find they are expected to compete in politics? That is not their mission.  Small business owners argue that money in politics is the foundation of cronyism, and that small businesses are likely losers.  When polled, two thirds of small business owners stood against the Citizens United decision and nearly 9 out of 10 viewed the role of money in politics negatively.  The last I looked, 70 percent of America’s jobs were in small businesses.  It is the engine that underpins our economy.

Loudness.  It is not a right.  In commerce it may be the spoils of victory, but in a democracy we want to be able hear what is being said.  We want the right of free speech to endure for ALL.  The simple, inescapable truth is that right now, Americans are going deaf.  They are losing faith in the institutions of their governance.  They’re losing faith in our elections.  They are losing faith in our future.  But understand that people have not yet lost their voice.  We are here today to be heard.  Join us and a growing national movement in taking this issue to the US Congress for remedy.  These are critical times in our country’s history and we cannot afford a broken democracy.  This is NOT a backburner issue upon which we should hem and haw.  This is not a partisan issue with an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ This is about the voice of the people.  I ask you to join it.

Thank you.

Is Our System Corrupt?

One reason that recent court cases have been decided as they have is that the Justices try to draw a direct line between any action and actual or perceived corruption.  Reading their arguments, we find that they cannot discern such connections.  And yet common sense tells most Americans that the system has indeed become corrupt.

For those of you who get weary of reading here are two links to video and audio content, respectively.

The first video is a lecture given recently in San Francisco by Lawrence Lessig.  Lessig, the author of “Republic, Lost,” is truly intimate with the full depth of the problem as seen from many perspectives.  This is admittedly long-ish content, but if you need a few visits to the video get it all, it’s worth it.

http://fora.tv/2012/01/17/How_Money_Corrupts_Congress_and_a_Plan_to_Stop_It

The second linked content is a multipart edition of “The American Life” on NPR.  Here we see what endemic corruption looks like.  It’s not quid-pro-quo – not strictly.  It’s a form of corruption running so deep that most everyone is just swimming-to-survive at this point.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/461/take-the-money-and-run-for-office