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Los Angeles Times: Secret campaign ad financing in offing as FEC is deadlocked

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Senator Mitch McConnell (R – KY) doesn’t believe that campaign donors should be identified.  The Federal Election Commission is split 3-3 so there will be no enforcement of the disclosure laws already on the books and upheld within the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

The 2012 Presidential campaign is going to be a wild one.

Los Angeles Times

Last year, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court said for the first time that corporations and unions had a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums on campaign advertising so long as it was independent of candidates or parties. At the same time, the court reaffirmed an existing federal law, which says that “all contributors” of $1,000 or more to an “electioneering communications” fund must disclose their identities to the FEC.

The justices said they foresaw a new era of corporate-funded ads combined with “effective disclosure” so citizens and shareholders would know who was paying for the messages. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said.

But many independent political groups, especially those dedicated to electing conservative candidates, have taken the position that the disclosure law does not apply to them because their donors are unaware of exactly how their money will be spent. Last year, outside groups that were separate from candidates and political parties spent $294 million on campaign ads, four times more than in 2006.

Their interpretation has been challenged before the FEC. By law, the agency is governed by a six-member board with three Republicans and three Democrats. The commission is deadlocked, casting the disclosure provision into limbo as it applies to independent political groups.

Last month, Democrats on the commission proposed stricter disclosure rules, but the commission split 3 to 3.

Defenders of tight campaign finance laws are sounding an alarm.

Last year was a practice run. Enforcement of the disclosure rules has collapsed. And unless the FEC is fixed, the American public will be in the dark as to who is buying the White House and Congress,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.

Several liberal advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress recently saying the FEC should be investigated as a “broken agency.” They also sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to fire the FEC commissioners and appoint new ones who will “break the deadlock” and enforce the law.

Obama’s options, however, may be limited. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a fierce critic of campaign finance laws, has insisted on GOP commissioners who share his views. Theoretically, critics could take the FEC to court, but such a case would be difficult and probably drag on for years.

The three Republicans on the commission dispute the need for new disclosure rules. They argue that Democrats in Congress failed to win passage last year of the so-called Disclose Act, which would have forced groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to name top donors behind political ads.

“It’s not the job of an unelected bureaucracy to write a new law,” said Commissioner Donald McGahn, formerly a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

On the other side of the issue, Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said the FEC had a duty to enforce the disclosure law already on the books. “People have the right to know who is paying for these messages,” she said. “Eight justices of the Supreme Court upheld that part of the law.”

The deadlock over disclosure marks an ironic twist for the agency, considering its history. The downfall of President Nixon revealed not just political dirty tricks but also how the flow of secret cash had bought favors in Washington. In 1974, a reform-minded Congress adopted strict limits on the funding of campaigns, along with disclosure requirements. Congress created the FEC to enforce the new law.

Fred Wertheimer, an advocate of tight election laws who played a role in creating the FEC, said he despaired of what it had become. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It is by far the most dysfunctional and inoperative agency in Washington,” he said.

MSNBC: Spending blitz by outside groups helped secure big GOP wins

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

MSNBC reports on the successful spending by outside groups for Republican candidates.

MSNBC

A substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls, according to GOP fundraising sources who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity. These donors have been bitterly opposed to a proposal by congressional Democrats — and endorsed by the Obama administration — to increase the tax rates on compensation that hedge funds pay their partners, the sources said.

A scorecard compiled by NBC News shows the ad barrage appeared to mostly pay off: Republican candidates won nine of the 12 Senate races and 14 of 22 House races where American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent money.

As a result, the airwaves this campaign season were flooded with millions of dollars in attack ads, paid for by secret donors. Out of nearly $300 million spent on congressional campaigns ads by both parties, 42 percent were funded by undisclosed donors, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics

Just behind the Crossroads groups in outside spending on the GOP-side were the Chamber of Commerce ($31 million) and the American Action Network ($14 million), according to Sunlight Foundation figures. Neither disclosed the identity of its donors.

While outside Democratic groups belatedly tried to mimic the GOP efforts, they fell short. America’s Families First Action Fund, a group founded by a number of former Democratic strategists that operated much like American Crossroads, wasn’t organized until last summer and spent just $5.5 million — $1 million of which came from a non-disclosing nonprofit affiliate, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The big outside spenders on the Democratic side were labor unions such as AFSME ($10.7 million) and the SEIU ($10 million.)

Arthur Bryant & Public Justice win important nationwide case

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Public Justice won an important case against Cingular/AT&T concerning the legality of binding arbitration clauses.  See the details here:

http://www.publicjustice.net/Newsroom/Nationwide-Lawsuit-against-CingularATT-Proceeds.aspx

Arthur Bryant, Executive Director of Public Justice discusses the relationships between Lobbyists and Campaign financing in “The Best Government Money Can Buy?”.