Wednesday, June 18, 2014

McCutcheon and Collins on McCutcheon at Cato Today

At the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. and live-streaming today at noon (EST), there's a discussion featuring Shaun McCutcheon - - - millionaire, plaintiff, and now author of Outsider Inside the Supreme Court: A Decisive First Amendment Battle- - - and Professor Ron Collins - - - First Amendment scholar and author of When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment.

They will be joining others to discuss the Court's decision this Term in McCutcheon v. FEC and the future of campaign finance under the First Amendment.

More information here.

June 18, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Conferences, First Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Daily Read: Ellen Katz on Hobby Lobby and Citizens United

Image_facbioIn her relatively brief essay Hobby Lobby and the Pathology of Citizens United, available on ssrn, Professor Ellen Katz (pictured) advances a doctrinal and jurisprudential argument - - - rather than political or consequentialist ones - - - for the "danger" of Citizens United v. FEC.

Katz contends:

Citizens United read a number of prior decisions to adopt rules those decisions deliberately chose not to espouse. This is not an entirely new move for the Court as it has previously cast off a decision’s doctrinal limits and stated normative claims. The contribution of Citizens United, however, was to normalize this stance. The Roberts Court seems increasingly comfortable approaching precedent just as it did in that case. This Essay identifies this move as a consistent practice across a number of decisions, and explains both why it is likely to be used in the pending ACA cases and beyond, and why it is cause for deep concern.

It is a phenomenon Katz labels "fanciful precedent."  She contends it was operative in last Term's controversial Shelby County v. Holder.

She argues that it was prominent in Citizens United related to the Court's use of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (an issue of footnotes as we discuss here and here), in a manner that might foreshadow any Robert Court opinion in Hobby Lobby "relying" on United States v. Lee and Braunfeld v. Brown

Katz's short piece is worth a read as we await the Court's decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (and Conestoga Woods Specialties, Corp. v. Sebelius) argued in March. 

June 5, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Contribution Disclosure Requirement

The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman.  The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.

The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed.  The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.

The court rejected the challenges.  It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest.  As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:

A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day.  Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits.  As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests.  In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day.  Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations.  And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.

As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe.  Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.

 

May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seventh Circuit Enjoins Portions of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law

The Seventh Circuit this week issued a sweeping ruling on Wisconsin's campaign finance requirements and permanently enjoined a good part of the law.  The ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Barland marks the end of the second round of this broadside challenge to Wisconsin's law.  The first round ended with a Seventh Circuit ruling overturning the state's $10,000 cap on contributions under the First Amendment.

The ruling this week is long and detailed.  That's because Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, challenged "a dizzying array of statutes and rules" as vague, overbroad, violative of free speech.  It's also because Wisconsin law, according to the court, is "labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law," and "has not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine . . . ."

Portions of the ruling were unsurprising.  Thus the court ruled that Wisconsin's ban on corporate speech and its cap on corporate fundraising for an unaffliated PAC violated the First Amendment under Citizens United

Other portions required a little more work:

Disclaimer Requirement.  The court held that Wisconsin's regulatory disclaimer requirement for independent political communications, as applied only to 30-second radio ads (because that's all that was challenged), was unconstitutional.  Wisconsin law required a certain disclaimer, but regulations went 50 words beyond that disclaimer, adding nothing to it, with no apparent good reason, and cutting into ad time.

Definitions of "political purposes" and "political committee."  The court ruled that the statutory definition of "political purposes" and the regulatory definition of "political committee," which trigger certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, imposing PAC duties on nearly any political communication.  The court gave Wisconsin law a narrowing construction, ruling that "[a]s applied to political speakers other than candidates, their campaign committees, and political parties, the definitions are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley and Wisconsin Right to Life II."

PAC Registration and Reporting Requirements.  The court ruled that the Wisconsin regulation that treats issue advocacy during the preelection period as fully regulable express advocacy if it mentions a candidate is unconstitutional.  It also ruled that the regulation that "imposes PAC-like registration, reporting, and other requirements on all organizations that make independent disbursements, is unconstitutional as applied to organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose."

In short, the court said that the Wisconsin legislature failed to keep up with changes in the doctrine--in particular, the change that Citizens United wrought--and that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's attempts to fill in the gaps through regulations simply swept too broadly.

The court's ruling directs the lower court to permanently enjoin the above-mentioned provisions.  The ruling is a sharp kick in the pants to the Wisconsin state legislature to update its campaign finance law.

May 16, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Stays Ruling Enjoining Wisconsin Investigation

The Seventh Circuit yesterday stayed Judge Randa's ruling preliminarily enjoining further criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  We posted on Judge Randa's ruling here.

The Seventh Circuit said that because the defendants filed a notice of appeal before Judge Randa issued his injunction, Judge Randa had to show that the appeal was frivolous before acting.  This he did not do.  Here's from the short opinion:

Apostol v. Gallion, 870 F.2d 1335 (7th Cir. 1989), holds that, once a litigant files a notice of appeal, a district court may not take any further action in the suit unless it certifies that the appeal is frivolous.  The district court failed to follow that rule when, despite the notice of appeal filed by several defendants, it entered a preliminary injunction.  This court accordingly stays the injunction, and all further proceedings in the district court, until the judge has ruled definitively on the question posed by Apostol.

The ruling puts the ball back in Judge Randa's court, allowing him to certify that the appeal is frivolous and resume the case there.  If he does not, then proceedings in the district court are stayed pending appeal on the merits.

The Seventh Circuit also stayed the portion of Judge Randa's ruling that required the defendants to return or destroy documents "as long as proceedings continue in this court." 

May 8, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

District Court Halts Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

Judge Rudolph T. Randa (E.D. Wis.) this week granted a preliminary injunction against a criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  The criminal investigation sought information related to WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign committee and other 501(c)(4) groups, in violation of Wisconsin law, to promote the passage of Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker's (successful) effort to sharply restrict union strength in the state (among other things).  Judge Randa's ruling means that the investigation must stop, at least for now.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a long-running story involving Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker, and advocacy (and spending) around both. 

Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated free speech, because it "was commenced and conducted 'without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.'"  According to Judge Randa, that's because it was based on an interpretation of Wisconsin law that would have banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not candidate contributions)--something that the First Amendment does not allow.

Judge Randa said that WCFG's issue advocacy was core political speech, and that its coordination with other 501(c)(4)s, and even with the Friends of Scott Walker, did not raise any risk of quid quo pro corruption.  Therefore the state could not criminalize it.

Judge Randa rejected the defendants' argument that WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign created a quid pro quo problem.  He said that that approach "would mean transforming issue advocacy into express advocacy by interpretative legerdemain and not by any analysis as to why it would rise to the level of quid pro quo corruption."  He said WCFG simply held the same views that Governor Walker already held, and that therefore there was no risk of corruption.

Judge Randa cited McCutcheon throughout and made a special point of quoting Justice Thomas's concurrence on Buckley's demise:

Buckley's distinction between contributions and expenditures appears tenuous.  As Justice Thomas wrote, "what remains of Buckley is a rule without a rationale.  Contributions and expenditures are simply 'two sides of the same First Amendment coin,' and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere 'word games' rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law."  Even under what remains of Buckley, the defendants' legal theory cannot pass constitutional muster.  The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians.  This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.

Op. at 25.

May 7, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why McCutcheon Could Be Bad for the GOP

Peter Beinart argues over at The Atlantic that the Court's ruling this week in McCutcheon--that aggregate limits on campaign contributions violate the First Amendment--could haunt the Republican Party.  His claim: Over the long haul, McCutcheon will contribute to the Republican Party's reputation as the party of plutocrats.

From the piece:

A CNN poll this February found that . . . Americans . . . said Republican policies favored the rich over the middle class by a whopping 46 points.

The Supreme Court has now made overcoming that reputation harder. 

. . .

In the 1970s, a liberal Supreme Court fueled right-wing cultural populism.  Today, a conservative Supreme Court is breeding left-wing economic populism.  For the contemporary GOP, the danger of looking like the plaything of America's super-rich outweighs the benefits of increased support from America's super-rich.  Even in the age of the Roberts Court, winning elections generally requires more than just raising more money.  It requires winning more votes.

April 4, 2014 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: E-Book by Collins and Skover on McCutcheon and Campaign Finance

WMS-210x315Published on the same day that the Court rendered its 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election CommissionWhen Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment is an ebook by ConLawProfs Ron Collins and David Skover.

A taste of the authors' analysis is apparent in their "foreward" to the SCOTUSblog symposium on the case, "It's all forward now."  They write that in "the past eight years, since Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have been on the Court, the Justices have handed down six First Amendment campaign finance opinions" all of which have declared a campaign finance regulation unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and five of which were 5-4 decisions. They also provide some "takeaways" from the opinion. 

The book will certainly be a must-read for anyone interested in campaign finance and the First Amendment.

April 4, 2014 in Books, Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Court Strikes Aggregate Campaign Contribution Limits

A sharply divided Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. FEC struck the aggregate federal campaign contribution limits.  The five-justice majority ruled that the limits violated the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  Justice Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Our most recent post on the case is here.

Recall that aggregate limits restrict the total amount of money an individual can contribute to all candidates, PACs, and parties.  Base limits, which were not at issue in the case, restrict the amount an individual can contribute to an individual candidate.  (The Court said that base limits are still constitutional, as are disclosure requirements.)

The majority said that under aggregate limits

A donor must limit the number of candidates he supports, and may have to choose which of several policy concerns he will advance--clear First Amendment harms that the dissent never acknowledges.

It also said that aggregate limits do not control quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of corruption--the reasons that the Court has upheld individual limits.

The Court said that the government had other ways to advance its anti-circumvention interest--the interest in preventing a single donor from circumventing base limits by giving to multiple recipients with the expectation that they funnel the contributions to one candidate.

The ruling deals another major blow, after Citizens United, to efforts to restrict the amount of money in politics.

April 2, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Watchdog Organization Can't Challenge IRS Rule Granting Nonprofit Status to Political Orgs

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, challenging the IRS rule that allows donors to certain political organizations to remain under the radar. 

The ruling means that CREW's effort in this court to get the IRS to rewrite its rule on 501(c)(4) organizations fails, and that unless and until the IRS rewrites its rule, 501(c)(4) organizations can continue engaging up to 49% of their activity in political spending while keeping their donors hidden from public view.

The case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. IRS, challenged the IRS rule implementing Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.  That provision grants a tax exemption for organizations "not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare."  (Emphasis added.)  But the IRS rule implementing that provision applies to organizations that are "primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.  An organization embraced within this section is one which is operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements."

In short: The statutory "operated exclusively" became a regulatory "primarily engaged," giving 501(c)(4)s considerably more latitude to engage in electioneering.

That matters, because 501(c)(4) status allows organizations to spend money in politics while at the same time shielding the names of donors.  Some 501(c)(4)s have taken the position, based on the IRS rule, that they qualify for tax exemption if they engage 49% of less in political donations.  That's a lot of political donations--and a lot of shielding of donors--especially when the statute requires them to be "operated exclusively" for social welfare purposes.

So CREW sued, arguing that the IRS regulation let 501(c)(4)s get away with way more political spending, and shielding, than the Internal Revenue Code allowed.

But Judge Bates dismissed the case for lack of standing.  He ruled that CREW could not establish informational injury, because its injury--lack of information on donors--was hypohetical and speculative.  In particular, Judge Bates wrote that it wasn't the IRS regulation that prevented CREW from getting information on donors, but instead the organizations' decision on how to organize.  In other words, if the IRS rewrote its regulation to conform to the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(4)s might drop their tax-exempt status or reorganize under another tax-exempt provision to maintain donor confidentiality; but they wouldn't necessarily reorganize as 527s (which would require donor disclosure).  Judge Bates wrote that this also prevented CREW from showing causation and redressability.

Judge Bates also ruled that CREW did not have standing based on programmatic injury--the injury to its ability to collect donor information and fulfill its watchdog mission.  That's because CREW's injury isn't "fairly traceable" to the IRS decision not to rewrite its rule--there are other intervening causes of CREW's injury.

February 28, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Video: A Camera and Protest in the United States Supreme Court

Here's the video:

 

 

 

Commentary available from Reuters  and NYT.

Our discussion of the oral arguments in McCutcheon and its relationship to Citizens United is here.

February 28, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Film, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brennan Center Launches Newsletter on Money in Politics

The Brennan Center at NYU launched its new newsletter Money in Politics last week.  According to the announcement, the newsletter "will highlight the latest news on the role of big money in politics, its potential impact on the 2014 election, and reform efforts nationwide."  Here's the first issue, published on February 20, covering New York's moves toward public financing, super-PAC donations from both sides of the aisle, a federal public financing bill, and various news related to spending and campaign finance reform.

February 24, 2014 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tenth Circuit Holds Colorado's Campaign Finance Scheme Unconstitutional as a Violation of Equal Protection

In its opinion this week in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a panel of the Tenth Circuit unanimously held unconstitutional a differential contribution limit in the Colorado campaign finance scheme as violating the Equal Protection Clause.

The scheme, deriving from Colorado's Amendment 27 and statutes, provided that the campaign limit for contributions to candidates who ran in a primary election, even if unopposed,  was $200 per person and there was an additional campaign limit of $200 per person for all candidates running in the general election.   This meant that a candidate who was a member of a major party holding a primary had a per person limit of $400, while minor party and write-in candidates had a per person limit of only $200.

COgov10
Image of Results From Colorado's 3-way Gubernatorial Election in 2010; Riddle involves a Congressional election also in 2010

The panel held that because  "the statutory classification affects a fundamental right, the right to political expression"  the correct equal protection standard should be a "standard that is at least as rigorous as the standard applied under the First Amendment," and that under standard the classification fails.   The panel found that the anti-corruption (or appearance of corruption) governmental interest was "sufficiently important," but the means chosen "are ill-conceived to advance these interests."

The statutory classification might advance the State’s asserted interest if write-ins, unaffiliated candidates, or minor-party nominees were more corruptible (or appeared more corruptible) than their Republican or Democratic opponents. But the Defendants have never made such a suggestion. In the absence of a link between the differing contribution limits and the battle against corruption, the means chosen are not closely drawn to the State’s asserted interest.

Concurring, Judge Gorsuch began by stating:

I confess some uncertainty about the level of scrutiny the Supreme Court wishes us to apply to this contribution limit challenge, but I harbor no question about the outcome we must reach. My colleagues are surely right that, as applied, Colorado’s statutory scheme offends the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, whatever plausible level of scrutiny we might deploy.

Interestingly, both the concurring opinion and the panel majority opinion, authored by Judge Bacharach, clearly rest their analysis on the Equal Protection Clause, and thus do not reach the First Amendment challenge.  Nevertheless, First Amendment doctrine and precedent permeate the reasoning.  Yet given that the Colorado campaign finance scheme results in such an untenable classification, the conclusion of an equal protection classification seems the right one.

 

January 26, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Treasury Proposes New Rules for Social Welfare Organizations in Politics

The Treasury Department yesterday announced that it will propose new guidance for social welfare organizations that will better define the requirements for tax-exempt status for those organizations engaged in candidate-related political activities.

The new proposed guidance is aimed at 501(c)(4) organizations, which are organized under the IRC for social welfare purposes, but nevertheless engage in significant political activities.  The 501(c)(4) form allows these organizations to fly under the radar while still engaging in politics.  For example, 501(c)(4) organizations need not disclose their donors to the FEC, and they need not disclose all of their political activities to the IRS.  (The Center for Responsive Politics notes that "Americans for Tax Reform, for instance, told the FEC it spent $15.8 million on independent expenditures in 2012, while it told the IRS it spent just $9.8 million.)  An organization can retain its 501(c)(4) status so long as less than half (up to 49%) of its activity is political.

These "dark money" organizations have exerted dramatically increased influence in elections: "While nonprofit organizations spent just $5.2 million on federal elections in 2006, that number rocketed to more than $300 million by 2012," according to The Daily Beast.  These organizations include tea party groups and others that the IRS targeted, leading to an IG report earlier this year, which led to the proposed rules.

The proposed guidance is designed to make it easier for the IRS to determine whether a social welfare organization exceeds the threshold for candidate-related political activities by better defining those activities.  "These proposed rules reduce the need to conduct fact-intensive inquiries, including inquiries into whether activities or communications are neutral and unbiased."  The likely net result is that some or many of these organizations will find that their activities now increase the percentage of "candidate-related political activity" in which they're involved, forcing them either to reduce their political activities or to lose their non-profit status.

The proposed guidance "defines the term 'candidate-related political activity,' and would amend current regulations by indicating that the promotion of social welfare does not include this kind of activity."  In particular, the guidance defines certain communications, grants and contributions, and activities closely related to elections or to candidates as "candidate-related political activity." 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has a statement here and a resource page here.  The Center for Responsive Politics has a statement here and a resource page, with a nice graphic, here.

November 27, 2013 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 22, 2013

FEC Denies Disclosure Exemption for Tea Party

The Federal Election Commission split 2-2 and thus denied a request from the Tea Party Leadership Fund for an exemption from FEC disclosure requirements of names of individual contributors who contributed more than $200 to the group.  The non-action means that the Tea Party Leadership Fund will have to disclose contributors like everybody else subject to the FEC's disclosure requirement.  NPR reports here.

The Tea Party argued that its donors are subject to harassment and hostility from government officials and private actors--with over 1,400 pages of evidence.  Two Commissioners reportedly agreed, and two disagreed.  The two competing draft FEC opinions are here.  The Commission, splitting 2-2, didn't accept either.  That meant that the Tea Party's request was denied.

The Court upheld disclosure requirements against a facial challenge in Buckley v. Valeo.  But it also said that the disclosure requirements might be unconstitutional as against a minor party that could show a "reasonable probability" that its contributors would be subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals if their contributions were disclosed.  Buckley at 69-74 (discussing NAACP v. Alabama). 

Courts and the FEC have awarded an exemption under this standard only in very narrow cases, to the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, minor parties that "rarely have firm financial foundation."  On the other hand, a court in 2011 denied an exemption to ProtectMarriage.com, a group that raised $30 million and supported California's Prop 8 (banning same-sex marriage in the state).  (Doe v. Reed, the Court's 2010 case, involved disclosure, but by way of a state's Public Records Act, not the FEC regs.)

November 22, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Second Circuit Enjoins NY Campaign Finance Provisions

A few days after hearing oral argument, a Second Circuit panel has reversed the district judge and entered an order enjoining the enforcement of New York Election Law §14-114(8) and §14-126(2) in its 14 page unanimous opinion in New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP) v. Walsh.

NYPPP challenged New York's $150,000 individual contribution limit to a PAC alleging that it has a "donor waiting to contribute $200,00 to its cause" and that the contribution limit violates NYPPP's "core First Amendment right to advocate in favor of Joseph Lhota in the upcoming New York mayoral election."  According to the NY Times, that "donor" is none other than Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon - - - the plaintiff in the campaign finance challenge McCutcheon v. FEC heard by the United States Supreme Court earlier this month as we discussed here.

While stating that the court expressed "no opinion on the ultimate outcome," it did hold that there was a substantial likelihood on the merits, citing Citizens United v. FEC for the proposition that the government "has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures."  The panel rejected the district court's finding that the "so-called independent expenditure only committees" have "only one purpose - advancing a single candidacy at a single point in time - - - " and are thus "not truly independent as a matter of law."  Instead, the panel concluded that NYCPP was independent and its choices "irrelevant."  Thus, a donor to an independent expenditure PAC such as NYPCCC is "even further removed from the candidate and may not be limited in his ability to contribute to such committees."   The panel noted that this issue has been resolved "consistently" by all the federal courts that have considered it.

Balancing the equities, the panel easily concluded that the hardship faced by NYPPP and its donors was significant: "Every sum that a donor is forbidden to contribute to NYPPP beacuse of this statute reduces constitutionally protected polictical speech."

The Second Circuit's injunction against the enforcement of the NY campaign finance statutes was criticized by the rival of Republican Joe Lhota:  a spokesperson for Democrat Bill deBlasio, reportedly stated the ruling would "empower the right-wing billionaires, like the Koch Brothers, and Tea Party groups who support Joe Lhota  to drown out the voices of New Yorkers."  

 The race between the mayoral candidates remains heated, if not especially close so far.  The question is whether an influx of money can change the outcome on November 5.

Meanwhile, watch the most recent debate between the candidates:

 


 

October 25, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Court Considers Aggregate Campaign Contribution Limits

The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, the case testing whether aggregate campaign contribution limits violate the First Amendment.

Aggregate limits, established under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, cap the total amount that a contributor can give to candidates, political parties, and political committees.  Aggregate limits supplement base limits, also in the BCRA, which cap the amount that a contributor can give to a particular candidate.  Aggregate limits are designed to prevent a contributor from circumventing the base limits (and thus to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption) by funneling total contributions in excess of the base limits through a variety of different recipients and to a particular candidate.  

Here's how it would work: Suppose Congress capped campaign contributions at $5,000 per candidate per cycle, so that a contributor could give only $5,000 to his or her preferred candidate.  Without more, that contributor could easily bypass that base limit by simply contributing $5,000 to a number of different organizations that could, in turn, support or contribute to the contributor's preferred candidate.  The contributor could thus effectively circumvent the base limit and corrupt his or her preferred candidate by funneling contributions through intermediaries.

Congress recognized this circumvention problem and imposed a cap on aggregate contributions in order to avoid it.  The Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) upheld both the base contribution limit and an aggregate contribution limit, holding that they work to prevent actual and apparent corruption and circumvention.  Later, in BCRA, Congress restructured and increased previous base and aggregate contribution limits and provided for automatic adjustments for inflation.

McCutcheon, a wealthy contributor, challenged the aggregate limits as violating the First Amendment.  (For more on the background, my ABA Preview piece is here.)

The arguments today focused on whether the current aggregate contribution limits continue to do any work with regard to corruption or circumvention.  The RNC and McCutcheon argued that they don't.  They said that other features of the law already prevent circumvention and corruption, and that the aggregate limits therefore only serve to limit free speech and association.  The FEC, on the other hand, said that they do--that they are necessary to close circumvention opportunities even with the other protective features of federal law, and that they prevent corruption.

The right answer, of course, turns on how money can flow in politics.  There were plenty of hypotheticals today (and in the briefing) designed to illustrate how aggregate limits work to prevent corruption and circumvention (and counter-points on why they don't).  Justices Breyer and Kagan led the charge with hypos showing why aggregate limits were necessary; Justice Kennedy expressed interest, as well.  But for every hypo, the petitioners had an explanation why current law already solved the corruption and circumvention problem, even without aggregate limits.  The lack of context and record on this point led Justices Breyer and Sotomayor to wonder whether the case might benefit from further development at the lower court.  (Don't bet on this outcome.)

Justice Alito turned this line of questions on the government and asked SG Verrilli why other features of federal law don't already solve the corruption and circumvention problems.  SG Verrilli seemed to back away from the circumvention interest and answered that a single contributor's very large contribution, dispersed across like-minded candidates and organizations, is itself a corruption problem, and that aggregate limits address this.  The answer didn't seem to satisfy.

Chief Justice Roberts had a different concern: how the aggregate limits affect a contributor's ability to give the maximum amount to as many candidates as he or she wants--and how this limits a contributor's speech and association rights with regard to, say, the tenth candidate that the contributor wants to support.  He also wondered whether there weren't less speech- and association-infringing ways to prevent corruption and circumvention. 

In short, both the Chief Justice and Justice Alito, who together may well control the outcome of this case, seemed accutely concerned that the aggregate limits weren't the best-tailored way for the government to achieve its interests in preventing corruption and circumvention.  At the same time, though, neither Chief Justice nor Justice Alito (nor anybody else today) directly took on Buckley's holding on base and aggregate contribution limits.  (Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas are all on record against Buckley's holding that the government can regulate contributions in the interest of preventing corruption.)  Instead, the arguments focused on whether the non-aggregate-limiting features of BCRA can do the work of preventing corruption and circumvention--and therefore whether the aggregate limits only serve to infringe the First Amendment.  So if the arguments today are any indication, we may see a 5-4 Court striking the aggregate limits because they're not sufficiently tailored to prevent corruption or circumvention--and because they limit too much speech and association.

If so, we'll likely see more total money going directly to candidates, political parties, and committees.  But remember that under Citizens United individuals can already spend as much as they want on "independent" electioneering.  This case won't change that, even if it directs some of that "independent" money to candidates, political parties, and committees for better coordinated expenditures.  (Justice Scalia argued today that the anti-corruption purpose of aggregate limits seems as weak as, or weaker than, an anti-corruption purpose for the independent expenditure restrictions that the Court struck in Citizens United.)  At the same time, this case probably won't upset Buckley's holding that the government can cap base contributions in the interest of preventing actual or apparent corruption.  Indeed, it may not even upset Buckley's holding on aggregate contributions.  Instead, it may only say that under BCRA aggregate limits aren't doing the anti-corruption and anti-circumvention work that they were designed to do, and that they're unduly infringing on the First Amendment.

October 8, 2013 in Association, Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Video: Stephen Cobert Interviews Emily Bazelon on McCutcheon v. FEC

Worth a watch:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Here's our take on today's oral arguments in the United States Supreme Court.

October 8, 2013 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tenth Circuit Recognizes For-Profit Corporations as Having Religious Freedom and Free Exercise Rights

In the contentious and closely-watched case of Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius, the Tenth Circuit has rendered its opinion concluding that a for-profit corporation has free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment.

Hobby Lobby challenges the constitutionality of the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage to employees.  We've previously discussed the issue and the circuit split here. 

800px-HobbyLobbyStowOhio

The federal district judge had rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, noting that it was a for-profit completely secular company - - - it is a corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states.  The federal district judge also denied the injunction as to the for-profit corporation Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain, and to the family owning both the corporations through a management trust.  Hobby Lobby sought extraordinary relief from the United States Supreme Court after a Tenth Circuit panel declined to issue a stay; Justice Sotomayor in her role as Tenth Circuit Justice then rejected the claim, ruling that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."

The Tenth Circuit granted the request for initial en banc review - - - thus, there is no Tenth Circuit panel opinion - - - and issued a lengthy set of opinions from the eight judges, one judge being recused. The majority opinion on pages 8-9 details the rationales of the individual judges.  But the essential division is 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under RFRA and the First Amendment.  The majority concluded there was such a right and that the corporations demonstrated a likelihood of success for prevailing on the merits. 

Judge Timothy Tymkovich's more than 65 page opinion for the majority concluded that  

Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.

Only a plurality of judges would have resolved the other two preliminary injunction factors  - - - balance of equities and public interest - - -  in Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s favor, thus the remand.

The majority, however, held

as a matter of statutory interpretation that Congress did not exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protections. Such corporations can be “persons” exercising religion for purposes of the statute. Second, as a matter of constitutional law, Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.

(emphasis added). The opinion often conflates RFRA (which recall, is only applicable as to federal laws) and First Amendment.  However, in specifically considering First Amendment doctrine, the majority's argument derived from two strands.  First, it noted that individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep their Free Exercise rights - - - such as churches, citing Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 525 (1993) (holding that a “not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law” prevailed on its Free Exercise claim).  Second, it then noted that "unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights," citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982) (considering a Free Exercise claim of an Amish employer); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961) (plurality opinion) (considering a Free Exercise claim by Jewish merchants operating for-profit).

It then characterized the government's argument as being that these "Free Exercise rights somehow disappear" when "individuals incorporate and fail to satisfy Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3)."  The majority found this distinction to be one that cannot be supported by First Amendment doctrine.  It did, however, implicitly limit the facts under which for-profit corporations could be found to have free exercise rights: 

The government nonetheless raises the specter of future cases in which, for example, a large publicly traded corporation tries to assert religious rights under RFRA. That would certainly seem to raise difficult questions of how to determine the corporation’s sincerity of belief. But that is not an issue here. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not publicly traded corporations; they are closely held family businesses with an explicit Christian mission as defined in their governing principles. The Greens, moreover, have associated through Hobby Lobby and Mardel with the intent to provide goods and services while adhering to Christian standards as they see them, and they have made business decisions according to those standards. And the Greens are unanimous in their belief that the contraceptive-coverage requirement violates the religious values they attempt to follow in operating Hobby Lobby and Mardel. It is hard to compare them to a large, publicly traded corporation, and the difference seems obvious.

Thus, the majority stated that it did not share any concerns that its holding would prevent courts from distinguishing businesses that are not eligible for RFRA’s - - - and presumably the First Amendment's - - - protections.

While the analysis of substantial burden that follows is important, it is the holding that a secular for-profit corporation has a sincerely held religious belief that entitles it to assert a free exercise claim is the centerpiece of the controversy. 

Indeed, Chief Judge Briscoe, joined by Judge Lucero, call the majority's opinion on this point

nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law, as well as the law of corporations. But whatever one might think of the majority’s views, the fact remains that they are wholly unsupported by the language of the Free Exercise Clause or the Supreme Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and are thus, at best, “considerations for the legislative choice.”

The ability of for-profit corporations to have Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment - - - along with their Free Speech rights as articulated in the still-controversial Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010 and liberally cited in Hobby Lobby - - - is highly contested.  This may certainly be going (back) to the United States Supreme Court.

RR
[image via]

June 28, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Congressional Authority, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ninth Circuit Affirms Injunction Against Judicial Endorsement, Expenditure Ban

The Ninth Circuit this week upheld in part a lower court permanent injunction against the enforcement of a Montana statute making it a criminal offense for any political party to "endorse, contribute to, or make an expenditure to support or oppose a judicial candidate" in a nonpartisan judicial election.

The ruling in Sanders County Republican Central Committee v. Fox is no surprise, after the Ninth Circuit ruled last fall that Montana's ban, at Mont. Code Ann. Sec. 13-35-231, insofar as it restricted endorsements and expenditures, violated the First Amendment.  

But the court also reversed the lower court's injunction against enforcing the ban on contributions.  It ruled that the earlier case didn't address the constitutionality of the state's ban on contributions and that the contribution ban wasn't before the court here.

This week's ruling means that Montana cannot enforce its ban against political parties endorsing or spending money in support of or in opposition to a judicial candidate in a nonpartisan judicial election.  But the state can enforce its ban against political parties making contributions to those judicial candidates.

SDS

June 23, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)