Posts Tagged ‘Speechnow.org v FEC’

Meredith McGehee: Lobbyists Shouldn’t Let Lax Fundraising Rules Complicate Their Work

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Geoffrey Lyons

Meredith McGehee is the Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center and principal of McGehee Strategies.  She has been named five times by The Hill as one of the top nonprofit/grassroots lobbyists in Washington.  McGehee can be reached at mmcgehee@campaignlegalcenter.org

IT'S A TRUISM that Members of Congress greatly depend on lobbyists for campaign fundraising.  This is because lobbyists can do more than just give direct contributions: they can solicit the support of the entire company, industry, or organization they represent.

Until recently, this was a relatively coherent process.  Lobbyists would help channel money to the right PACs, give advice to executives on individual contributions, and aid in managing bundling efforts.  All of this was done under the fundraising restrictions imposed by the FEC, such as the $2,500 limit for individual candidates.

But things are different now, and $2,500 looks like chump change.

After the Citizens United

and SpeechNow.org court decisions, meaningful limits are gone.  Members of Congress are still turning to lobbyists for campaign funds, but now the “ask” is for $10 million instead of $10,000.  The pressure to deliver this money will only grow as Democrats begin to fully embrace Super PACs, which they originally shunned.

Also burdening lobbyists is the rise of “dark money” groups that aren't required to disclose their donors.  Members of Congress see these as excellent avenues to get funding from a company or industry that they’d rather not associate with publicly.

Lobbyists at the center of the Washington money game will therefore be spending more time than ever figuring out how to respond to Member’s demands for money.  So too will they be occupied trying to decipher who is behind the funds pouring in against their clients.

For the lobbyists who believe more in their powers of persuasion than their ability to solicit contributions, now is the time to speak up and support the American Bar Association's proposal to detach lobbying from fundraising.

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Top Headlines of 2010

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 by Vbhotla

Last year saw Executive Orders and court rulings and legislative movements and the passing of some of the profession’s most dearly-loved members.  Here is a look back at the top headlines of 2010:

  1. Trials, convictions and releases – Kevin Ring was convicted on five counts of corruption November 15 and awaits sentencing, after a 2009 trial resulted in a hung jury.  Paul Magliocchetti pleaded guilty in September to making illegal campaign contributions.  The justice department is seeking a 57 month imprisonment for what prosecutors are calling “one of the largest criminal schemes in U.S. history to violate federal campaign finance laws.”  Jack Abramoff, initially sentenced to six years for  fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, was released from federal prison in June, and his term at a work-release-like program at a Baltimore pizzeria ended in early December.
  2. Court rulings – In January, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission corporate funding of independent campaign ads could not be limited under the First Amendment.  Many consider the March Speechnow ruling to be a follow-up to Citizens United; the spring case allowed for unlimited giving to “independent expenditures committees.”  Both cases, however, upheld disclosure requirements while lifting spending restrictions.
  3. Legislative Bullying – Congress sought to “fix” the Citizens United ruling with the DISCLOSE Act, which would require organizations that back federal election campaigns to disclose the names of large donors, as well as list said donors in any campaign ads the organizations run, and ban foreign governments, government contractors, and TARP recipients from donating to campaigns.  The act passed in the House in June, but failed in the lame duck session in the Senate.  In addition, a proposed ban on earmarks failed in the Senate November 30.
  4. Executive Orders – In June, President Obama issued an order banning lobbyists from advisory boards of federal departments and agencies.  It also banned all gifts from lobbyists to executive branch appointees, appointees-turned-lobbyists from lobbying the branch for the duration of his administration, and tightened revolving door policies.
  5. Deaths – Patti Jo Baber, executive director of the American League of Lobbyists, passed in December.  She was described as the “backbone” of the organization and a prominent member of the lobbying community.

Campaign Finance in 2010

Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Vbhotla

This election saw record campaign spending from outside groups.  What changed to enable such astonishing third-party contributions?

  • Citizens United – for the first time in over 60 years, unions and corporations were permitted to spend treasury funds on ads calling for the election or defeat of certain candidates.  Prior to the ruling, these organizations were only permitted to advertise around particular issues, not in favor or opposition to particular candidates.  Corporate executives can donate business funds to nonprofits to advertise on behalf of the corporation anonymously — without anyone ever knowing where the money originated — providing incentive for CEOs reluctant to have a company openly endorse candidates in the past.
  • New FEC interpretation – The FEC has not required as much disclosure about advertising as it has in previous years, releasing a rule revision requiring only funds specifically donated for advertisements be disclosed.  This made it possible for contributors to avoid disclosure by simply not specifying where their money should be spent.   Half of the commissioners narrowed the margin for disclosure requirements even more, allowing funds to be designated for advertising and still avoid disclosure, as long as the contributors didn’t specify for which ad the money would be spent.  This drastically decreases the donation disclosure.
  • Super-PACs and the Speechnow aftermath – Citizens United opened the door for unlimited spending, which may have been the Pandora’s Box that led to the verdict in Speechnow.org v. FEC. Thanks to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (and the U.S. Supreme Court who later refused to hear the case to overturn the verdict), groups can now identify as “independent expenditure committees,” allowing unlimited contributions from unlimited sources, though they must register as PACs.

To recap: thanks to two anti-regulatory court rulings, now groups can receive unlimited contributions fro

m unlimited sources, then spend in unlimited amounts with fewer restrictions, as long as they continue to register with the FEC.  The changing of the guard in the Capitol when the newly-elected Congressmen are seated should afford more changes, and less regulation, thanks to small-government favoring Republicans. Stay tuned!

Supreme Court upholds PAC disclosure requirements

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by Vbhotla

In what many are calling a follow-up to the Citizens United ruling, and a blow to campaign finance reform, the Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the Speechnow.org vs. FEC case last week.  Many are suggesting this broadens the reach of Citizens United and allows for increases freedom of speech in the electoral process.

The decision allows for unlimited donations to “independent expenditure groups” such as Speechnow.org, and challenges FEC regulation of campaign donations.  While unlimited donations allows for greater spending on campaigns, it also maintained disclosure requirements, noting that continued registration and disclosure will be required.

Under the ruling, Speechnow and similar groups must register as a PAC and disclose contributions.  As a result, over 50 such groups popped up around the country ahead of the mid-term elections, and this election cycle saw record spending. Watchdog group opensecrets.org noted that “significant investments from outside groups helped elect more than 200 federal candidates.”

Though both Democrats and Republicans received outside donations, it was Republicans who saw the greatest benefits of organizations’ ability to receive unlimited donations, and in turn, spend in unlimited proportions.