Friday, July 06, 2012

Money in Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Robert Friedman.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtags #moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.

New York Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. The end of the legislative session may be two weeks past, but support for campaign finance reform shows no signs of fading.  An Albany Times Union editorial argues that the failure to pass reform legislative session casts a cloud over the entire legislative session and that it must be a top priority when the legislature reconvenes.  “[V]ictory laps and self-congratulatory speeches don’t get the unfinished business done — the business, that is, of reducing the dangerous influence of big money in politics and limiting the power of well-funded special interests.”  

2. New York City’s public financing system facilitates fairer and more democratic elections.  Nonetheless, anti-reform groups have brought a constitutional challenge to the City’s election law, alleging that it violates the First Amendment.  The Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters of New York City, and New York Public Interest Research Group submitted a friend-of-the-court brief this week, urging the federal district court hearing the case to uphold the law.  The laws’ defenders argue that the campaign finance scheme poses no constitutional problems and furthers the values of the First Amendment by encouraging democratic participation.  “The City’s public finance system stands tall as a bulwark against a nation awash in political spending dominated by corporations, unions and other moneyed interests,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union.

National Campaign Finance and Ethics News

1. As the November elections grow closer, the danger of dark money rises, but there are signs of progress in the effort to combat the harmful effects of unchecked money in politics.  Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began an investigation into how the Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy group that does not disclose its donors, is obtaining funds.  This week, the I.R.S. began questioning 501(c)(4) groups to determine if they really are “social welfare” groups, which would allow them to keep donors anonymous, or if they are actually primarily engaging in political activity, which would force either disclosure of donors or renunciation of tax exempt status.  An editorial in The New York Times asserts that vigorous and continued enforcement is necessary to make the fall elections as fair as possible.

2. An FCC rule mandating broadcast television stations to report the buyers of political ads will soon take effect.  Originally passed in April, the rule requires certain stations in the 50 largest TV markets to begin submitting information on political ad buys to the FCC by August 2.  The FCC, in turn, will post the information online, making it available to anyone.  The new database will help shine light on who is funding the ubiquitous political ads thrust upon every household.

3. Though the Supreme Court refused to revisit Citizens United last week, a federal appeals court took a significant step to ensure that the decision is not extended any farther.  In United States v. Danielczyk, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that bans on direct corporate campaign contributions remain constitutional.  The decision overturned a lower court’s judgment that Citizens United rendered any such ban illegal, noting that direct contributions stand on different footing from independent expenditures, which Citizens United ruled could not be capped. 

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