When Republicans told us that they wanted to gut campaign finance laws, they said it wouldn’t matter, because they would support reporting and disclosure requirements. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. For anyone who relied on their solemn, heart-felt, good-government vows to support disclosure and reporting requirements, I got news for you.
During their long campaign to loosen rules on campaign money, conservatives argued that there was a simpler way to prevent corruption: transparency. Get rid of limits on contributions and spending, they said, but make sure voters know where the money is coming from.
Today, with those fundraising restrictions largely removed, many conservatives have changed their tune. They now say disclosure could be an enemy of free speech.
High-profile donors could face bullying and harassment from liberals out to “muzzle” their opponents, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a recent speech. Corporations could be subject to boycotts and pickets, warned the Wall Street Journal editorial page this spring. Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News. “I think it’s shameful.”
Boycotts and pickets! In other words, corporations could be subject to political speech, in response to their political speech. The unfairness of it all! You mean, people get to… talk back under this liberal “free speech” scheme? Who knew? Is that in the Tea Party Constitution?
“Disclosure is the one area where [conservatives] haven’t won,” said Richard Briffault, an election law professor at Columbia Law School. “This is the next frontier for them.”
Anti-abortion groups are leaders in suing to gut campaign finance, disclosure and reporting rules. Recently, anti-abortion groups targeted the state of Vermont’s laws regulating campaign finance and disclosure. They lost this round, but they’ll be back.
A federal judge has ruled that Vermont can impose contribution limits on a political action committee, dismissing a constitutional challenge of provisions of Vermont’s campaign finance laws from the Vermont Right to Life Committee and a related PAC and ruling in favor of the state.
The Vermont Right to Life Committee had filed a lawsuit saying Vermont’s campaign finance registration, reporting and disclosure requirements for political action committees were too broad and unconstitutional. And a subcommittee created by the Vermont Right to Life Committee, called the Vermont Right to Life Committee-Fund for Independent Political Expenditures, argued that it should not be subject to Vermont’s $2,000 limit on contributions to PACs because it said it did not give money directly to candidates and makes only independent expenditures.
But U.S. District Court Judge Williams Sessions rejected the arguments on Thursday, saying there was no clear accounting between the FIPE and the Vermont Right to Life Committee, Inc. Political Committee which makes direct contributions to anti-abortion candidates. Therefore, Vermont is permitted to impose a $2,000 limit on contributions FIPE may accept from individual sources, he said.
Registration, reporting and and disclosure requirements. Transparency. That goes next. They do not want people to know who is behind these political campaigns. Why is that? Why the abrupt change? Principled conservatives were arguing FOR transparency prior to Citizens. It was A Bedrock Principle and part of the conservative soul!
If you live in state with campaign finance, reporting or disclosure rules, you may want to add one more issue that any state and federal candidate should have to address: does the candidate support or oppose gutting state campaign finance, reporting or disclosure regulations? Do they support the GOP movement (led by anti-abortion groups) to come into these states and sue to set aside their campaign finance laws? If you know any anti-abortion folks, you might ask them if they know anti-abortion groups are big players in gutting campaign finance regs. The vast majority of people in this country believe campaign finance should be regulated. Ask them if they know that anti-abortion groups are quietly moving to gut disclosure and reporting requirements, along with the Republican Party.
This is an article about their lawyer, from 2011.
He says his first national client, in 1978, was the National Right to Life Committee. He was about 30 then and started handling campaign finance issues with right-to-life groups as his plaintiffs. Now he has dozens of clients across the conservative landscape.
He’s also on the Republican National Committee and is prominent in the Federalist Society, an incubator for conservative legal ideas.