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Latest Crack at Campaign Finance Reform Not Pleasing Free-Speech Advocates

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) call their Follow the Money Act of 2013 a bipartisan compromise.

Rodrigo Sermeño


May 7, 2013 - 12:08 am
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WASHINGTON – Two senators recently unveiled a bipartisan proposal that seeks to address the influx of anonymous federal election spending and bring transparency and consistency to campaign finance law.

The Follow the Money Act of 2013, sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would require corporations, special-interest groups, and super PACs to disclose their spending on political campaigns. Wyden has been a firm supporter of campaign finance reform, pushing for greater disclosure in election spending following the Citizens United decision in 2010.

“These reforms reflect the belief that where there’s significant campaign spending, everyone has to play by the same rules and that voters deserve to know where the money is coming from and where it’s going,” said Wyden in a press conference to announce the bill. “This will bring an end to the most flagrant abuses that have made a mockery of campaign finance and tax law.”

The current disclosure of independent spending requires some business models to make significant disclosures while others are required nearly none. The bill’s aim is to close loopholes in federal spending election campaign law by creating a universal system of disclosure for independent spending irrespective of the spender, or as the bill’s text describes it, “disclosure, for disclosure’s sake.”

Republicans blocked a similar bill, the Disclose Act, last July introduced by Senate Democrats over concerns that the legislation favored labor unions and other groups while requiring corporations to disclose their campaign spending.

“What you’re seeing in this proposal that is different than you have seen in the Disclose Act that was before the Senate last summer and then prior to, is that this is a bill designed to be bipartisan,” said Murkowski.

Murkowski, who along with her fellow GOP senators opposed the Disclose Act, noted that the Follow the Money Act is “a bill that is designed to be even across the board, absolutely transparent in all aspects of it.”

During the press conference, the Alaska senator alluded to her 2010 campaign in which she had to win reelection as a write-in candidate after she lost the Republican primary to a Tea Party-backed candidate.

“We’ve all had to go through an election,” Murkowski said. “Some of us have been the beneficiaries of some of this independent expenditure activity. Some of us have been on the receiving end of some pretty directed campaigns.”

Under the bill, small spenders are subject to lesser requirements in concurrence with court decisions suggesting that reporting can reduce speech by small contributors and impose burdens to First Amendment rights.

The bill would also direct the Federal Election Commission to establish a new reporting system for contributions so that the public can monitor independent spending and candidate campaign contributions in “real time.” The legislation raises the threshold for reporting of direct contributions to candidates from the low $200 to $1,000 and creates two options for groups looking to preserve donor anonymity. The bill requires any group that spends at least $10,000 on an election to disclose all of its donors who donated $1,000 or more. Currently, tax-exempt 501(c) organizations that engage in political spending have no legal obligation to reveal their donors.

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court struck down a longstanding prohibition on corporate and union spending in politics. The court decision states that political spending to support individual candidates constitutes a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the federal government cannot deny corporations or unions the rights to spend. The court described disclosure as “a less restrictive alternative to more comprehensive regulations of speech,” and said it is essential so “citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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I'll repeat what I've heard Bill Whittle say: "When can we expect to see this legislation be sunsetted?"
Yeah, I think this is a crappy bill. So, let's guarantee that it will have to be re-architected in the future: put an expiration date on it. That's a FAR BETTER guarantee to the people than "bipartisan" ever is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Should voters in New York be allowed to contribute to elections in New Hampshire? Should voters in Concord, NH be allowed to contribute to elections in Manchester, NH?
If you cannot vote in an election, why should you be allowed to contribute to that election?
Whom do you want politicians to raise money from, their constituents or people that CANNOT vote for them?

Campaign Finance Reform should be about Insiders versus Outsiders not hard money versus soft money.

US Citizens
An Example for US Citizens Who Live, Vote and Pay Taxes in the Government District:
Three people contribute to a campaign. One contributes $10,000 worth of time, one contributes $10,000 worth of resources and one contributes $10,000 in cash.
Which has violated campaign finance laws?
The person that contributes $10,000 cash. The persons that contributed $10,000 worth of time and resources are making legal contributions. But all three people live under regulations, pay taxes, and earn income in the government district that the candidate represents.

If you are not going to limit the time and resources a voter may contribute to a candidate, why is it fair to limit the cash a voter can contribute?

Time, resources and money are all acceptable and equivalent contributions. There should be no limits on contributions by people who can vote in an election. They pay taxes and live under that government's regulations so they should be allowed to help select their representative any way they can, with time, money or resources.

Conversely, if a person can NOT vote in an election then they should not be allowed to contribute anything to a candidate, not time, money or resources.

Voting in an election is the key determiner of Insider versus Outsider. If it were not so, we could vote in all 50 states, for 50 governors, 100 senators, etc. Because we are limited to whom we can vote for, we should also be limited to whom we can contribute to. This limit applies to time, money and resources.

An Example for Unlimited Campaign Contributions by Voters in an Election District:
Let’s use New York City as an example. Two billionaires live in New York city and one billionaire we’ll call Michael, wants to be mayor of New York city. Michael contributes $10 million to his own campaign, which is perfectly legal under the current campaign finance laws. The other billionaire, we’ll call Donald, does not want to be mayor, but he also does not want Michael to be mayor. He would like to contribute $10 million to another candidate. This is not legal. Why? They both live, work, pay taxes and vote in New York city.

If you are having problems with allowing voters to give unlimited campaign contributions please ask yourself these questions:
If you had a million dollars investment in the stock market, would you pay a stock broker to manage that investment.
If you paid one million dollars in taxes, would you not contribute to a politician to manage your "investment" in government?
If you received one million dollars in government contracts or tax deductions or subsidies, would you not contribute to a politician to manage your "revenue" from government?
If you paid one million dollars to comply with government regulations would you not contribute to a politician to manage your "investment" with the government?

Remember that billionaires can only make unlimited contributions in one election district, the one they can vote in.

Non-voting US Residents
The Supreme Court has ruled that people that can not vote in the US, but pay taxes to the US can participate in a limited way in elections. This ruling applied to permanent residents who are not yet citizens. The Supreme Court did allow restrictions on the amount of money non-citizens could contribute to an election. They limited their contributions to only the amount of money the person earned in the US.

Two people make the same amount of money in a government district and pay the same taxes to that government, but only one of them can vote in that district. Should the contributions by the nonresident be limited to the same amount of contributions as the voters in that district? Should nonresidents be banned from making contributions of time and resources because placing a value on it and accounting for it is difficult to impossible?

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You nailed it! There should be NO 'exteranal' influences in states and dsstricts election processes. Allowing it only corrupts the constitutional system and processes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't know how Murkowski got suckered into this. Unfortunately, the Joe Miller thing caused her to pile in with some strange bedfellows and she doesn't have much reason to be very loyal to the caucus. She took a LOT of money from Alaska Native (ANCSA) Corporations and they aren't a natural Republican constituency. Worse, she took a lot of money from organized labor, something no Republican should do and it always comes at a price. I worked for her father, I know her and like her personally, but her appointment crippled the Murkowski Administration and colored everything we did in the first two years. Frank's passing over Sarah Palin to appoint Lisa caused Sarah to embark on a vendetta against all things Murkowski and against the Alaska Republican Party. That vendetta put the Alaska Senate in the hands of a Democrat-led coaltion, the first time in decades it hadn't been in Republican control, and could easily have put Lisa Murkowski's Senate seat in Democrat hands. I still don't understand why Alaska's Democrats didn't quickly draft some brandname Democrat to oppose Miller. Everyone in Republican politics here was holding their breath waiting for fmr. Gov. Knowles or fmr. Lt. Gov. Ulmer or one of several other Democrats with Statewide name recognition to throw their hat in the ring and replace the unknown Democrat nominee; still can't figure out why they didn't. If they had, the ANCSA Corp and Labor backing that were the keys to Lisa's write-in success would have gone to the Democrat. We really need to put up a solid Republican challenger to Lisa in the Primary and get a Republican Reset in Alaska after the Lisa appointment, Frank's self-immolation, all the Sarah drama, the Stevens loss and his death, and the still on-going battle for control of the Party between more traditional Alaska Republicans and the alliance of Palinbots and Paulbots. Once among the Reddest states, Alaska is decidedly Purple these days and trending Blue, and we really don't have a Republican Party to stop that trend.

All you have to do is read "The Blueprint" to see how the left intends to use disclosures. They'll set up whole shops of lawyers to engage in "Lawfare" against contributors to conservative/Republican candidates and causes. Whether meritorious or not, campaign finanace law complaints are time consuming, expensive, and embarassing. If you're a Republican, the complaint is front page above the fold and you're trashed as a lawbreaker on the mere allegation. When the complaint is dismissed, long after the election, the "news" is on page 24 in the smallest possible typeface. In that environment, people become VERY reluctant to contribute - and that's the whole idea.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's not just the lawfare, although that is bad enough. Any new rules are only for Republicans to obey. The Dems will ignore them and get away with it.

A good example is receipt of foreign credit card money. In both elections, the Obama campaign turned off the verification system, thus allowing huge amounts of foreign money into the campaign. He won, so no prosecution. Even if a Repub had won, there would still be no prosecution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It never ceases to amaze how people distort the Constitution. Just as in the case of the Second Amendment, so it is in the case of the First. What part of "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." doesn't anyone understand? It is not that the people (which includes corporate bodies) have the right to free speech, it is that Congress cannot pass any laws abridging those rights, period, case closed!! Hence, any 'law' so passed by Congress is prima fascie unconstitutional.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No matter how you slice it, this "bipartisan" bill is a bad bill, an infringment of free speech rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This cloaking in freedom of speech thing defies any logic. How is the monetary exchange/donations for goods and services or charity, a matter of free speech? When you donate to Goodwill are you exercising charity or free speech? When you donate to some political candiate are you donating to the expenses for goods or services or are you making a speech? On thre other hand, if some person or some corporation has NO physical district or states connect they have NO pretected speech rights nor interest in a candidate running for office to represent only those poeple of the district and state.

The free speech logic some are using may as well be advocating for national election of states and district represetatives and senators of congress. How constitutional is that? Likewise, those same people are in full support of corruption in our electoral prcesses - plain and simple! If they have this great concern for voting rights and want to know every voter is fully disclosed as eligible to vote and vote according to the laws in didtricts and states then by damn, so should all those 'persons' contributing to candidates campaigns be open and publically vetted in their activities just like voters and candidates have to. Is a candiate required to openly and publically disclose their finances, a violation of free speech?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In my limited experience, "bipartisan" NEVER works out for the People.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Transparency is a populist term for nothing more than, electoral corruption is all okay so long as we know where the money comes from.

Since the supreme court decided that corporations were defined constitutionally as being corporate personhoods, if they were to be serious, they would enact legislation that would require ALL corporate campaign donations be done in the names of 'real human individuals' donating in a particular corporate personhood to a particular politcal party or special interest cause. A durn steel and brick building with a name on it is hardly a person or persons.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, I, if there were real human beings who ran the corporation, the names would totally not be on official documents filed with the government and in the public domain. So, like...if the "corporation" donated a lot of money, NO ONE would know where the money really came from.

Cause, know...corporate personhood. Tear it all down, man.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the silliest asnd dangerous decisions ever to come down the pike from the supreme court.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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