Wyoming Liberty Group
As Wyoming and other states consider expanding the reach of campaign finance laws to capture “dark money,” some consideration of what’s happening in Chicago is helpful. Aggressive campaign finance regulations, touted as combatting corruption, allow for easy manipulation of the law.
We learned last week that Rahm Emanuel pulled in $400,000 in campaign contributions to his mayoral campaign due to an obscure part of Illinois campaign finance law. Under Illinois law, when wealthy candidates self-finance their campaigns with $100,000 or more in local races, contribution limits are eliminated for every opponent.
It’s that time of year again. Election Day is more and more like Groundhog Day for campaign finance reformers. Their legend goes like this: if sizeable amounts of money are spent on political speech there will be years of corruption and ruin ahead. Over at the Nation, Zoë Carpenter is complaining that “old white guys” are buying our elections. Others warn of an impending “stealth oligarchy” forming right under our noses. Hogwash.
CHEYENNE – Wyoming Liberty Group attorneys Benjamin Barr and Steve Klein filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals at Dallas, arguing that a political contributor’s convictions for organized crime, bribery and money laundering for campaign finance violations unconstitutionally abridge his First Amendment rights.
In 2007, David and Stacy Cary broke several campaign finance laws under the Texas Election Code, indirectly contributing excessive funds to a judicial candidate. The candidate won the election handily, but was then indicted along with the Carys.
After five years of gridlock, last week a majority of four of six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission finally voted to update the FEC’s regulations to comply with the Citizens United decision. For years, the three commissioners representing the Democrats insisted that along with updating the regulations the commission should add new “disclosure” requirements. Thankfully, Democrat appointee Ann Ravel, who has served on the commission for just over a year, finally agreed to break the stopgap and drop the demand. One of her fellow Democrat commissioners Ellen Weintraub—who has served on the commission for a long time and remains despite her latest term being years expired—is not pleased, and issued a statement of reasons why she would not vote to simply follow the Citizens United precedent.
An unfortunate trend in election law is emerging across America. Campaign finance laws—first designed to supposedly eliminate corruption in government—often instead become the tools of political operatives used to delay, impede, and harass opponents. In other words, campaign finance reform itself is corrupting; its tool is the criminalization of American politics.
One of the silliest carve-outs (or exceptions) in modern campaign finance law is the so-called “Socialist Workers” exemption to campaign finance reporting. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo that if certain groups could show retaliation and oppression due to their views, they could be exempted from disclosing their contributors publicly. The Socialist Workers Party achieved this in 1982 after prolonged litigation that also went to the Supreme Court. The Federal Election Commission recently renewed the SWP’s exemption in 2013.