Archive for the 'Coordination' Category

Louisiana is arguing with the help of the indefatigable Jim Bopp that McCain-Feingold cannot limit “federal election activities”, such as GOTV and voter registration, that state and local parties conduct independently, without coordinating with their candidates. Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen reply in a brief filed as amici that this claim is clearly foreclosed by existing precedent: the soft money limits on state parties under McCain-Feingold are contribution limits, not spending limits, and there is no protection gained from claiming to conduct independently the activities paid with these contributions.

The litigating team representing these leading reform organizations is top-notch, and so it is not a surprise in reading their brief that they do a fine job with the materials at hand. But one also sees that there is a problem—not with the advocacy, but with the state of the law.

Super PACs and Concerns about Political Equality

February 12, 2016
posted by Bob Bauer

This is the main point urged on the reader in this paper on Super PACs: they're unlikely to disappear, because they are product of the logic of Buckley rather than a distortion of it.  Without a major change in the constitutional law, it is difficult to see how significant limits on Super PACs can be legislated or brought about by regulatory fiat.  Moreover, the “anti-coordination” rules that many are calling for would entangle and damage political organizations other than super PACs and raise legitimate, serious free speech and association issues.

At the same time, there is room for reform--some adjustment to the regulatory process--that would account for the Super PACs’ emergence and widening impact.  Transparency measures can clearly identify for the public those single-candidate Super PACs operating with the candidate’s active support and involvement.  Additional resources could be made available to other actors--parties and others--that are now more regulated than Super PACs and, and in part for that reason, steadily losing ground to them. The goal would not be a deregulated campaign finance system but one that is more rationally structured and coherent.

Rick Hasen worries that the “cure may be worse than the disease.”  He is suspicious or concerned that this is a move to restore the soft-money days that McCain-Feingold was supposed to close out.  But the proposal is not inspired by special solicitude for parties.  Parties are one of a number of electorally active organizations that would benefit from an infusion of resources but there is no case for making them the only ones.  Targeted regulatory relief should be available for other membership-based organizations, and even to candidates when conducting particular voter mobilization activities.

What Rick and others overlook, minimize, or dispute is the role of reinvigorated associational activity in enhancing political equality--in advancing the goal of "the quality of inputs" that Rick champions.  In his very good book, Plutocrats United, Rick does not grapple with the dependence of political equality on organizing and other means of building political strength on numbers, particularly among the very population of citizens he is most concerned with: those with modest resources.  As Guy-Uriel Charles has summed up the significance of association, its “main principle…is that of effective aggregation: an individual must have a reasonable opportunity to join with like-minded others for the purpose of acquiring political power.”  Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Racial Identity, Electoral Structures, and the First Amendment Right of Association, 91 Cal. L. Rev. 1209, 1248-1249 (2003).

The Federal Election Commission has not solved the “Super PAC problem,” but then again the Commissioners cannot agree on what the problem is. Others outside the agency are divided in this same way. A number of questions in contemporary campaign finance are like that. Because positions are passionately held, each side is convinced that the other is not merely mistaken but dead wrong, maybe also ill-motivated. Given the chance, proponents and opponents of new rules would like to win however they can.

So there is the hope that the Supreme Court can be shifted by a vote toward a more favorable judgment on congressional power to control campaign finance. And proposals are made to strengthen the FEC for a more decisive role. The Brennan Center suggests that the FEC could make strides in the direction if it could be restructured to a) bring an element of nonpartisanship into the choice of Commissioners, by assuring that at least one is unaffiliated with a party and b) add an additional Commissioner to the total to get to an odd number and avoid deadlocks. The changes would supposedly work together to make good decisions: the odd number of Commissions guarantees decision, and the provision for nonpartisanship improves the chance that the decision will be a good one. To secure this ingredient of nonpartisanship, the Brennan Center suggests a “blue ribbon advisory panel” to recommend nominees for consideration by the President.

The goal of a decision is different from the goal of a good decision and so, in this respect, an odd number of Commissioners only gets us so far. And no one has yet defined how “blue ribbon” recommendations of Commissioners, or the requirement that one or more of them be unaffiliated with any political party, will achieve a particular reform objective.  “Nonpartisan” Commissioners will not be without opinions; they will hold views that inform their regulatory positions, just as there are independents who reliably identify with one party or the other.

“Not Authorized”

November 29, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

Right now the basic complaint about Super PACs is that they can enlist the and endorsement support of their favored candidates, as in fundraising, and still claim they are “independent” and spend without limit.  But the Supreme Court—not the FEC, not wily campaign finance lawyers—is the reason why this is possible.  In Buckley, the Court tied “independence” to the coordination of specific expenditures with candidates. Without this coordination, the Buckley Court determined, the candidate runs the risk that the expenditure could be unhelpful or counterproductive and is not fairly charged with a “contribution” subject to limits.

No candidate request, control or involvement means, therefore, no spending limits.  The independent committee's public advertising then must contain a specific statement that the candidate did not "authorize" the communication. 11 C.F.R. §110.11(b)(3). This may be true, but the voter checking the committee’s formal registration with the FEC will find that the committee declares itself, and not just a specific expenditure, to be unauthorized.

In a technical sense, this is true: the committee is “unauthorized” because it is an independent committee whose expenditures are made without the candidate’s direction or involvement.  But the absence of control over or involvement in particular independent committee expenditures does not mean the absence of any contact with the committee.  The candidates can applaud an independent committee’s formation and operation for their benefit, and they may appear at the committee's events as guests or featured speakers and assist with its fundraising.

Voters may well be perplexed.

California: Presumptions about Super PACs

October 19, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

California has approved rules to better keep Super PACs in line.  The Fair Political Practices Commission has its eyes on the federal and other states’ election law controversies, noting in a press release that it is acting “on the heels of a national trend toward increased coordination between candidates and Independent Expenditure (IR) committees—a trend the FPPC seeks to stop.”  It wishes to enforce the “highest degree of separation that is constitutionally permissible “ to counter “new strategies being used by outside groups.”  Memorandum from Jack Woodside and Hyla Wagner, to Chair Remke and Commissioners, “Independent Expenditures: Adoption of Amendments to Regulation 18225.7” (October 5, 2015), at 3, 4.

The FPPC regulations already use “rebuttable presumptions” to identify the factual circumstances in which coordination is present or where there is good reason to suspect it. It has also provided for some exceptions—“safe harbors”-- for certain contacts between candidates and the IE committee.  In the revised rules approved last week, the FPPC adds to the presumptions and to the safe harbors.