Archive for the 'Justice Scalia' Category
The Brennan Center Report on the state of disclosure, “Secret Spending in the States,” usefully examines transparency policy issues presented by high-impact spending in low-information contests at the state and local level. It argues that dark money is not the only problem and focuses on the additional questions raised by "gray money" – –funding disclosed by reporting entities but received from organizations giving no indication of the interest or funding behind them. The Report then selects examples from various states of dark money and gray money controversies or issues. The Center sets out a program of reform and points to some progress made in the states.
The current divide over these reporting issues is so sharp that it is unlikely that the Center will immediately win over the usual skeptics. These skeptics’ complaint is that terms like “dark money” or “gray money” are highly charged but hopelessly vague, and that they are being used to justify proposed reforms that would impede the exercise of free speech rights. They are loathe to empower the government to do too much, and behind this is the conviction that government in the control of particular political interests will use disclosure to hound adversaries or subject them to public harassment.
But the skeptics might be surprised that the Brennan Center Report does not minimize the burdens and political risks of disclosure regimes. It argues for reasonable monetary thresholds, to keep the smaller contributions out of the public reports; for reasonable exemptions for especially vulnerable participants; and for "other reasonable accommodations" to allow donors to support organizations for charitable or social welfare purposes without falling within disclosure requirements that apply to the financing of political activities. In addition, the Center quite sensibly would have "[any] penalty for failure to disclose… fit the severity of the violation."
How did Justice Scalia come to write a dissent as he did in McIntrye, insisting on the role of disclosure and relying for the power of his point on the need to follow the judgment of legislators in protecting or enhancing the electoral process? The question this raises is not whether Scalia was or was not a conservative on this issue, but what kind of conservative he was. As it happens, the explanation also sheds light on the recent history of campaign finance reform and the Court’s response. The emphasis here is on “response”, for the Court—and Justice Scalia—responded to developments in the law, and in political practice, from Buckley onward, and his position may be fully understandable only within this context.
One day there may be personal papers and other accounts not available today that will fill out our understanding of Justice’s Scalia’s thinking, but in the meantime, the best sources are what he wrote and said, and most of all, what he chose to write, as Justice, in opinions, concurrences and dissents. It has to be granted at the outset that he addressed the issue outside these opinions, and perhaps inevitably on these occasions, in interview or casual comment, he himself oversimplified. He would say “the more speech, the better,” provided that the audience could know who was paying for it. This would give observers reason to imagine that he was a “free speech” absolutist.
As Robert Mutch reminds us in his comprehensive history of campaign finance reform, there were such absolutists on the attack against the Watergate reforms from the very beginning. Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform 140-143 (2014). They gave disclosure some room, but they were otherwise firmly against the other elements of the law in place today, which means contribution as well as expenditure limits. Mutch argues that they needed a fresh hand to play in this game, and it was constructed out of what he takes to be novel claims of “free speech”—to restrict the use of money in politics was tantamount to restricting speech. They disdained any rationale for these restrictions, the corruption rationale as well as (and perhaps especially) another grounded in considerations of “equality.” They brought the case known as Buckley on this ground, and, the Court having split the difference—money was speech in some but not in all ways-- they were not happy with the outcome.
Early in his tenure on the Court, however, Justice Scalia declared that “Buckley should not be overruled, because it was entirely correct.” Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652, 683 (1990) (Scalia, J., dissenting). He was primarily concerned to defend the “express advocacy” line that Buckley had drawn around independent expenditures, but he was satisfied that the Court had properly upheld contribution limits as measures targeted at the “plain” risk of corruption:
Certain uses of "massive wealth" in the electoral process – – whether or not the wealth is the result of "special advantages" conferred by the State – – pose a substantial risk of corruption which constitutes a compelling need for the regulation of speech. Such a risk plainly exists when the wealth is given directly to the political candidate, to be used under his direction and control.Id. at 682. The Justice also did not then question, nor at any time later, the value of disclosure, which the Buckley also sustained on the strength of the anti-corruption interest. So overall, Scalia thought Buckley had gotten it right, establishing the express advocacy line which it had “set in concrete on a calm day”, Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, 551 U.S. 449, 499 (2007)(Scalia, J., concurring), while allowing for limits-- but only to address the risks of corruption, not on the basis of an “equality” rationale.
In the tributes to Justice Scalia and the immediate appraisals of his life’s work, his campaign finance jurisprudence will come up and the late Justice is described as a formidable foe of regulation. And he certainly could be a hard-charging skeptic, a member of the majority in Citizens United and other cases that blunted the reform movement toward more regulation or undid rules already in place. But it is not the whole story and it misses a question at the center of his jurisprudence that has yet to be clearly answered.
It is well known that Scalia at least relaxed his hostility to regulation within the distinctive domain of disclosure. He endorsed legislative discretion to impose disclosure requirements “where the idea uttered [is] in the electoral context.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 344, 378 (1995) (Scalia, J., dissenting). He went still further.
To the late Justice, campaign related disclosure was a positive good, important to the protection of electoral process. To demand public accountability of speakers was to discourage lying and to promote a “civil and dignified level of campaign debate.” Id at 387. Disclosure requirements would temper the temptation to “mudslinging” and “character assassination,” Id. at 382, and reduce the incidence of “dirty tricks.” Id at 383. Scalia scorned the suggestion that the American experience with anonymous pamphleteering had anything to say about anonymity as a constitutional right. The case for protecting anonymous speech could not overcome the imperative of measures “protecting and enhancing democratic elections.” Id. at 381.
Scalia made this case for mandatory disclosure on originalist grounds, but in light of his reasons for opposing other forms of regulation, the argument is intriguingly constructed. It presents a puzzle.