Archive for the 'Independent Expenditures' Category

“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.

Independent Expenditure Reporting, Made Simple

October 28, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

Some of the Federal Election Commission’s work is simple, much of it hard, and it receives little credit for the difficulty it faces on major questions.  What is before the Commission tomorrow is among the simpler questions it faces: it is not glamorous, but because it involves independent expenditures and disclosure requirements, it is not insignificant.

The question is: how do reporting requirements apply to an independent expenditure made on a nationwide basis during the presidential primary season, clearly not intended to influence a particular state's primary?  The FEC has advised in the past that the cost should be divided among all states’ primaries that are pending, and the share attributed to each state should be reported as made to influence its primary.  FEC Advisory Opinion 2011-28 (2011).  This reporting procedure affects the legal obligations to report on a 24-or 48-hour basis independent expenditures made within specified periods before an election, and also the reporting of "electioneering communications."

Now the FEC is being asked to consider changing course, and to have the national expenditure reported as what it is – – a national expenditure.

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.

True Independent Speech

October 12, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

As soon as the New York Times reported again this week on the concentrated wealth flowing through Super PACs, leading election law experts on the listserv began disputing what to make of the story.  Was the spending independent “speech” that the Constitution protects? Or was it no different than massive contributions not to be confused with direct speech and as such properly regulated?

The exchange over doctrine replayed familiar themes.  A key one: could the donors who have given to a Super PACs be fairly said to be engaged in their “own” speech?


October 8, 2015
posted by Bob Bauer

Fred Wertheimer remains indignant about Citizens United and he certainly comes by this view honestly.  He has been strongly for campaign finance regulation since the 1970s and had a hand in lobbying its successful passage in the first place.  It is not surprising that he is very distressed by the watered-down definition of corruption articulated by the Court first in Citizens United and then with more clarity and emphasis in the “we-mean-what-we-said” restatement in McCutcheon.

Wertheimer says in this new piece what he has said before about “legalized bribery” being the product of the Court’s fecklessness and naiveté.  This charge is familiar, and some object that it is tired and unproductive, but Wertheimer adds to this complaint another: that the decision unleashed “political chaos”.