Federal Election Commission posts. I know, exciting!
Pete Martin and Zachary Roth in TPM have a long story about the FEC:
Election-law experts, supporters of campaign-finance regulations, and even some members of the commission itself are expressing growing concern about a string of cases in which the three Republicans on the commission — led by Tom DeLay’s former ethics lawyer — have voted as a block against enforcement, preventing the commission from carrying out its basic regulatory function. As the normally mild-mannered Washington Post editorial board wrote recently: “The three Republican appointees are turning the commission into The Little Agency That Wouldn’t: wouldn’t launch investigations, wouldn’t bring cases, wouldn’t even accept settlements that the staff had already negotiated.”
Craig Holman of Public Citizen told TPMmuckraker the commission is currently “defunct.” (The FEC’s press office declined to make any of the commissioners available for interviews.)
FEC watchers say the commission’s three Republicans — Donald McGahn, Matthew Petersen, and Caroline Hunter, each nominated by President Bush — are acting out of philosophical opposition to the very idea of regulating campaign money. “It’s the Republican caucus that actually believes there shouldn’t be campaign-finance regulation,” said Holman. “It is ideological. They are ideologically opposed to the purpose of the Federal Election Commission.”
This Term, however, the Court announced that it will leave one case, a campaign finance case called Citizens United v. FEC, undecided. Moreover, in a brief order explaining why this decision will be delayed, the Court ordered the parties to brief whether a landmark precedent limiting the influence of corporate money in politics should be overruled.
Nineteen years ago, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Court upheld a ban on independent political expenditures–so-called “soft money” contributions–by corporate donors. As the Court explained in Austin, “the unique state-conferred corporate structure that facilitates the amassing of large treasuries warrants the limit on independent expenditures.” Corporations are designed to amass massive amounts of money, and they can use their enormous wealth to drown out individual voices, all while spending only a fraction of their treasuries.
Should the Court toss out Austin, it could be the end of any meaningful restrictions on campaign finance. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. Without Austin, even a cap on overall contributions becomes meaningless, because corporate donors can simply create a series of shell-corporations for the purpose of evading such caps.
The Supreme Court has danced around the BCRA’s onerous restrictions on political speech for years. Roberts himself tiptoed around the question, as did Samuel Alito, in Austin, although Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia all wrote that they believed these restrictions in the BCRA to be unconstitutional. Ted Olson, representing Citizens United, asked the court to overturn Austin and the previous ruling that the BCRA was constitutional, but observers believed Roberts would tiptoe around it again.
Apparently, Roberts has had a change of heart. The delay allows both sides to prepare extensive written and oral arguments on the broader questions of constitutionality of the BCRA’s speech restrictions and the effects of striking them down. It does not affect the limitations on campaign contributions — or at least not yet.
Hans Von Spakovsky at NRO:
Hopefully, this means the Supreme Court recognizes that its prior rulings upholding these limits on political speech and expression may have been wrongly decided and should be reconsidered. The electioneering communications provision represents one of the most severe restrictions on free speech since the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. It puts government bureaucrats (and I speak from experience as a former commissioner on the FEC) in the terrible position of making judgments on political and issue advertising to decide what is prohibited and what is not — the Supreme Court should strike down this travesty of a law as a basic violation of the First Amendment.
Anthony Dick in NRO
UPDATE: E.J. Dionne in TNR
UPDATE #2: Lots of posts I missed on this. Here’s one
John Vecchione at New Majority