Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Disclosure' Category

‘Dark Money’ Gets Scrutiny, Debate in Montana

Last month, the Montana Growth Network,  a tax-exempt group that made advertising expenditures in a 2012 state Supreme Court race, was accused of failing to disclose certain spending and violated disclosure laws (see Gavel Grab). The office of state Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl, who leveled the accusation, disclosed wealthy donors who funded the group.

Now there is more debate about drawing back the veil on hidden spending, as reflected by dual opinions published in The Flathead Beacon:

“Big, anonymous money has and is being used to affect our laws and our lives. Dark money suggests dark deeds. Let’s shine some light,” writes Joe Carbonari.

“People should know who is funding public campaigns and pass laws that protect the political process. Public officials’ decisions affect all of us, and most of us cannot afford to buy political favor,” writes Tim Baldwin.

 

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Activists See Next Step for Clean Elections in West Virginia

The “unprecedented” conviction of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship (see Gavel Grab) presents a reminder of the need for more robust financial disclosure regulations on political donations, according to a commentary in the Charleston Gazette-Mail by Julie Archer and Natalie Thompson of WV Citizens for Clean Elections.

While Blankenship’s $3 million spending in a state Supreme Court race years go ultimately sparked a new law for judicial public financing of judicial elections,  the authors argue that money still has too great an influence in state elections and that current rules allow contributors to “hide their identity while influencing our elections.”

“Public financing and transparency of political spending are important safeguards for a true democracy,” the authors conclude. “The corporate elite, millionaires and billionaires should not be able to use their wealth (covertly or otherwise) to bribe our elected officials, and they should not get away with dictating what happens to the future of our state and the future of our people.”

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Pulling Back the Veil on Funding of Judicial Crisis Network

A secretive nonprofit group called the Wellspring Committee gave more than $6.6 million last year to the Judicial Crisis Network, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, while citing Justice at Stake about JCN’s efforts to influence state judicial elections.

“The Judicial Crisis Network gave $528,000 to organizations that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on judicial elections in Wisconsin and Tennessee,” according to Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, coauthored by JAS and two partner organizations.

The Center for Responsive Politics has previously written about the Wellspring Committee and funds from it that were channeled into judicial election spending, and you can learn more from Gavel Grab. Under federal tax law, the Wellspring Committee is not required to disclose its own donors.

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Group Suing Over Montana Disclosure Law Goes to High Court

A Montana nonprofit group has gone to the Supreme Court in its battle to be allowed to publish political ads without disclosing its donors.

Montanans for Community Development, the nonprofit group, initially sued in federal district court last year, and it amended its complaint in June after the Montana legislature passed into law a measure requiring that groups contributing to state elections disclose their donors (see Gavel Grab).

The group did not prevail in either federal district court or the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to an Associated Press article, and this week it asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the district court’s ruling (with thanks to Election Law blog for the link).

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Texas Ethics Commission Adopts Dark Money Disclosure Rule

To bring sunlight to political “dark money,” the Texas Ethics Commission has passed a rule to adapt to the greater role now played by politically active nonprofit groups and anonymous contributors.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the rule provides that “communications from a group like a 501(c)4 nonprofit will qualify as a political expenditure if it is distributed within 30 days of an election and is ‘susceptible to no other reasonable interpretation than to urge the passage or defeat’ of a candidate or a ballot measure.”

Some critics said the rule is too broad and exceeds what courts have generally permitted. But at mySanAntonio.com, O. Ricardo Pimentel wrote, “Bravo to the Texas Ethics Commission for acting. Legal challenges may very well come. Texans should recognize them for what they are — advocacy that folks still be able to lurk in those political shadows.”

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Opinion: How to Fix Dark Money in Judicial Races? With Disclosure

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdIn an era of big-spending judicial elections, “dark money” election spending poses a real threat to fair and impartial courts and must be remedied with rigorous disclosure by litigants and lawyers whose spending has supported a judge, a Chicago Tribune op-ed says.

The op-ed was written by Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Litigants (and their lawyers) should be required to disclose their contributions to influence any judicial election. This is a straightforward rule that would apply to trial lawyers and corporate defendants, and everyone else before the bar,” Weissman contends. Once disclosure occurs, then a litigant will know when to ask a judge to recuse, he suggests. Read more

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In Federal Court, a Fight Over Montana Disclosure Rules

Will a Montana nonprofit group win a battle to be allowed to publish political ads without disclosing its donors? A Flathead Beacon article suggests that in a federal court case, disclosure rules may prevail.

Montanans for Community Development, the nonprofit group, initially sued in federal district court last year, and it amended its complaint in June after the Montana legislature passed into law a measure requiring that groups contributing to state elections disclose their donors (see Gavel Grab).

This month, District Judge Dana Christensen said the group would have to furnish more evidence supporting its claim it should be exempt from disclosure rules. Read more

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Group Must Reveal Donors, Maine Court Rules

Maine_quarter,_reverse_side,_2003The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that the National Organization for Marriage must disclose its donors who contributed to a push to defeat the state’s law on marriage rights for same-sex couples six years ago.

“Enough is enough,” Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said, according to the Associated Press. “NOM has fought for almost six years to skirt the law and to shield the names of the out-of-state donors who bank-rolled their election efforts. The time has come for them to finally comply with state law like everyone else.”

“These are all unjust, illegitimate decisions,” NOM President Brian Brown said of the court ruling and a related ethics commission finding. “It does not bode well for the body politic when the judges and the ethics commission get to punish those they disagree with.”

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Prosser Denies Recusal Was Warranted

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgWisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser “issued a 15-page opinion explaining why he believed he could participate” in the recent campaign finance decision involving Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  Prosser joined the majority of the court in the “John Doe” case, when it ruled that no campaign finance laws were violated by the anti-recall campaign and several conservative groups that were alleged to have coordinated their activities.  The same groups spent significant sums to benefit Prosser’s supreme court campaign and the campaigns of other justices in the majority, and a special prosecutor asked Prosser and another justice to recuse themselves from the case.  Neither did so. (See Gavel Grab.)

“Prosser wrote that outside spending to help him was ‘very valuable to my campaign’ but did not rise to a level that would require him to step down from the challenge to the investigation of those groups,” according to the Journal-Sentinel.

Meanwhile, critics of the Wisconsin high court’s ruling are urging prosecutors to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the justices who benefited from outside spending, but did not recuse themselves, may have had an unconstitutional conflict of interest.   (See Gavel Grab).

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Op-Ed: WI Prosecutors Should Appeal ‘John Doe’ Case to SCOTUS

In a strongly-worded column for Newsweek, Billy Corriher and Maya Efrati of Legal Progress urge prosecutors in Wisconsin’s recent “John Doe” campaign finance case to appeal the ruling of the Wisconsin_flag_mapstate Supreme Court in that case.

The ruling in the “John Doe” case  effectively halted further investigation of alleged collusion between Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign and conservative groups, when the court decided that  there were no violations of campaign finance laws (see Gavel Grab). But Corriher and Efrati argue that because several justices on the court benefited from millions of dollars in campaign spending by those same conservative groups, “Prosecutors have a strong argument that the Wisconsin justices had an unconstitutional conflict of interest.” They argue that the justices who benefited from the spending should have recused themselves, and that since they did not, there are grounds for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The writers also suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Caperton v. AT Massey Coal Co. Inc. should serve as a meaningful precedent.  “Caperton has not yet been applied by any lower court to require recusal,” they note. “But if the decision means anything, it must apply to the Wisconsin decision.”

 

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