McCain-Feingold’s Devastating Legacy? Let’s Take Another Look.

Last year was the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in McConnell v. FEC (in large part upholding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or McCain-Feingold as it’s commonly known). The Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC (invalidating federal aggregate contribution limits), has brought a wave of commentary evaluating the shortcomings of our campaign finance system, and much of this commentary has blamed the McCain-Feingold law for creating many of these problems. The 10 year anniversary of McConnell, and this year’s McCutcheon decision, certainly provide a good moment to take stock of the legacy of McCain-Feingold, and to evaluate the state of the federal campaign finance system as a whole. However, as we do so, it is important to consider the problems that McCain-Feingold was designed to address and whether it has been successful in those goals, and not to confuse this analysis with the post-McCain-Feingold rulings by the Supreme Court that have so drastically changed the campaign finance landscape.

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Coordination and Issue Politics-It’s Still About the Money

The opposition to campaign finance reform is not monolithic. Some comes from conservatives who believe it’s really a cover to push some sort of substantive Democratic/liberal agenda. Others are fine with reducing First Amendment speech and representative democracy into mere commodities to be bought and sold, and approve of the idea that money can and should buy political power.  And some of those people are Big Money Democrats who believe the party would be better off with fewer campaign finance restrictions and less disclosure so they  could compete for wealthy special interest money to elect candidates who support socially progressive ideas, at least as long as those ideas don’t conflict with their business interests.  

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Second Circuit Tackles “Independence”

Last week in Vermont Right to Life Committee v. Sorrell, a federal appeals court, in a welcome move, finally asked the crucial question of whether a self-styled “independent” group was in fact independent.  The Supreme Court’s naïve or disingenuous decision in Citizens United struck down the federal corporate spending restrictions while at the same time assuring us that independent spending, by virtue of its independence, could not corrupt candidates.  Even accepting that proposition—however unrealistic—candidates and committees have worked tirelessly to push the envelope in terms of just how much “coordination” they could get away with under current law.  A line was finally drawn last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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A New Call to Action One Year after Shelby v. Holder

One year ago today—June 25, 2013—the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the landmark decision Shelby County v. Holder.
 
A narrow 5-4 majority rendered the Act's coverage formula unconstitutional. The formula had required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting practices to receive preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before implementing new election practices or procedures. Nine states, primarily in the Deep South, and a handful of jurisdictions from Manhattan, New York to Monterey, California were covered under the formula. Since the decision in Shelby, several previously covered jurisdictions have swiftly enacted or administered discriminatory voting changes that would not have been possible before the ruling.

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New Report Highlights Need for "Coordination" Reform Post-Citizens United

It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court makes faulty assumptions about things like independent political spending when it decides cases that fundamentally undermine our democracy and the public’s faith in it. A new report on the reality of such independent spending highlights just how far the Court has missed the mark.

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