November 4, 2010 •
New York City Voters Approve New Law Requiring Disclosure of Independent Expenditures
New York City voters supported, by a vote of 83 percent to 17 percent with 87 percent of precincts reporting, a referendum item which called for several changes to the city charter. The changes include requiring disclosure of campaign contributions by independent groups and raising the maximum fine for violating conflicts of interest law. Currently, people and organizations that spend money independently of any candidate to support or oppose political candidates or to influence votes in a referendum are not required to report those expenditures publicly.
The new voter approved law requires any individual or group that spends $1,000 or more to support or oppose a candidate or referendum to disclose the expenditure to the city’s Campaign Finance Board and include in any literature the name of any individual or organization that paid for it. The law also requires any group spending $5,000 or more to support or oppose a candidate to disclose any organizations that made contributions to that group and any individual who contributed $1,000 or more during the 12-month period preceding the election.
Photo of the New York City Municipal Building by Momos on Wikipedia.
November 3, 2010 •
Tea Party Organization Seeks to Further Topple Montana Campaign Contribution Law
Montana Shrugged, a tea party group, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings, naming as defendants the state political practices commissioner and Attorney General Steve Bullock. The lawsuit, filed with the help of the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Terre Haute, Ind., says Montana laws requiring financial reporting by political committees and corporations are unconstitutionally vague.
Montana Attorney General Bullock stated the lawsuit is part of a nationwide plot to torpedo state laws that require public reporting on who funds political campaigns. The lawsuit specifically challenges Montana’s restrictions on corporate contributions after a Montana court ruling last month overturned a law barring corporate independent expenditures and upheld the state’s restrictions on corporate contributions to political candidates.
Photo of the State capitol in Helena by Monty Johnson on Wikipedia.
October 25, 2010 •
New York Inspector General Finds Potential Ethics Violations in Video Lottery Terminal Bidding Process
New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch has released a report that criticizes New York State leaders for failing to fulfill their public duty in the January 2010 selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) to operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The 300-page report concludes that AEG should have been disqualified, and that the chaotic process resulting in AEG’s multi-billion dollar award was a “political free-for-all” marked by unfair advantages and more than $100,000 in campaign donations.
The report found that Governor Paterson, Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sampson, Senate President Pro Tempore Smith, and Assembly Speaker Silver each contributed to the multi-million dollar debacle. The report strongly recommends that the bidding process used to select AEG never be repeated and that New York State impose stringent procurement restrictions on all major contracts to ensure that they are competitive, transparent and fair.
The Inspector General’s Office is forwarding the report to United States Attorney and New York County District Attorney, for appropriate action and referring Senators Sampson and Smith to the Legislative Ethics Commission.
Map of New York by Huebi on Wikipedia.
October 21, 2010 •
Montana Judge Rules Law Prohibiting Independent Corporate Contributions is Unconstitutional
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena ruled Monday that the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibited corporations from making independent political expenditures, is unconstitutional. Bozeman attorney Margot Barg argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, a gun rights organization and a local painting company, that corporations are entitled to make the same sort of free political speech as individuals citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Judge Sherlock wrote that the Montana law, “insofar as it prevents corporations from making independent expenditures to support or oppose political candidates or political parties, is declared unconstitutional.” Restrictions on corporate contributions to political candidates are not affected by the decision. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock plans to appeal the district court’s ruling.
October 13, 2010 •
Legislator’s Complaint Raises Concerns over New Hampshire Lobbyist Registration Requirement
A 2006 New Hampshire ethics reform law requiring any non-public official who meets with a lawmaker to discuss legislation to register as a lobbyist has recently come under fire. The law currently exempts lawyers who are full-time employees of a public body from the registration requirement. Opponents of the law argue small towns and school districts that cannot afford a full-time attorney are put at a disadvantage to larger governmental organizations in efforts to influence legislation.
Citing the law, New Hampshire Rep. Rick Watrous recently asked the attorney general’s office to investigate the actions of attorney John Teague. Teague serves as the Concord School District’s lawyer, but is not a full-time school district employee. Teague participated in a meeting with Senate President Sylvia Larsen, Sen. Betsi DeVries, and the Superintendent of the Concord School District to discuss a House bill dealing with the school district’s charter. The attorney general’s office found that Teague ran afoul of the law by meeting with lawmakers privately and issued a public warning and ordered Teague to register retroactively as a lobbyist and pay the $50 annual filing fee. The finding has raised concerns about the propriety and application of the current registration requirement, including calls for legislative reform of the statute.
Photo of New Hampshire State Capitol Building by Nikopoley on Wikipedia.
October 7, 2010 •
Court of Appeals Issues Stay of Decision Declaring Washington Law Limiting Late Campaign Spending Unconstitutional
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision in Family PAC v. McKenna, et al. which declared a Washington law limiting campaign contributions in the final weeks of ballot measure campaigns unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled last month that the Washington limit is an unconstitutional infringement on political speech. Late Tuesday, a panel of Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges blocked that ruling from taking effect while the state appeals.
The three-judge panel wrote “Washington and its voters have a significant interest in preventing the State’s long-standing campaign finance laws from being upended by the courts so soon before the upcoming election.” The Court also considered that Family PAC had failed to identify any contributions greater than $5000 that it expected to receive in the event the law would be overturned and appeared not to be participating in the upcoming general election, mitigating any harm that may come from the stay of the ruling. Family PAC was created shortly after last year’s legal deadline for large campaign contributions had passed. The committee said it had an offer for a large donation to finance political ads but could not accept the money because of the state law.
October 5, 2010 •
Court to Examine Long-standing Montana Law Banning Corporate Campaign Contributions
A Montana district judge will rule on a challenge to Montana’s nearly century-old, voter-passed restriction on direct corporate spending to support or oppose political parties or candidates. The Montana law is being challenged based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned a federal ban on corporate spending in political campaigns.
Attorneys for the State of Montana defended the law stating that a law enacted in 1912 should not be lumped with a law Congress enacted 90 years later under a one-size-fits-all federal rule. They added that corporations do speak freely in Montana elections under current law with nearly 200 political action committees active in state politics in the past decade and warned unlimited corporate campaign spending would drastically alter Montana’s current campaigns that rely on person-to-person contact.
September 22, 2010 •
Minnesota Law Requiring Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending Upheld by U.S. District Court
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank denied a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by supporters of Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, upholding a new Minnesota law that revealed political donations from several corporations. The law was enacted in May after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United earlier this year freed businesses to spend corporate money on elections, overturning restrictions on corporate political spending in about half the states, including Minnesota.
Minnesota lawmakers responded by enacting disclosure requirements so that corporate campaign spending would be public. In his decision, Judge Frank explained the public has an interest in knowing who speaks and who pays for campaign messages and advertisements as elections approach.
Photo of Tom Emmer from the Minnesota House of Representatives Web site.
September 15, 2010 •
New York City campaign finance reforms alter nature of political contributions.
NEW YORK: A recent examination by New York City’s Campaign Finance Board shows that changes enacted before the 2009 mayoral election encouraged 34,000 New Yorkers to make campaign donations for the first time; drastically curtailed the role of businesses, political committees and lobbyists in campaigns; and caused a major drop in donations from those doing business with the city.
The Campaign Finance Board report found that New York City’s newly promulgated rules diminished the role of businesses, political committees and unions in campaign fund-raising. They now account for 7.2 percent of all funds available to candidates. In the last election for State Assembly and Senate candidates, such contributions accounted for 66.6 percent of all the money raised. New York City’s system has become a model for campaign finance reform based upon these results.
Photo of the New York City Hall by Momos on Wikipedia.
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