Campaign Finance

SCOTUS Update: No Decision on PPACA, Most Provisions of AZ Immigration Law Struck Down (Updated)

The Supreme Court’s decision on the individual mandate will be delivered on Thursday. Based on who has authored opinions thus far this term, it is highly likely that the majority opinion will be delivered by Chief Justice Roberts. Even if that is the case, that does not mean that the individual mandate is doomed.

Today the Court did deliver an opinion on the Arizona immigration law, striking down three of the four major provisions. The Court permitted the “show your papers” provision, though the language suggests that it must be applied narrowly. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. The case was decided 5-3, with Justice Kagan recusing herself. Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented. The opinions can be found here.

The Court also ruled that juvenile convicts cannot be subject to life in prison without parole. As Shannen Coffiin quipped, next “look for the Court to decide that juvenile offenders cannot be sent to their room without possibility of their supper.” The decision is here.

In another case, the Court ruled that its Citizens United decision applies to a Montana state law.

All in all, today’s decisions remind us that, no matter how the Court rules on the individual mandate, the Court is still a bloody mess.

I hope to have further analysis of the Arizona case later today.

Update: Reading through the opinions now in the Arizona case, and I just want to note that Alito agreed with the majority in declaring Section 3 of the AZ law (which forbids the “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document”) to be preempted by federal law. Both Thomas and Scalia would have upheld all four sections of the law.

Update 2: And the fig leaf that the Court gave to the state of Arizona proved to be of little use:

The Obama administration said Monday it is suspending existing agreements with Arizona police over enforcement of federal immigration laws, and said it has issued a directive telling federal authorities to decline many of the calls reporting illegal immigrants that the Homeland Security Department may get from Arizona police.

Administration officials, speaking on condition they not be named, told reporters they expect to see an increase in the number of calls they get from Arizona police — but that won’t change President Obama’s decision to limit whom the government actually tries to detain and deport.

Shorter headline should be, “Obama to Arizona: Drop Dead.”

 

It is Time to Get Rid of Most Campaign Finance Laws

One of the big items today is news that the Romney campaign is bleeding cash.  Considering his all out assault first on Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum, this comes as no surprise.  Yet while Romney spends more in a day than Santorum spent through most of the campaign thus far (only a slight exaggeration, I think), Santorum continues continues to poll ahead of Romney nationally and is neck-and-neck in Romney’s home state.  Of course Romney still has plenty in reserve thanks largely to his Super PAC.  Even Newt Gingrich’s fledgling campaign is still alive thanks to the generosity of one supporter funding a pro-Newt Super PAC.

These Super PACs have come under fire.  They are the indirect result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, a law which itself amended the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), a law meant to restrict the amount of money that individuals could donate to individual candidates.  FECA created a two-tiered structure that basically divided federal contributions into two categories: hard money and soft money.  Professional sports fans probably recognize the terms as related to soft and hard caps, and it’s really the same concept. Under FECA individuals could only contribute $1,000 to a candidate per election cycle.  Yet there were no restrictions placed on “soft money,” meaning contributions to party committees.  This was the original end-run around campaign finance law.  Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), or McCain-Feingold, individual contribution maxes to candidates were raised, but soft money contributions were phased out.  This, in turn, gave rise to other organizations, mainly 527s, which were able to raise unlimited amounts of money to air issue advocacy ads against candidates.  These various organizations are not technically affiliated with any candidate, and it is a violation of campaign finance law for candidates to collaborate in any way with these groups.

So is it time for another set of reforms?  Indeed it is.  And the reform is simple: repeal all these ridiculous (and arguably unconstitutional) provisions, and allow individuals to contribute whatever amount of money they want directly to candidates.

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Real Hypocrisy

President Obama’s decision to accept Super PAC funding is neither surprising or even all that upsetting.  Even though he railed against the Citizens United decision, going so far as to call out the Supreme Court Justices during his State of the Union address in a pique of feigned outrage, nobody who actually has any understanding of who Barack Obama is (meaning people smarter or at least less naive than, say, Doug Kmiec and Kathy Dahlkemper) ever doubted for one moment that he would completely reverse course on yet another promise.

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with Obama’s decision.  Not only did the Supreme Court get it right in the Citizens United case, I think that most of the campaign finance restrictions in this country are either unconstitutional or are simply bad policy choices that actually exacerbate the problems with how campaigns are financed.  Every new regulation only creates some other entity that further eliminates transparency from the process and merely complicates things unnecessarily.

What is amusing is the blatant hypocrisy, and this is one of those rare times when the term actually applies.  The word hypocrite is often thrown around incorrectly.  Jonah Goldberg has been one of the foremost crusaders against the incorrect usage of the term.  A hypocrite is not someone who claims to uphold a certain principle and then falls short of meeting the ideal.  If that were the meaning of hypocrisy, then all sin is hypocrisy.  No, a hypocrite is one who pretends to have certain virtues but who, in fact, does not posses said virtues.  We all fail to live up to our own moral standards from time to time, but the point is that we are at least trying.  Does anyone for one second really believe that Barack Obama truly doesn’t want to receive funding from corporations or wealthy donors?  Of course not.  It was a populist front meant to distract attention away from the failings of his own administration.  He was absolutely insincere at the State of the Union, and he’s been insincere on this issue from day one.  This is a guy who raked in more money from Wall Street and other financial institutions than his Republican competitor in 2008, who still collects a hefty amount from this sector, and yet who pretends to be absolutely appalled that these groups have the temerity to influence elections through their campaign contributions.

Yet there are still going to be those who act shocked – SHOCKED! – that Obama could betray his stated principles.  As the examples of Doug Kmiec and Kathy Dahlkemper show, never discount the blindness of those who just want to believe.  Darwin’s already covered this ground earlier, so I won’t belabor the point.  It just astounds me that a man can be so transparently dishonest time and time and time again, and yet there will always be obedient lapdogs ready to be fooled again.

The Supreme Court Rules On Campaign Finance

From NPR’s “Watching Washington” Blog:

The Supreme Court Scrambles Politics — Again

Many people will hear about Thursday’s landmark Supreme Court decision freeing corporations to mount political campaigns and say the court has blown up politics as we know it.

By bringing corporations (and by extension, labor unions) back into the electioneering fray, the court has restarted a spending war Congress had tried to restrain over the past generation — most recently with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, best known for its co-sponsoring senators, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI).

So long as they do not give to candidates directly, corporations can spend whatever they wish to support or oppose candidates for president or Congress. They are free to exercise their rights of free speech under the First Amendment. Just like citizens. Their rights cannot be suppressed on the basis of their “corporate identity,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The ramifications for this year’s congressional elections and the 2012 presidential contest are sure to be profound. What does it mean, for example, for an investment bank such as Goldman Sachs, which had the cash to pay $16 billion in compensation to its employees for 2009, when a major issue before Congress this year is a tax on those bonuses? (Read the whole column here).

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has launched an online petition against the decision. The text reads:

Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale and that the law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.

This issue transcends partisan political arguments. We cannot have a government that is bought and paid for by huge multinational corporations. You must stop this.

From The Courthouse News Service:

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court today killed a central part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and ruled that corporations may spend as much as they wish to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. The 5-4 vote left intact limits on corporate gifts to individual candidates (read the whole story here).

Following the decision, George Will declared the ruling as a radical defense for freedom of speech. In reply, E.J. Dionne argues that will amount to a corporate take over of politics.

Also see here for the story on the Court’s ruling on campaign finance reform from RealClearPolitics.

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