Open Secrets Tracks Dark Money and "Outside" Spending

Spending by groups outside the candidates and political parties tripled for the 2012 election cycle.

Dark money groups -- politically active 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(6) trade associations that, under tax law, don't have to disclose their donors --  aren't supposed to spend the majority of their resources on politics. But over the last six years, a combination of Supreme Court decisions that loosened restrictions on their electoral activity, coupled with regulatory confusion, has led to a surge in their political expenditures. Direct spending on federal elections by 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups has risen from $10 million in 2004 to well over $300 million in 2012 -- and that's just counting what they reported to the Federal Election Commission, which doesn't include all of their political spending.



Lawmakers, Citizens Rally for Campaign Finance Reform    By: Dawn White    January 17, 2013 


Rally in Annapolis protests Citizens United decision
Posted: 8:10 pm Thu, January 17, 2013
By Capital News Service
Hannah Anderson 

ANNAPOLIS — Activists and Maryland lawmakers rallied in front of the state capitol Thursday to oppose the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and advocate for ways to pull corporate money out of campaign finance.

In its controversial decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of granting corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts from their treasury funds to promote political candidates through independent television ads and political action committees.

Thursday’s “Rally to Fight Secret Spending in Our Democracy” drew about 60 people to Lawyer’s Mall in support of several legislative measures that would decrease the power of Super PACs and special interest groups, increase the influence of individual citizen donations, and foster more openness around campaign spending.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, led the rally, which included remarks by several state and federal legislators.

“The Supreme Court has now threatened to create government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations,” Raskin said.

One of the measures, The Grassroots Democracy Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., would increase the power of grassroots political campaigns through refundable tax credits and matching of donations.

“I call these Super PACs sometimes, super drones,” Sarbanes said at the rally. “You’re a candidate and you’re walking down the street, you hear a buzzing behind you, and the next thing you know a half-million dollars had been dropped on your head, and here’s the thing, you don’t know who’s operating that drone. Because there’s no disclosure, there’s no transparency. You don’t know where the money’s coming from.”

Raskin also presented a letter addressed to the U.S. Congress that demanded a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United. The letter was written last year and has now been signed by more than half of Maryland’s state senators and delegates, Raskin said. He said the letter was to be presented to Congress on Thursday.

To personify the rally’s message that corporations are not people, several activists dressed up as “corporate people” and took part in a guerilla-style performance mocking the idea that corporations have constitutional rights.




Panel urges sweeping campaign finance changes
By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun,0,1126900.story

December 26, 2012

A panel established by the General Assembly to recommend changes to Maryland's campaign finance laws is urging lawmakers to adopt sweeping reforms to ensure the public knows where election money is coming from and how it is being use to influence their votes.

In a report to lawmakers, the Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law said the Assembly should close loopholes that have allowed donors to funnel large sums into campaigns with little chance voters will know before Election Day.

[Read the December 2012 final report Here]

As a trade-off, the commission also recommended that the legislature raise Maryland's limits on how much donors can contribute to reflect two decades of inflation.

Lawmakers who sat on the commission said they expect most of the recommendations to be incorporated into legislation the Assembly will take up when it begins its annual 90-day session Jan. 9.

"It is our hope that the General Assembly will find the commission's work valuable. We are confident that the General Assembly is committed to improving our existing campaign finance law," said Bruce L. Marcus, a Greenbelt attorney who chaired the panel.

Marcus said the group took into account recent federal decisions such as the Supreme Court case known as Citizens United, in which the justices ruled that limiting independent spending on elections by corporations and other groups violates the First Amendment. The report urges lawmakers to instead craft legislation ensuring that the source of such spending is disclosed quickly.

Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat who served on the commission, said he expects to introduce either one comprehensive bill or multiple bills to make its recommendations law.

"The House generally is excited about making significant campaign finance reforms and election law reform," said Cardin.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat and panel member, said it's unlikely that every recommendation would be adopted next year.

"The likelihood of passage is going to vary depending on the particular proposal," he said.

The report addresses a variety of concerns long raised by campaign finance reform advocates. They include the use of slates to move large sums of money around the state, multiple contributions made through limited liability corporations that let wealthy developers get around existing limits, and a disclosure schedule that leaves the public in the dark during the last weeks of a campaign.

But the panel declined to endorse a significant state commitment to the public financing of campaigns, largely because members could not agree on a way to finance it. It instead urged lawmakers to give counties the option to launch pilot programs.

Among the report's recommendations:

• Raise the current limit on donations by a person or business during a single four-year election cycle. The panel said the current limit of $4,000 to a single campaign and $10,000 overall — in place since 1991— has not kept up with inflation. It recommended new limits of $5,000 to $7,000 per campaign and $25,000 overall.

• Close the loophole that now allows an owner of multiple LLCs to donate the limit through each of the businesses, which some contributors have used to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of political allies. The panel said for election purposes, two or more businesses owned or managed by an individual should be treated as a single business.

• Reform the law governing the use of slates to limit how much can be transferred from one candidate to another. The mechanism has been used in recent years — most effectively by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller — to shift large amounts of money from easy races in Democratic strongholds to more closely contested contests. The panel said the "most obvious option" would be to hold transfers within a slate to the same limit — now $6,000 — that applies to a shift of funds between unrelated campaign committees.

• Allow the State Board of Elections to impose civil penalties for routine or technical violations of state election law without a referral to the state prosecutor.

The prosecutor would continue to handle serious cases such as that of Catonsville developer Stephen W. Whalen Jr., 62, who was charged last week with funneling contributions to three Baltimore County politicians under other people's names. 




New Report Shows Tectonic Shifts in Campaign Spending
December 26, 2012 by Adam Crowther

 . . . A newly released Public Citizen report, Outside Money Takes the Inside Track. The report compares spending by outside groups, which were permitted as a result of Citizens United to use unlimited contributions to influence elections, with that of candidates and national parties, which are subject to contribution limits. . . .There is a tectonic shift in how American campaigns are being funded.. . . Congress can immediately give the public the ability to see who all these outside speakers are. . .



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published this page 2012-12-28 12:20:39 -0500
Get Money Out - Maryland
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