Category Archives: Independent Expenditures

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Another One Bites the Dust

Louisiana imposes an aggregate limit of $100,000 on a person’s contributions to a political committee in Louisiana during a four-year election cycle. An independent expenditure-only committee (i.e., a Super PAC) supporting gubernatorial candidate David Vitter sued, arguing that the cap is unconstitutional as applied to super PACs. A federal judge has now agreed. “[I]ndependent expenditure … Continue Reading

Are Super PACs Finally Allowed in New York?

As discussed last fall, against the fairly settled case law around the country, New York continued to fight against Super PACs. A Super PAC is a political committee that typically funds ads advocating for or against candidates, but that may not coordinate its spending with candidates and their campaigns. New York argued that its annual … Continue Reading

The Return of Party Soft Money?

One of the key aspects of the McCain-Feingold law was the elimination of soft money to the national party committees (that is, the DNC, RNC, and each party’s congressional and senatorial committees). Reformers (and some corporations that resented being hit up by the parties for donations) praised this aspect of the law and others bemoaned … Continue Reading

501(c)(4) Proposed Regulations—An Unsafe Harbor

On November 26, the Department of Treasury released proposed regulations billed as “more definitive rules” for when the IRS will treat certain activities by section 501(c)(4) organization as political activity. It is hard to argue that the proposal provides some clarity, but only by classifying a wide variety of activities as candidate-related and therefore not qualifying … Continue Reading

Second Circuit Saves Super PACs

It looks like at least one Super PAC will be active in the New York City mayor’s race after all. An appeals court has reversed a lower-court’s decision refusing to enjoin the New York law barring unlimited contributions to a political committee that makes only independent expenditures and not direct contributions to candidates. The appeals court … Continue Reading

Still No Super PACs to the Rescue in New York City

In March 2010, following the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, a federal appeals court ruled that that a political committee making independent expenditures (i.e., not direct contributions or coordinated expenditures) has a constitutional right to receive unlimited contributions. The ruling triggered a proliferation of so-called Super PACs that have been active in federal and … Continue Reading

Crossed Lines: Email Exposes Perils for Congressional Offices, Campaign Staff, and Advocacy Groups

A leaked email written by a senior Congressional aide became fodder for the politics section of the Washington Post last week, painting a picture of secret industry collusion with candidate campaigns on independent expenditures. The aide’s email, reportedly written to several of his boss’s campaign officials, explained that a prominent industry trade association was committed … Continue Reading

501(c)(4)s: Why all the fuss?

Obviously the IRS has spent a great deal of time trying to determine whether certain groups qualify for exemption under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Why 501(c)(4) status matters so much is really about disclosure and not about tax revenue at all. Unlike contributions to Section 501(c)(3) organizations, contributions to 501(c)(4)s are not deductible … Continue Reading

Unlimited Contributions to New Jersey Super PAC Now Allowed

State campaign finance laws change constantly, but not always this quickly. In late March, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) issued an advisory opinion stating that independent expenditure-only political committees (Super PACs) in New Jersey would be subject to the same contribution limits as other New Jersey political committees. At that time, ELEC … Continue Reading

A Super PAC for thee but not for me? Some states don’t allow for unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees.

Independent expenditure committees (“Super PACs”) have become commonplace at the federal level and in a number of states as well. The legal reasoning behind Super PACs, as explained in the Speechnow case (and several other federal and state cases), is that since the Supreme Court has recognized the right of individuals and corporations to spend … Continue Reading

Maryland Bill Overhauling Campaign Finance Rules Moves Toward Adoption

Significant campaign finance reform legislation cleared the Maryland House of Delegates Thursday, and is now under consideration by a committee of the Maryland Senate. The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013 (HB 1499 and SB 1039) responds to recommendations of the recently convened Maryland Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law. The bill addresses many of … Continue Reading

The Ban on Corporate Contributions Survives for Now

The Supreme Court announced today that it will not hear a case challenging the longstanding federal ban on corporate contributions. The case involved promises by a CEO that his corporation would reimburse employees for contributing to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign. The trial court held that the ban on corporate contributions was unconstitutional in the … Continue Reading

McCutcheon and State Contribution Limits: Collateral Targets

While the landmark Citizens United case concerned only the federal ban on the financing of election ads by corporations, the Supreme Court’s ruling implicitly struck down a host of similar state laws. That’s because the Court decided that a ban on political expenditures that are not coordinated with candidates or parties violates the U.S. Constitution. … Continue Reading

Candidates and Super PACs: A Complicated Relationship

In the wake of the 2012 elections, questions linger about what kinds of relationships are permissible between a candidate and an independent-expenditure only group (i.e., a Super PAC). In planning their activities, Super PACs may consider using a photo of the candidate from a campaign ad or website, or even approaching candidates and current officeholders … Continue Reading

Venable Hosts Webinar on Political Law Basics – February 27

We hope you will join us for a webinar on February 27 at 1:00, called Political Law 101. We will cover all the major topics you need to be thinking about as you ramp up for lobbying the new Congress and state legislatures, host site visits and other events, and prepare for the next election … Continue Reading

Is my donation really anonymous?

Many “political” organizations have 501(c)(4) arms that claim to allow their donors to remain anonymous. Donors who don’t mind being disclosed often give to independent expenditure committees (“super PACs”), which publicly disclose all of their donors to state or federal officials. Those who prefer not to disclose their name, address, occupation, and employer will often … Continue Reading

Government Contractors Face Growing Risks from Laws Regulating Political Contributions

The landmark Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case paved the way for explosive growth in political spending during the 2012 election cycle.  However, for government contractors and their principals, a growing number of “pay-to-play” laws restrict political contributions and fundraising, and can result in severe penalties, including the loss of contracts. Venable has … Continue Reading

California High Court Orders Nonprofit to Release Donor Records to State Watchdog

Americans for Responsible Leadership (“ARL”), a Phoenix-based nonprofit organization, disclosed its donors today in response to a ruling late yesterday from California’s highest court. The suit to enforce a new California disclosure regulation was filed by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (“FPPC”). According to the FPPC, the contribution was funneled to ARL from two other … Continue Reading

Election-Cycle Limits In Doubt As Case Heads For Supreme Court

A case headed to the Supreme Court could upend longstanding rules limiting federal political contributions. The Republican National Committee and an individual plaintiff filed an appeal yesterday after a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their challenge to limits on the total amount an individual may contribute over a two-year … Continue Reading

A Battle Over Who Regulates 501(c)(4)s

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reportedly been investigating 501(c)(4) organizations that have been involved in political activities. According to the New York Times, his office has sent letters to nearly two dozen groups seeking information about their activities.  The exact aim of this investigation is not clear, but commentators have suggested that it … Continue Reading

States Ramp Up Disclosure Rules for Political Spending; Federal Efforts Stall

Outside groups have become a potent political force in the 2012 election campaign. Unleashed by the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case and subsequent lower court rulings, such groups can raise unlimited sums from individuals and corporations for ads and other spending that is not “coordinated” with a candidate. The most dramatic example: … Continue Reading

Illinois Relaxes Contribution Limits to Counter Super PAC Spending; State Contractors Still Barred from Contributing under State Pay-to-Play Law

In the wake of the corruption scandal involving former Governor Rod Blagojevich, Illinois adopted its first-ever limits on campaign contributions. Individuals could give candidates up to $5,000 per election, and corporations could give candidates up to $10,000. At a signing ceremony for the bill, held on the one-year anniversary of Blagojevich’s arrest, Governor Pat Quinn touted the … Continue Reading

IRS Says Training Candidates Not (c)(4) Activity: Are There Broader Implications Here?

The IRS recently revoked the 501(c)(4) status of an organization that identifies and trains potential candidates for one of the political parties. In doing so, the IRS borrowed a restriction from the law governing 501(c)(3)s, which requires such groups to serve a public rather than a private interest. There are reasons to doubt whether this … Continue Reading
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