NVRI E-Update: May 2004
Notes from Stuart Comstock-Gay, Executive Director
In this issue:
- Court of Appeals strikes Albuquerque spending limit law
- Attorney General Ashcroft may face special investigation
- NVRI steps up for candidates not usually heard
1. Court of Appeals says "no" to campaign spending limits...NVRI will appeal
On April 27, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Albuquerque's limits on campaign spending limits in city elections. NVRI is serving as special counsel to the Albuquerque City Attorney in defending the limits as part of NVRI's ongoing legal campaign to provide the Supreme Court with an opportunity to revisit its 28-year-old ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. As you know, Buckley is the critical Supreme Court decision that has for three decades made campaign finance reform difficult, especially around laws that propose to limit campaign expenditures. The Tenth Circuit panel split on its analysis of Buckley; one judge recognized that Buckley does not foreclose examination of new facts and legal interests as a basis to uphold spending limits but found the Albuquerque record insufficient, while the other two judges appeared to conclude that no factual circumstances could allow spending limits to be upheld under Buckley. NVRI plans to file a petition for rehearing en banc and anticipates that the case ultimately will reach the Supreme Court. We continue to hope that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will release (or re-release) its decision on Vermont's spending limits (Landell v. Sorrell). As readers may recall, the Second Circuit upheld Vermont's spending limits in a 2-1 decision in August 2002, then withdrew the decision "pending further proceedings" in a one-sentence order in October 2002; the parties have received no further word from the Court since then. A more complete analysis of the Albuquerque decision will be available soon on the NVRI website.
2. Attorney General Ashcroft may face special investigation
A letter from NVRI and three other reform organizations, has led the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section to review allegations that Attorney General John Ashcroft criminally violated campaign finance laws during his unsuccessful 2000 bid for re-election to the Senate. The violations stem from the illegal transfer of a fund-raising list from Ashcroft's leadership PAC to his campaign committee, and were also the subject of an FEC investigation launched (again) as a result of NVRI action. The PAC and campaign defended themselves against the FEC investigation by claiming that Ashcroft personally owned the mailing list. In fact, the PAC basically laundered the list through Ashcroft to the campaign, as part of a sham transaction. Even if Ashcroft did own the list, he failed to disclose it in several forms that he signed under penalty of perjury. NVRI is hopeful that the Public Integrity Section will see the seriousness of the violations and appoint a special counsel to avoid conflicts of interest with existing Justice Department officials.
3. NVRI challenges corporate funding for partisan candidate debates
What do Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader agree on? That the Commission on Presidential Debates should not be allowed to use large sums of corporate funding to benefit Democratic and Republican parties and candidates. On May 5, NVRI filed suit challenging the CPD's conduct of the debates, on behalf of an unusual coalition of candidates and third-parties, including Nader, Buchanan, John Hagelin, Winona LaDuke, the Green Party of the United States, and the Constitution Party. The suit stems from a complaint that these plaintiffs filed with the Federal Elections Commission in June 2003 citing the CPD for violating federal law, which requires that it be truly non-partisan in order to sponsor the debates. The plaintiffs highlighted the CPD's use of a "face book" to keep third-party candidates from even attending the 2000 debates as evidence of the CPD's partisan nature. The FEC dismissed the complaint on March 18, and the plaintiffs, also represented by Boston attorney Jason Adkins and the D.C. law firm Bernabei & Katz, PLLC, now are suing the agency in federal court for wrongfully dismissing the case. To read the brief, click here.
As always, drop me a note about any of our work, or any of your ideas for new things we ought to be pursuing.
National Voting Rights Institute
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