In what is being hailed as a victory for campaign finance transparency, the Supreme Court has rejected an attempt to keep secret the name of a donor who gave $1.7 million to a Republican super PAC eight years ago.
The decision holds some potential to make it more difficult for so-called dark money groups to shield the identities of their biggest contributors in this campaign season and beyond. Increasing sunlight on the forces pouring so many millions into American politics is a main goal of democracy reform groups at a time when increased regulation is not a realistic hope.
The high court on Monday let stand an appeals court's ruling that the donor — a trust fund and its trustee identified only as "John Doe" in court filings — has no right to remain anonymous and may be publicly identified by the Federal Election Commission.
Seven Democrats have been invited on stage for Friday night's debate ahead of the New Hampshire primary, including three who have vowed that their first legislative priority as president would be enacting an ambitious clean government package.
Town hall meetings and candidate coffees in the first primary state have for months featured discussions about expanding voting rights, curbing money in politics and overhauling such bedrock government institutions as the Supreme Court, the Electoral College and the Senate filibuster. But the disagreements among the candidates have been subtle, and so there's no reason to believe the moderators will find new flashpoints or cleave new divisions on democracy reform topics at the debate, being conducted at Saint Anselm College in Manchester at 8 pm Eastern.
The table below shows where the seven candidates stand on 17 of the most prominent proposals for improving the way democracy works — in areas of campaign finance, access to the ballot box, election security, political ethics and revamping our governing systems.
Feb. 6 and Feb. 14: This story was been updated and clarified with additional reporting.
Cities and counties in Florida that want to limit dark money or foreign donors in their own elections would be stopped under a surprise proposal now moving through the Legislature.
Curbing money in politics at the local level has become the cause of choice for advocates of tougher campaign finance rules, who find themselves blocked from any chance at nationwide success in the partisan gridlocked Congress. The effort launched this week by Republicans in charge in Tallahassee looks to be the most prominent move yet by a state to preempt such local statutes.
The GOP target is an ordinance enacted three years ago by St. Petersburg, the state's fifth biggest city, that has been cited as the first of its kind in the country and the model several other cities have followed since.
Ten years ago exactly — on Jan. 21, 2010 — the Supreme Court gave the green light to unlimited political expenditures by corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups. The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said curbs on such spending violated the First Amendment, fundamentally changed the way elections are financed today.
A decade later the majority opinion in Citizens United is labeled, more often than any other single thing, as the ultimate antagonist of the democracy reform movement. The ruling has become so infamous it's used as shorthand for a campaign financing system that gives lopsided political advantage to the wealthiest over everyday citizens, including for reasons that have nothing to do with that case. That said, however, the decision has permitted groups that are not affiliated with any candidate or political party to pour almost $4.5 billion into the subsequent campaigns for president and Congress — an astonishing six times the total for all such independent expenditures in the two previous decades.
The 10-year anniversary has campaign finance experts all along the ideological spectrum reflecting on what the decision has meant for American politics, and what changes to laws and regulations might withstand court challenges and limit the impact of Citizens United in the decade ahead — on the assumption the ruling is on the books for at least that much longer.