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Institute for Free Speech

David Keating is the president of the Institute for Free Speech.

Meet the reformer: David Keating, leader for the right on money in politics

Closing in on nine years as president of the Institute for Free Speech, David Keating long ago cemented his status as one of the foremost conservative forces in the money-in-politics debate. The nonprofit's aim is to safeguard First Amendment rights, particularly unfettered political speech, and views deregulation of campaign finance as central to that goal. Keating took charge after a similar group he started, SpeechNow.org, won a federal lawsuit to end donation and spending limits on independent political groups — thus creating super PACs. He had top posts at two prominent fiscal conservative organizations, the Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union, earlier in a D.C. advocacy career dating to the 1980s. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?

Stopping government from discouraging dissent.

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U.S. District Court

A billboard at the heart of the lawsuit, which challenged a 1985 law designed to make political groups be truthful about who's behind them.

Judge throws out truth-in-naming law for Montana PACs

One of the nation's most unusual campaign finance regulations, Montana's law intended to assure truth in labeling when it comes to the names of campaign organizations, has been struck down by a federal judge.

The law is an unconstitutional infringement on political speech because it is poorly constructed and doesn't accomplish its goal of helping voters understand who is behind groups spending money on elections, Judge Dana Christiansen ruled last week.

In an era when federal regulation of money in politics has essentially come to a halt, campaign finance reform groups have increasingly focused on winning curbs at the state and local level — and now one of those looks to be swept away, as well.

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Tomasz Zajda/EyeEm/Getty Images

Watchdog allowed to sue dark money group while FEC's in limbo

The campaign finance watchdog CREW has been given unique permission to pursue one of its longstanding targets in federal court rather than through the habitually deadlocked and currently neutered Federal Election Commission.

The group, formally Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has complained for years to the FEC about the right-leaning American Action Network. The watchdogs allege the conservative group has routinely been spending millions to back Republican candidates and has violated federal election law by failing to register as a political committee and comply with donor disclosure rules.

The FEC has dismissed the case twice. The first time, CREW followed the normal procedures and sued the agency in federal court in hopes of a reversal, which did not happen. After the second dismissal by the regulators, CREW sued AAN directly.

On Monday, Judge Christopher Cooper of U.S. District Court in Washington said the litigation could go forward, declaring it was the first time a "citizen suit" of this kind has gone forward since the agency was created 45 years ago.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture

Despite New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu's claims to the contrary, unlimited campaign spending in fact distorts the principles established by the First Amendment, according to Leah Field.

Five reasons unlimited spending undermines American democracy

Field is the managing director of American Promise, which seeks to limit the power of corporate, union, political party and super PAC money in politics.

Despite what the Supreme Court has asserted, unlimited spending doesn't support democracy or free speech — and Americans know it. That's why more than 80 percent support a constitutional amendment to authorize limits on the influence of big money in our political system. People see how unlimited political spending is undermining representative democracy, distorting our economy and undermining public trust — and they want it to change.

Here's a recent example: Despite receiving cross-partisan support from across New Hampshire (citizen volunteers passed 83 local resolutions across New Hampshire in the lead-up to the statewide legislation) and in the Legislature, a resolution calling on Congress to approve the so-called 28th Amendment was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu on July 11.

What could convince him to oppose the will of his constituents and the Legislature? Opponents of the amendment primarily argue that unlimited political spending strengthens democracy, increasing access to elected office and fostering productive debate, while limiting spending enables the government to limit speech about candidates and officials.

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How do these claims hold up? Not very well. While the governor claims the amendment is "part of a national campaign designed to overturn constitutional protections of free speech," the truth is that unlimited spending distorts the principles established by the First Amendment. Let's break down this and other arguments against the amendment.

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