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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Sixteen states, a half-dozen progressive senators and a collection of campaign finance reform experts have launched an uphill campaign to persuade the Supreme Court to close down the nation's super PACs.
They filed briefs Wednesday asking the court to consider a fresh challenge to a central aspect of campaign finance law: A federal appeals court ruling from a decade ago that ended contribution and spending limits, but not disclosure requirements, for independent political groups that want to elect or defeat candidates — thus creating super PACs.
There is no guarantee the justices will decide to take the case after it reconvenes this fall, however. And even if they do, the court's reliably conservative majority and string of precedents promoting the deregulation of campaign finance suggest that victory for reformers is a longshot.
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The case generating a ruling in 2010, by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down on First Amendment grounds the federal contribution limits individuals could make to super PACs, politically active not-for-profits, unions and other groups that make independent expenditures.