Citizens United Case Category

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LOD: Take Action on Art Pope

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Sign this petition: And then pass this link along to 4 others.


LOD: Art Pope Exposed?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The New Yorker’s profile of Art Pope last week helped pull back the curtain to reveal more about the 40 million dollar man prodding the right-wing’s recent successes in North Carolina. Rachel Maddow/MSNBC followed with a long segment that put his 2010 electoral victories in a national context for 2012 (jump ahead 7 minutes for the lead-in about NC). The state press has largely responded with embarrassing defensiveness: Well, we already reported all that stuff and besides, he doesn’t “control” state politics. The Institute for Southern Studies has launched, peeling back more layers, including a new entry exposing the hypocrisy of Pope’s claim that he’s a self-made man. What a telling fantasy: Pope’s worldview depends on believing that people begin life with equal resources and opportunity. Meanwhile, Politico has a new story that indicates Pope is working with his friends David and Charles Koch on a national strategy to pump $200 million into conservative groups ahead of the 2012 election. The story highlights the fascinating collaboration and recurring strains between the anti-government Koch/Pope operation and the equally ambitious political network led by Republican operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. The state’s media devoted tons of resources to follow native son John Edwards into national stardom; can it do the anything similar for Art Pope?


LOD: NC Called “State for Sale”

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Following up Friday’s LOD, here’s the link to the in-depth profile of Art Pope, his mind, money and rise to power. The New Yorker is known for its long and comprehensive pieces, and this one lives up to the reputation. It’s titled “State for Sale.” See also links to the analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies of Pope’s crucial role in the Republican’s 2010 takeover of the NC General Assembly, and charts by Democracy North Carolina on his $40 million in political contributions and majority stake in a network of ultra-conservative think tanks and advocacy groups.


LOD: The 40 Million Dollar Man

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Oct. 10 edition of The New Yorker magazine features an in-depth look at North Carolina’s most politically powerful unelected individual – J. Arthur “Art” Pope, chain-store retailer and Republican patron. One measure of Pope’s power comes from an accounting of his political spending in a set of two charts prepared by Democracy North Carolina for The New Yorker. The charts detail over $40 million that Pope has steered into his favorite causes from his family, his family’s foundation (John W. Pope Foundation), and his family’s business (Variety Wholesaler, owner of the Rose’s, Maxway, and Super Dollar retail merchandise chains that cater to lower-income consumers).

    ● In the past 10 years, Pope has pumped $3 million into state and national politics and $35 million in a network of North Carolina nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups that push a libertarian and ultra-conservative agenda.

    ● In addition to these funds, he has invested millions in national conservative organizations that he helps lead as a board member, trustee or advisor (see second part of chart of foundation grants). At the top of this list is a $2.2 million investment over the past decade in Americans for Prosperity, where Pope is one of the four board members along with its founder, David Koch. AFP is credited with financing and nurturing the national Tea Party movement; one of AFP’s strongest chapters is in North Carolina.

    ● Pope’s biggest investment by far has been in the John Locke Foundation, which he co-founded and helps direct from his board position; his family foundation accounts for $19.7 million or 79% of JLF’s $25.0 million income for FY 2001-2010.

    ● Pope is also a board member and the source of over 90% of the funds for the Pope Civitas Institute, named for his father ($8.0 million over the past decade); the NC Institute for Constitutional Law ($3.3 million); and Pope Center for Higher Education ($3.0 million).

    ● Pope family members frequently bundle their campaign contributions together, beginning the practice when Art’s father (John W. Pope, now deceased) was a prominent Republican donor. In the landmark 2010 election, Art provided NC General Assembly candidates with bundled contributions (totaling up to $16,000 per candidate) from himself, his wife, his mother, and his sister; 21 GOP legislative candidates received a total of $252,000 from these bundles in 2010.

    Another measure of Pope’s power comes from an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies of his influence in the pivotal 2010 election. Along with his family’s donations to candidates, Pope helped lead and finance three organizations that spent money on mailers and attack ads in selected races; the combined investment totaled $2.2 million in 22 pivotal legislative contests. Republicans won 18 and took control of the General Assembly. Pope’s Variety Stores gave $470,000 to the three groups (Real Jobs NC, Civitas Action, and Americans for Prosperity), and Pope is an officer of each or its nonprofit, c-3 affiliate. The Institute is continuing its investigation of “Pope’s empire” on its special website,

   Former State Senator Marc Basnight, backed by the money of oil baron Walter Davis, reigned for many years as the state’s top political heavyweight – but Davis is dead, Basnight has retired from politics, and the NC General Assembly is now controlled by Republicans. Some thought North Carolina would never see another person with Basnight’s clout, but Art Pope could have a bright future as kingmaker and behind-the-curtain Wizard of GOP.

   You’re invited to sign a Democracy NC petition against the kind of corporate interference in public elections epitomized by Pope’s use of his corporation’s money.


LOD: Citizens United Kickback

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Two national campaign reform groups are asking the IRS to take away the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations that are electioneering shells, not genuine “social welfare” organizations as required by law. The letter challenges four Republican- and Democratic-leaning non-profits. Democracy NC has promoted this approach to cope with the expanded use of non-profits after the Citizens United decision. Using c-4 and c-6 vehicles allows corporations and wealthy donors to remain unknown to the public, and many of them lower their tax bills by deducting their donations as business expenses. Art Pope’s Variety Stores may have done exactly that with the $470,000 it donated to Civitas Action, Americans for Prosperity and Real Jobs NC (a 527 organization) for electioneering in key 2010 legislative contests. Variety’s money only became known because North Carolina’s disclosure laws are stronger than those at the national level. Hopefully, the reform groups will continue to press their case and make these donations taxable gifts rather than tax dodges.


LOD: Citizens United Update

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Two more developments in the evolving world after the Citizens United decision: One is a legislative response by the Congressional brain trust of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). They have introduced a bill that calls for an amendment to the US Constitution to give Congress and the states authority to regulate political spending by corporations. “It is individual voters who should determine the future of this nation, not corporate money,” said Conyers. The Conyers-Edward bill, first introduced last year, will likely not get very far under the GOP-controlled Congress, but it deserves support from Tea Party populists who oppose wealthy special-interest controlling government. In a second development, the New York Times notes that lower courts are using the Citizens United’s positive emphasis on the value of rapid disclosure to strike down rightwing attacks on various state laws requiring detailed reports from electioneering groups. If we’re stuck with corporate-funded politics, legislators in Washington and state capitals should be much more aggressive in demanding full disclosure of the real donors behind the big-time spenders with sweet sounding names like Americans for Apple Pie.


LOD: Suing on the Money

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Anti-public financing lawyer James Bopp has filed a lawsuit to make North Carolina abandon part of the “voter-owned elections” program for state judicial candidates. It’s the part that awards candidates in the public program extra money if their privately financed opponents spend beyond a certain limit. But the US Supreme Court has already ruled that a similar matching funds provision in Arizona is illegal, and NC regulators say they have no intent of using the NC version of the provision. In fact, on Thursday, the State Board of Elections ordered the Town of Chapel Hill to abandon the provision in its program for municipal candidates in 2011. So why did Bopp file his lawsuit? Maybe he wants to make a point: He had challenged this provision years ago and the federal courts repeatedly ruled against him and his client, the NC Right to Life organization. But now that Chief Justice John Roberts is in charge, facts and precedent matter less than ideology and politics. As a result, James Bopp has been on a roll; he’s the same attorney who brought the Citizens United case to the Supremes. In his current suit against North Carolina, he also wants to collect attorney’s fees – and some say his suit may just be a way to get a judge to award him a million dollars or more for the expenses of his previous NC suits that failed. Hmm . . . J. Bopp, a publicly financed lawyer.


LOD: Wall Street Sit-In

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

What happens on September 17? According to an insider, New York’s Wall Street will be “occupied” by an army of rebellious dissidents determined to attack corporate greed and the grip of big money over the nation’s political economy. Who knew? A crowd of 20,000 “leaderless” rebels will camp out and cripple Wall Street as others occupy major financial capitals across the world. “One thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” according to posts on the Occupy Wall Street website. The corrupting role of corporate money in politics is an overarching theme, and overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is a central demand. Will it be heard?


LOD: Perry and His Super Donors

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Here are recent links for those of you interested in the money behind the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and the favors he’s done for his big donors. As with other candidates, his new Super PAC could dwarf what he raises himself for the nomination. The Washington Post weighs in on the dangers of these Super PACs, which aren’t independent of the candidate but obvious end runs around the law. Will the FEC or Congress or the courts step in? Not without huge public pressure.


LOD: Super PACs Super Donors

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

The Center for Responsive Politics continues to monitor the development of Super PACs, the post-Citizens United creatures that can accept gigantic donations to “independently” support or oppose candidates. CRP says that liberal Super PACs (like those gearing up to support Obama’s re-election) have taken in nearly $8 million in the first half of 2011, with more than 80 percent coming from just 23 donors. Conservative Super PACs (like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads) have pulled in nearly $18 million with more than 80 percent from 35 donors. So that’s $20 million from just 58 donors! Many are listed in the latest report by CRP, with the largest numbers from California, New York and Texas.


LOD: Green Light for Super Donors

Friday, July 8th, 2011

In contrast to incentives for small donors (per Wednesday’s Link of the Day), the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision encourages limitless donations by corporations (and unions) for so-called independent expenditures. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the latest candidate to benefit from this subterfuge, with the creation of a super PAC called “Americans for Rick Perry” that will supposedly operate completely independent of his campaign and consultants. It will solicit mega donations to advance Perry’s candidacy in Iowa and elsewhere. The Center for Responsive Politics is tracking the rise of super PACs across the political spectrum; unlike the 501(c)(4) vehicle, the public will at least get a glimpse of who’s donating to super PACs. The same news item about Perry also notes that traditional PAC contributions from labor unions are way down at this stage of the 2012 election cycle. In the 2010 cycle, union PACs gave a total of $60 million to federal candidates or one fifth the $300 million supplied by business PACs. Meanwhile, the IRS has backed away from exploring whether it will apply its normal gift tax rule to large donations to 501(c)(4) organizations, which are not charities. A donor giving over $13,000 to a group like Karl Rove’s super active Crossroads GPS could have faced a 35% excise tax, but now another agency is giving big political donors another green light to dominate US elections.


LOD: Sizing Up Small Gifts

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

The recent Supreme Court decision knocking down rescue funds is pushing advocates of public campaign financing to look at alternative models that meet many of the goals of the Voter-Owned or Clean Elections approach. In a new report, the Campaign Finance Institute has applied its favorite model to state legislative elections in six Midwestern states. Its model matches on a five-to-one basis the first $50 an individual donor gives a qualified candidate; i.e., a $50 donation earns the candidate $250 in public funds. (The model follows a six-to-one matching program that has worked well in New York City and a variation is used in the federal Fair Elections Now Act.) The new CFI report points out that small donors typically account for only 3% to 12% of the money raised in state legislative campaigns. That share would rocket up thanks to the public funds triggered by small donations – and it would make small donors more important to candidates thanks to the matching funds. Rather than restrict opposition or outside spending, which the Roberts’ Court abhors, the model focuses on providing incentives that empower small donors and increase their influence in campaigns.


LOD: The Supreme Five

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

When the US Supreme Court liberated purchased political speech from nearly all regulation in the Citizens United decision, it opened a Pandora’s Box loaded with all sorts of strange creatures: partisan c-4s, super PACs, corporate slush funds. The Federal Election Commission is struggling to apply its rules to new creatures served up by operatives across the political spectrum. Even Stephen Colbert sought FEC approval for using his show’s resources to produce partisan ads. On the same day the FEC gave Colbert partial approval, it did the same for federal candidates who wanted permission to raise unlimited donations for their super PACs to support candidates of their choice. The FEC said, No, neither President Barack Obama nor Sen. Mitch McConnell can ask General Electric to give $2 million to a super PAC, but they can ask for the current limit ($5,000) AND attend the event where others ask for and receive the $2 million. The money suppliers and fundraising arms race never had it so good, thanks to the Supreme Five. As E. J. Dionne writes, “The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted. If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court’s conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.” Given that mission, Arizona’s matching fund provision didn’t stand a chance for fair treatment.


Is that a Politician in Your Pocket??

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

This week has definitely been one for the books!!!! We’ve been tabling, phone banking, writing letters to the editor, researching, base building, and even some picketing. Our week began on Saturday.  We tabled at an event in Ayden, North Carolina to try to get residents up-to-date with the Voter Photo ID bill and also to introduce our work on money in politics.  We were expecting a large turnout but the heat must have kept people inside because there weren’t as many people as we expected.  Monday afternoon we phone banked after we realized that in the haste of week 4 we forgot to phone bank on Friday night.  We’ve had VERY successful phone banking nights the last past two weeks so we were pumped about phone banking again (never thought we’d say that).  Monday, Shaunee told us that things may get a little more interesting in the week. A picket protesting the GOP fundraiser had been scheduled for Wednesday and we were going. Tuesday we went to work with posters, markers, and posterboard in hand to make signs for the protest and we brainstormed catchy slogans that we could use.  Of course work never stops so on Wednesday, even though we had a picket later in the day in Raleigh, we still traveled to Halifax early in the morning to do some base building and go out to a few one on ones we had set up.  We received and impromptu tour of the Tillery Community Center which was definitely nice and informational.  On Wednesday we definitely learned something new.  After our tour we were back on the road again to Raleigh.  As we turned down Franklin Street we approached a crowd of people, signs, and police cars. Yes….we were in the right place.  We enjoyed our first protest under Dem NC and it was definitely nice to see people come together from different organizations and walks of life.  While we have enjoyed our work so far, we would be lying if we said that we were not excited about our upcoming 4 day weekend.

P.S. We got another letter to the editor published in the Wilson Daily times on redistricting in Wilson, NC (see letter below)

2010 marked the year of another Census, which means another round of redistricting. Every 10 years when the Census is counted district lines are examined and adjusted if deemed necessary to accommodate shifts in populations. The city of Wilson is offering a public hearing to discuss two redistricting plans that the city council is considering. This public hearing allows citizens to come out and voice their concerns, issues, and suggestions about the districts in the city of Wilson.

This is an effort to get residents of Wilson to let their voice be heard, so why not take advantage? If your districts change and you have not educated yourself on the proposals, or taken the time out to voice your opinion on them, your complaint is in vain.

Individuals like transparent government; this is transparency in one of its best forms. I strongly urge residents of Wilson to attend the redistricting public hearing on July 21 during the city council meeting. I have attended several redistricting public hearings and workshops across the eastern North Carolina area and can attest to the fact that they are informative and allow input from residents.

Redistricting maps out who you vote for, it’s only right that you have a voice in that process.

Jasmine Johnson

Elm City


Jasmine and Shaniqua


LOD: Judicial Public Financing

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The same rightwing law firm that engineered the Citizens United decision also attacked North Carolina’s judicial public financing program a few years ago; they took their challenge all the way to the US Supreme Court and lost. Now they’re representing a “right to life” group in Wisconsin, claiming that state’s new judicial program (modeled on ours) is unconstitutional. Democracy North Carolina and others have signed onto an amicus brief supporting the public’s right to sponsor a viable public campaign financing option, especially for judicial elections. Because judges have a constitutional duty to be impartial, there is a “compelling government interest” in preventing even the appearance of bias or corruption. The brief says this interest even justifies some public financing provisions that might be struck down for programs covering other elective offices – particularly the “rescue” or matching funds provision that helps enrolled candidates keep up with their opponent’s spending against them. The Supreme Court recently heard a case challenging Arizona’s system of providing matching funds (the McComish v. Bennett case). Most observers expect a 5-to-4 decision very soon that will throw out the matching-funds provision as an unconstitutional burden on the “free speech” (i.e., fundraising) of privately financed candidates. But even with the expected hostile decision, North Carolina’s judicial public financing program can continue, maybe without its rescue funds provision or maybe we’ll provide another test case.


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