Archive for the ‘Campaign Finance’ Category

Because civic participation is vital and should be protected, we’ve asked the Treasury Department to issue new guidance on the political activity of nonprofit groups organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code and put an end to the confusion stemming from the current confusing rules.

In a letter submitted Monday as a comment to the Treasury’s self-imposed to-do list, called the Priority Guidance Plan, we point out that 501(c)(3) organizations are uniquely vulnerable to unclear rules, since doing any political activity, defined by the murky “facts and circumstances” standard, puts their tax-exempt status at risk.

501(c)(3) groups, like churches and charities, end up being prevented from doing political activity because the current vague definition of political activity acts like a speed limit sign that says “don’t go too fast.” Some bad actors will push the boundary, but most careful organizations won’t do things they otherwise could because they’re too afraid of “going too fast.”

“Offering 501(c)(3)s guidance on the rules that apply to them will create a more workable regulatory regime, deter bad actors, and empower well-meaning organizations to engage in the political system in the permissible ways that Congress intended,” says the letter.

The letter points out that while a provision in the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act prevents Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from improving the definition as it relates to 501(c)(4) groups, the path for a new definition for (c)(3)s is clear.

The current rules are so unworkable that risk-averse (c)(3)s don’t engage in the kinds of nonpartisan activities they are allowed to do, says the letter. Particularly in an election year, having unclear rules chills the speech of law-abiding organizations while encouraging abuses from those willing to flout the rules.

Charities should be encouraging civic participation; it’s one of their most vital roles. Nonpartisan engagement with our democracy should be easy for nonprofits, but the rules as they stand make it hard. Treasury can take a small step toward clearer rules by putting a fix for (c)(3)s on their to-do list NOW!

This article was originally posted on Public Citizen’s Bright Lines Project blog.

Last week at the Netroots Nation 2016 conference, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed the attendees through a pre-taped video, announcing that, if she were elected, she would propose a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United v. FEC decision within the first 30 days of her administration.

“Today, I’m announcing that in my first 30 days as President, I will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and give the American people – all of us – the chance to reclaim our democracy,” Clinton said in the taping. “I’ll also appoint Supreme Court justices who understand that this decision was a disaster for our democracy, and I will fight for other progressive reforms including small dollar matching and disclosure requirements.  And I hope some of the brilliant minds in this room will seek out cases to challenge Citizens United in the courts.”

hillaryClinton also committed to signing an Executive Order requiring federal government contractors to fully disclose all political spending and urging the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to move on the long-awaited rulemaking to require publicly traded companies to disclose all political spending to their shareholders.

These commonsense requirements for political spending disclosure have long been supported by Public Citizen.

Following the ruling in the Citizens United case, Public Citizen led the the fight to amend the Constitution to overturn the decision, working across the nation. At this point, 17 states from New York to Oregon have passed resolutions in support of an amendment to the constitution to overturn Citizens United.

More than 1.2 million investors and members of the public have already submitted comments to the SEC calling for a rule requiring the disclosure of corporate political spending, including major institutional investors, Secretaries of State, State Treasurers, former SEC Commissioners and Chairs, Senators and more. In addition, another million plus Americans have weighed in on the executive action on disclosure of secret contractor spending, and in December, Public Citizen worked with other progressive organizations to bring those million-plus signatures to President Obama to urge him to take action and curb dark money.

You too can show your support for getting money out of politics by signing a petition to overturn Citizens United here and sending a comment to the SEC regarding disclosure here.

By Anisha Sehgal

Pharma Part B infographicDuring election season, Americans across the country hear politicians make grand statements on how they will look out for the good, hard-working people of their state and push for progress that will benefit us all. As we watch them head off to Washington we expect or at least hope that they will deliver on their promises and act in a manner that looks out for our best interests.

However, a recent Public Citizen report on the role of corporate money in politics has revealed the strong influence donations can have on swaying lawmakers’ support on big issues. We are in the midst of a contentious debate regarding the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed Medicare Part B demonstration, a proposal strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Public Citizen’s new study reveals that members of Congress who opposed or were critical of the reform on average received 82% more in campaign contributions for the 2016 election cycle from the pharmaceutical and health products industry than rank and file members who did not take a stance against the reform.

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Unless we act, Arizona will lose its long-standing progressive campaign finance laws.

Earlier this year, a piece of state legislation (SB 1516) set in motion a plan that would reverse 20 years of state-required political spending disclosure and cripple the ability of Arizona’s Citizens Clean Election Commission to enforce Arizona’s campaign finance laws.

Some of the egregious provisions of the bill would:

  • minimize the state’s role in clean elections;
  • effectively delegate policing “dark money” compliance to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in Washington, D.C.;
  • allow campaigns to spend money from their own funds in order to donate to other candidates;
  • reduce penalties for candidates that overspend; and
  • take away the right of state election officials to subpoena candidate records.

When he signed the bill, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey contended that the law would make it easier for everyday citizens to run for office – but how does an endless supply of undisclosed, “dark money” flowing in to campaigns make it easier for citizens to get involved in our democracy?

In reality, laws like SB 1516 make it increasingly more difficult for voices of everyday Americans to be heard over the avalanches of money that billionaires, corporations and dark money nonprofit organizations they funnel their spending through are able to play in politics. After the disastrous 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, these conduit organizations can collect and spend unlimited amounts to promote their special interests — so long as they keep their spending “uncoordinated” with candidates and parties. This new law would allow much more of that unlimited spending to occur without even any disclosure of who is really behind it by allowing Arizona political spenders to hide behind claims of federal tax exemption.

We need your help to bring the law back for a citizen referendum – so that Arizona citizens, and not the wealthy few, can decide if a murkier campaign finance system is in their best interest. State disclosure laws, like the one that was overturned by SB 1516, are the only antidote to this corruption of our democracy.

Before SB 1516 was passed, AZ’s Citizens Clean Election Commission was actively enforcing the important state campaign finance laws– but lawmakers catering to their big money donors schemed to write this bill to make sure that spending went back into the dark.

We need just 75,321 signatures to send SB 1516 to citizen referendum and give Arizona residents a say in whether dark money will continue to permeate their elections.

But the biggest loss of all would be the further weakening of our democracy.

Please join us in pushing for a citizen referendum to reverse SB 1516.


Public Citizen has repeatedly called on Congress to pass legislation to reform and improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). During Sunshine Week in March, we praised the Senate for approving the FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337), and  participated actively with a coalition of partner organizations in the #50DaysOfFOIA campaign urging Congress to finalize FOIA reforms before the law’s 50th birthday on July 4 th.

On June 13th our efforts paid off, as the House passed S.337, the same version of FOIA reform legislation already approved by the Senate, and sent it off to the President, who has already signaled his intent to sign the bill into law.

The landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted by Congress in 1966, is an essential key to unlocking our democracy. FOIA enables Americans to monitor what the government is up to and hold the government accountable for its actions, by giving the public an enforceable right to access government records, subject to nine narrow exemptions. Unfortunately, the government’s implementation of the law has had some real issues, including overuse of exemptions, most notably exemption 5 for internal agency deliberations.

The FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337) makes important changes to FOIA, including prohibiting the government from relying on exemption 5 to deny a FOIA requester records of internal agency deliberations created 25 years or more before the request was made. The FOIA Improvement Act also codifies the “presumption of openness” policy stated by President Obama on his first day in office. This will require the government to release information unless the agency anticipates that disclosure would harm an interest protected by a FOIA exemption. Other improvements to the law will enhance the government’s proactive disclosure of frequently requested records, make it easier for a requester to submit a FOIA request online, limit the circumstances under which an agency can charge fees for a request when it misses the statutory deadlines for responding to that request, and expand the role of the government’s FOIA ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services.

We look forward to the president signing this significant legislation and locking in place these new tools for increasing transparency.

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– Post written by Jaimon Olmsted, advocacy intern for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

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