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Election Laws

For many years, Public Citizen has been involved in litigation concerning electoral reform. In particular, Public Citizen has supported efforts to limit the influence of money on elections and has challenged laws that create barriers to the development of new political parties. Prominent among Public Citizen's concerns is combating the corruption of our political processes that results when the influence of corporate money is brought to bear on the electoral system.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

This case concerns the constitutionality of provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) that require corporations to fund electioneering communications through segregated funds donated by individuals rather than through their corporate treasury funds.  After an initial round of briefing and argument, the Supreme Court in June 2009 ordered additional briefing and argument on whether it should overrule two previous decisions upholding the constitutionality of such laws.  Public Citizen is cocounsel for Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, and former Reps. Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan, who were the principal co-sponsors of BCRA, and has joined in submitting two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in the case.

To read more, click here

Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (McCain et al. v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.)

In this case, a Wisconsin anti-abortion group is challenging the constitutionality of the electioneering communications provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act as applied to its television and radio ads attacking Senator Feingold shortly before the 2004 election. Public Citizen Litigation Group is assisting in the representation of Senator John McCain and Representatives Christopher Shays, Martin Meehan, and Tammy Baldwin, who have intervened to defend the law. A three-judge district court held the law unconstitutional as applied in December 2006, and the case is currently on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is scheduled for argument on April 25, 2007, and should be decided by June 2007.

Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (MUD) v. Mukasey

In July 2006, Congress renewed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years as part of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act. In August 2006, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One ("the MUD") immediately sued U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to challenge the Act, and a 3-judge panel was convened in Washington, D.C. to hear the case. Public Citizen, as co-counsel with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, represents three Latino voters in Texas who have intervened as defendants to defend the constitutionality of the Act and protect their voting rights.

As the law stands now, before implementing an election law change, local and state governments must prove to the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges that the proposed change would not have the purpose or effect of undermining the ability of minority citizens to register and vote. If MUD wins this suit, the only way minority voters would be able to stop the harm caused to their rights by a discriminatory law would be to file a lawsuit and attempt to prove in court that the law violates their rights. Public Citizen is working closely with nonprofit organizations who are representing other defendant-intervenors, including Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP-LDF, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way.

For recent news on the case, visit the blog of Rick Hasen, a law professor at Loyola Law School.

Suggestions for Improvement of the Code of Judicial Conduct

Public Citizen is active before the United States Congress, the Texas legislature, and courts throughout the country on a wide variety of issues, including access to the civil justice system, campaign finance reform, and protection of the right to due process. It is submitting these comments to address two aspects of the Code of Judicial Conduct: (A) the need for recusal or disqualification based on substantial contributions made to a judges campaign for elected office, and (B) the need to address the problem of what candidates for judicial office may properly say during an election campaign and to regulate candidates whose statements are not permitted by the rules.

Regulation of "Stealth PACs"

Public Citizen has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, supporting the Justice Department's appeal from an Alabama district court decision striking down reporting requirements the Internal Revenue Code imposes on nonprofit groups engaged in "electioneering." These groups, known as "527 groups" because they claim tax-exemption under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, are also called "stealth PACs" because they are permitted to raise unlimited amounts of funds for so-called "issue ads" with little disclosure. The district court's decision unnecessarily threatens even the limited disclosure required by the Internal Revenue Code.

FEC v. Beaumont
(U.S. Supreme Court, argument, March 2003)

Public Citizen, on behalf of itself and four other groups (Common Cause, Democracy 21, the Center for Responsive Politics, and the Campaign and Media Legal Center) has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Federal Election Commission's efforts to overturn a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that allows non-profit corporations to make contributions to candidates for federal office.  Unless it is reversed, the court of appeals' ruling will undermine the effectiveness of campaign contribution limits and will open yet another loophole for special interest money to distort the electoral process.

Texas Judicial Campaign Solicitation

Click here for materials from Public Citizen v. Bomer

(Due process challenge to Texas system for financing election of state court judges)

Republican Party of Minnesota v. Kelly/White
(U.S. Supreme Court 2002)

In this case Public Citizen urged the Supreme Court to strike down a canon of judicial conduct that prohibits a candidate for a judicial office from "announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues" because it is inconsistent with the First Amendment.

Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC
(U.S. Supreme Court 2000)

Public Citizen urged reversal of an 8th Circuit Appeals Decision on the constitutionality of caps on campaign donations

Twin Cities Area New Party v. Lou McKenna (8th Cir. 1995)

Public Citizen unsuccessfully urged the federal courts to strike down state laws that inhibit the growth of third-parties by prohibiting multiple party, or "fusion," candidacies for elected office. These laws preclude an individual from appearing on the ballot as the candidate of more than one party. Fusion statutes were upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Twin Cities Area New Party v. Timmons, 520 U.S. 351 (1997).

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