Today, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Lieu v. Federal Election Commission, the case that could end super PACs. In their brief, the senators urge the court to reexamine its previous SpeechNow holding that failed to recognize the practical effect of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) allowing unlimited contributions to super PACs – an effect the senators have seen play out firsthand in federal elections.
The senators point out that Republicans and Democrats alike worry about the corruption flowing from unlimited spending in politics. The late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – Republicans’ 2008 nominee for President – said in 2012, “What we have done is made a contribution limit a joke.” Even President Trump said when campaigning in 2016, “these super PACs are a disaster. . . very corrupt. . . there is total control of the candidates . . . .”
In the brief filed today, the senators also emphasize that special interests’ ability to amass unlimited contributions in elections also comes with the ability to threaten to spend those sums, regardless of whether the special interest carries through. “This power allows large contributors another way to manipulate and influence politicians outside the public eye,” the senators write. “Legislators tasked with exercising independent judgment instead fear uncapped spending by adverse third parties in their next campaigns. SpeechNow failed to recognize the increased risk of corruption from the private threats and promises in an arena allowing unlimited campaign spending. Consequently, elected public officials face worsened pressure to answer not to their constituents, but to interests with the economic means and motive to subvert the democratic process.” And as they note, “whether an activity tends to corrupt appears to be an issue of fact, not of law, and in our experience it is not factual that large contributions cannot corrupt.”
Read the amicus brief.