campaign finance

There are lots of forms of purchase and exchange that we criminalize, for example, buying sex. We don’t say if someone wants to purchase the services of a prostitute, well that is just an expression of their speech.

– Professor Jamie Raskin of American Law dropping logic bombs all over Citizens United. Professor Raskin — who is also a politician himself — goes on to explain that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence offers zero explanation why bribery is illegal but unlimited donations are not.

This is the latest in a new series of ATL infographics — visual representations of our own proprietary data, relevant third-party data, “anecdata,” or just plain jokes.

Last month, ATL hosted a well-attended event previewing the current Supreme Court Term. Our special guest was preeminent Supreme Court advocate and analyst Tom Goldstein. Our own David Lat conducted a lively interview with Goldstein, covering the major cases on this Term’s docket as well as Goldstein’s insights into Supreme Court advocacy generally. It was an educational evening for all, and, in the words of one attendee, “funny and brilliant is always a fantastic and rare mix in a speaker.”

Today’s infographic distills some of the evening’s observations and insights into a SCOTUS “cheat sheet.” Thanks to AccessData for sponsoring this free event, and look for upcoming events in your area….

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This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. In McCutcheon, the Court will rule on whether certain campaign finance restrictions violate the First Amendment. ATL’s Joe Patrice offered his thoughts on the oral arguments yesterday. Today, I offer an alternative perspective.

Currently, byzantine election laws restrict the total political contributions that a person can make in a two-year period, as well as the number of candidates a person can contribute the maximum amount to. The plaintiff, Shaun McCutcheon, is a suburban Alabama businessman, the owner and founder of an electrical engineering firm. McCutcheon wanted to contribute $1,776 (a very patriotic sum, indeed) to 27 candidates across the country. Each of those individual contributions in isolation was legal, falling below the $2,600 maximum amount allowed for individual contributions. Yet, had McCutcheon done so, his total contributions would have run afoul of the maximum total allowed, currently $48,600.

Supporting political causes and candidates of your choice is an exercise of your First Amendment rights. Like all constitutional rights, though, it is subject to an overriding compelling governmental interest. In the case of campaign finance restrictions, your speech rights are trumped by the government’s interest in preventing political corruption or the appearance of political corruption.

Here, McCutcheon was expressing his political values, innocently — even laudably — participating in the democratic electoral process as he contributed up to 2600 bucks to individual candidates . . . until he supported one candidate too many. Suddenly, the First Amendment no longer safeguards his political expression. Suddenly, the threat of corruption or the appearance of corruption is so great that democracy just cannot stand if Shaun McCutcheon is allowed to give a penny more to support a candidate who shares his values….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Rumors Of Democracy’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated: Why McCutcheon Can Be A Good Thing”

Supreme Court arguments are off and running, and the Supremes wasted no time in getting to the fun stuff. In this instance, it’s McCutcheon v. FEC, the case billed as Citizens United II: Electric Boogaloo. The conservative wing of the Court is expected to side with McCutcheon in its continuing war to make American elections safe for multi-millionaires.

Anyway, the oral argument was marked by the usual humorous sniping amongst the justices and lots of fun exchanges where counsel and the conservative justices worked overtime to subordinate reality to ideology. Up to and including Justice Scalia arguing that $3.5 million isn’t that much money for one individual to spend on an election.

Here are 3 immediate, largely stream-of-consciousness thoughts based on reading the transcript (available at the end of the post) coming out of this oral argument:

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “McCutcheon Oral Argument: Or, Justice Scalia Explains How $3.5 Million Isn’t That Much Money”

Oyez, oyez, oyez! It’s the first week of October.

* Say what you will about Justice Scalia, but the man is hilarious — more funny than his four liberal colleagues combined, according to a statistical analysis of oral argument recordings. [New York Times]

* The government shutdown is slowing down the judicial confirmation process, already famous for its speed and efficiency. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* More about news for Steven Donziger in his long-running battle with Chevron. Maybe it’s time to surrender, Steve? I hear Ecuador is a great place to retire. [New York Law Journal]

* Law firm merger mania continues, as Carlton Fields combines with Jorden Burt. [Carlton Fields (press release)]

* Herbert Smith Freehills says “you’re hired” to Scott Balber, the lawyer for Donald Trump who got mocked by Bill Maher on national television. [The Lawyer]

* You might see your dog as harmless and cuddly, but the law might see your dog as a weapon (and rightfully so, in my opinion). [New York Times via ABA Journal]

* Congratulations to all the winners of the FT’s Innovative Lawyers awards. [Financial Times]

* And congratulations to Heidi Wendel and Deirdre McEvoy, high-ranking government lawyers headed to Jones Day and Patterson Belknap, respectively. [New York Law Journal]

* Today the Supreme Court will hear argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a major campaign finance case that some are calling “the next Citizens United.” Check out an interview with one of the lawyers behind it, after the jump. [UCTV]

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The most tragically stupid decision was greenlighting a reality show about lawyers. No one cares about watching real-life lawyering. That’s why Nancy Grace exists — to boil salacious cases down to sound bites so viewers don’t have to watch real lawyers.

But almost as stupid was greenlighting a show about a district attorney on the eve of an election and not expecting to run afoul of campaign finance laws.

Imagine running against an incumbent armed with a glossy, major network reality show constantly hyping his effectiveness in office. In the context of a district attorney election, imagine having to run against Adam Schiff after everyone watched a Law & Order marathon.

If that seems unfair, one challenger agrees with you…

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A minor scandal is brewing in Las Vegas. In a city known for its impeccable ethics and strictly above-board dealings, the legal community is astir over suggestions that a nominee to the federal bench earned her nomination by engineering a windfall for her political sponsor, Senator Harry Reid, with conveniently-timed donations from her law partners.

At what point does sucking up to politicians cross into the appearance of impropriety for prospective federal judges, and how much should the rest of us care?

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Sorry, no free entry, not even for prosecutors.

* Even though Obama wants to “make sure that [he's] not interjecting [himself] too much into this process,” the DOJ may still suggest that the Supreme Court overturn Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage. [Associated Press]

* Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Department of Justice are cracking open a couple of cold ones to settle their differences over antitrust concerns with regard to the company’s planned purchase of Grupo Modelo. [DealBook / New York Times]

* It looks like Steve DiCarmine is being forced to take a break from his rigorous class schedule at Parsons to testify at a Dewey bankruptcy hearing next week. He’ll be happy to hear orange is in this spring. [Am Law Daily]

* Represented by Steptoe & Johnson, Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to misusing $750,000 of his campaign funds for personal use. Most interesting purchase: Michael Jackson memorabilia. [Blog of Legal Times]

* When it comes to recruiting new talent, the ability to maintain a “collegial culture” is apparently a selling point for midsize law firms. And here we thought douchebaggery was the way to go. Sigh. [National Law Journal]

* Protip: do not flash your prosecutor’s badge to bypass cover charges and lap dance surcharges at the local strip club. You’re going to get fired. We’ll probably have more on this later. [Riptide 2.0 / Miami New Times]

* Don’t worry ladies, if you’re about to be raped, just pee or puke all over your attacker — or better yet, tell him that you’re on your period. Yeah, that’ll work. These tips are almost as good as “don’t dress like a slut.” [CNN]

* “[T]his is a ridiculous sideshow that’s horribly unbecoming to the parties involved.” The NCAA is now suing over a new Pennsylvania law designed to keep PSU’s Sandusky fines in the state. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Take the words “all contributors.” Now close your eyes and contemplate what those words mean in plain English. This exercise serves two purposes, by both focusing your mind on the definition and simulating exactly how much the D.C. Circuit thinks you should know about the political process. How did they come to their decision, you might ask? By twisting, turning, and bending the words of the English language in a way that’s still illegal in nine states.

I mean, what more can you say about an opinion that calls dictionaries an “optical illusion?” Seriously…

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I’m always amazed by the ability of the American public to contradict themselves. People hate Congress, but consistently reelect their Congressmen. People want more government services, but don’t support tax increases. The say they hate negative ads, but allow them to be incredibly effective.

Today is Constitution Day, and the Associated Press has a new poll that’s giving Americans a chance to express their contradictory views about our beloved organizing document.

One “headline” from the poll: nearly 70% of Americans believe the Constitution is an “enduring” document that doesn’t need to be “modernized.” Although that number is going down.

So it’s perfect the way it is, except for the parts that people don’t like….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “On Constitution Day, Americans Like The Constitution Just The Way It Is, So Long As It Says What They Like”

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