Citizens United Decided: An upheaval of Campaign Finance Law

The long awaited decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission was issued today. With a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned a 20-year ruling that corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for their own campaign advertisements. Justices also struck down parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibited unions and corporations from running issue ads before primary and general elections.

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Lobbying and Ethics Reforms Need to be Enforced

On September 14, 2007, President Bush signed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a package of lobbying and ethics reforms. However, over two years later, there remains very little enforcement of such rules. According to the Senate's website, there have been a total of 8,281 cases of potential violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Meanwhile, there has been no enforcement on any of the potential LDA violations since 2005, except to send out letters to potential violators.

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House Passes Bill to Improve Grants.gov

The House has passed its version of S. 303, the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009. The bill requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to standardize the federal grant application process and reauthorizes Grants.gov, an online resource to apply for federal awards. The measure would increase federal grant transparency.

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Funding for Social Innovation Fund

The appropriations omnibus bill includes an increased budget for national service programs and provides 50 million for the new Social Innovation Fund. This is significant considering the House had earlier voted to spend only 35 million on the program.

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Supreme Court Delays Decision in Citizens United Until 2010

The Supreme Court has put off until next year a ruling in the Citizens United case, leaving many anxious about the impending decision. The case challenges limits on corporate and union spending on elections and could significantly alter future campaign seasons. The case was re-argued in a special session on Sept. 9, and three months later there is still no decision.

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Groups Use Citizens United as the Vehicle to Pass Public Financing

Many fear that if the Supreme Court decides in the Citizens United case to overturn limitations on corporate expenditures in political campaigns, it will transform elections with a deluge of corporate and union money. In preparation, groups are using this prospect as a way to advocate for election reform legislation, specifically public financing in House and Senate races.

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Appropriations for LSC Complete, Keeping in Place Advocacy Restrictions

Conferees completed their work on the FY2010 Commerce-Justice-Science ("CJS") appropriations bill. It will be included in an omnibus spending measure, along with the rest of the unfinished appropriations bills except Defense. The CJS measure appropriates funds for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

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CRS Report on Lobbying Rules

Last week, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report asserting that the Obama administration's rules covering federally registered lobbyists have "already changed the relationship between lobbyists and covered executive branch officials." The report titled, "Lobbying and the Executive Branch: Current Practices and Options for Change," did not explain how those relationships have changed.

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FEC Ruling Could Block State Laws on Robocalls

Robocalls, automated phone messages, are exempt from the national "do not call" registry. However, some states have implemented restrictions on robocalls. Some states require that a live operator talk first before connecting to the recording, while Arkansas and Wyoming have even banned them.

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Many Agree Lobbying Policies May Not Actually Reduce Corruption

The most recent effort to curb lobbyists' influence, excluding registered lobbyists from federal advisory panels, continues to get press coverage since first announced in September. The Washington Post predicts that it, "may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts."

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