Will Courts Allow More Transparency?
This piece discusses important campaign finance cases working their way through the court system.
As public scandals continue to erupt—from the Illinois spectacle to graft in the municipal bond marketplace—and the economy heads further south, public trust in institutions is reaching a new nadir. President Barack Obama, attentive to this souring mood, is making greater government accountability and openness a centerpiece of his approach.
Yet in federal and state courts across the country, a sudden surge of lawsuits threatens to overturn existing good government laws, including challenges to bedrock principles such as disclosure of spending on elections. Perhaps sensing a closing window on the Supreme Court, conservative lawyers are seeking to use recent high court rulings to deregulate campaign spending and contributions. If successful, such moves may make reforms far harder to craft—just when citizens are pushing for greater transparency in government.
The litigation wave comes in the wake of three Supreme Court decisions, Davis v. Federal Election Commission, FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life and Randall v. Sorrell. For decades, the court routinely upheld limits on contributions, supported disclosure requirements and generally preserved transparency rules and limits. Most notably, in 2003, it upheld the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act banning unregulated money to political parties.