(Cross-posted from The Hill Blog)
Recent weeks have seen a ratcheting up of promises by outside groups to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the presidential race. On the right, $2 million is expected from a conservative 501(c)(4) called “Defense of Democracies” for election-related opposition to House Democrats who oppose the President’s electronic spying plan. Another non-profit, Freedom’s Watch has pledged to spend some $250 million opposing the Democratic nominee.
And progressive groups recently floated a $400 million target for both electioneering communications and voter mobilization efforts. While the Campaign Finance Institute reports that a record $143 million was spent in 2006, that then-shocking total today looks like chump change.
A short history of how we got here is in order. As a new legal analysis and summary by the Brennan Center makes clear, before passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (“BCRA”), campaign finance laws applied only to “express advocacy” – an advertisement for or against a candidate that used specific “magic words,” such as “vote for” or “vote against.” This test made it impossible to distinguish “sham issue ads” (ads that avoided these magic words, but were nonetheless intended to influence an election) from genuine issue ads (ads that advance a position on a public issue)…
Continue reading this piece at The Hill Blog.