Former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel Continues Her Fight Against Dark Money Corrupting Politics with Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court in case of Lieu, et al. v. FEC

July 21, 2020

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Case addresses decision in v. FEC and the corrupting influence of Super PACs

San Jose, CA – Today, Ann Ravel filed in the Supreme Court of the United States a Brief of Amicus Curiae in support of Petitioners in the case of Ted Lieu, United States Congressman, et al. v. Federal Election Commission. Ravel, herself a first time candidate running for the California State Senate, has personally continued her fight against dark money in politics since stepping down from the FEC in 2017.

“The key to having a government that works for all of us is having elections that are transparent and accountable,” said Ravel. “The D.C. Circuit’s decision in SpeechNow opened the door to unlimited, and often anonymous, contributions of money into federal election cycles, thereby undermining the FEC’s ability to monitor and enforce campaign finance laws, and by extension, our political system and voters’ faith in it.”

Ravel, widely recognized as a leader on issues of campaign finance reform, is the former Chair of the FEC and was appointed to that body by President Barack Obama. She previously served as Chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, California’s political watchdog agency.  In that role Ravel took on the Koch brothers and won – forcing them to disclose millions of dollars of campaign contributions.

The suit in the SpeechNow case was brought against the FEC by Representative Ted Lieu, Representative Walter Jones (deceased), Senator Jeff Merkley, State Senator John Howe, Zephyr Teachout, and Michael Wager, alleging that the FEC had relied on an “unlawful ruling” in v. FEC to dismiss a case against several Super PACs. On February 28, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the suit. On October 3, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a per curiam order in the case. On June 18, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. Documents filed on the docket can be found here.

Excerpts from Ravel’s brief:

“The focus on expenditures rather than on contributions in SpeechNow contravened both the finely-tuned Congressional system of campaign-finance laws and this Court’s extensive precedents regarding contributions… Consequently, dark money has flooded the federal election system resulting in difficult-to-trace, multi-billion dollar increases that render monitoring and enforcement by the FEC—the sole agency tasked with civil enforcement of federal campaign-finance law—difficult, if not impossible. Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”), Congress enacted a $5,000 limit on contributions to political committees, including Super PACs, as part of a comprehensive and carefully-designed statutory regime under FECA. But now, for more than a decade, the FEC has declined to enforce that statutory limitation as a result of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in SpeechNow.”

“Unless this Court takes up this issue and addresses the infirmities of SpeechNow, foreign powers will also continue to have the ability to exploit the federal electoral system despite the statutory FECA framework. Time and again, foreign nationals have tried to influence U.S. elections, including through contributions to Super PACs through dark money entities. And Americans have rapidly begun to lose faith in democracy since 2010 as the system succumbs to the “appearance of corruption” under the weight of these limitless donations by a small and unrepresentative portion of the population (in addition to foreign influence).”

“The public’s perceptions of the existence of quid pro quo corruption between candidates and donors stems from the ability to make unlimited contributions to the Super PACs that support those candidates or work diligently against their opponents. This is precisely what this Court has recognized can and should be regulated under federal campaign finance law. ‘[T]he avoidance of the appearance of improper influence ‘is * * * critical . . . if confidence in the system of representative Government is not to be eroded to a disastrous extent.’ Buckley, 424 U.S. at 27 (citation omitted). Since voters cannot ‘examine the intentions behind suspiciously sizable contributions, * * * the corruptive potential of unregulated contributions * * * inflict[] almost as much harm on public faith in electoral integrity as corruption itself.’ Libertarian Nat’l Comm., Inc., 924 F.3d at 542. Only this Court can enforce Congress’ integrated campaign finance regime and affirm the FEC’s ability to prevent corruption by overturning SpeechNow.”

Read the Brief of Amicus Curiae by former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel in support of Petitioners in full here.


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