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League of Women Voters

MEMO TO LEAGUE LEADERS

From:  Elisabeth MacNamara
President, LWVUS
Date:  5/2/12
Subject: Money in Elections: What the League Can Do

OVERVIEW

We are all aware that the huge amount of special interest money, particularly in federal races, has been a problem for years. We also know that these problems have been magnified by the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case which unleashed corporate spending for supposedly independent campaign expenditures and which has resulted in millions and millions of dollars in secret contributions.   And we are also concerned that a great deal of this money is going into highly negative, and often misleading, election-related ads.

There is a lot of frustration within the League - and around the country generally - about what can be done to minimize the ramifications in the 2012 election year and beyond.

I’m writing today to tell you what LWVUS is doing in this area – and to identify some ways in which your League and members can get involved as well.

LWVUS ACTIVITIES UNDERWAY

  1. We are continuing the fight to pass the DISCLOSE Act.  This essential legislation will require financial disclosure for all campaign advertising. No longer will trade associations, corporations and wealthy individuals be able to make secret contributions to run election ads. Our volunteer national Lobby Corps is working both the Senate and the House on the bill, we made a statement to the Senate Rules Committee, and you can expect a series of up-to-the-minute action alerts.  The national office will also be working with Leagues in key states both to lobby directly and to reach out to the media in support of the DISCLOSE Act.
  2. With a grant from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Shelter Rock, NY, we will be joining with one or two state Leagues to purchase advertising to bring the reform message to the public.  I spoke at an exciting event at the church recently and can report great enthusiasm for challenging secret money in politics.
  3. As you know, the Federal Elections Commission is not enforcing current law on campaign finance, so we and our sister organizations have been pressing for big changes.  As a start, we’ve called on the President to appoint five new commissioners to the agency.  With the strong support of thousands of League members, our efforts on the petition to the President on the FEC reached its goal of 25,000 signers and we are anxiously awaiting his promised response to the petition and the continuing problems at the FEC.
  4. A new League Campaign Finance Task Force is now up and running, which includes nine knowledgeable and committed League members from around the country.  The Task Force will serve as a resource to the LWVUS Board and will provide information and input on campaign finance issues, including short- and long- term strategies for reform.  In the short term, the Task Force will be researching and providing information to members on the proposed constitutional amendments that have been introduced in the U.S. Congress.
  5. Senior staff is participating in an Independent Sector working group, whose focus is on developing a response for the non-profit community on the increasing use of existing and new 501c(4), social welfare organizations, to engage in electoral activities. The League is a member of Independent Sector, which is a national organization that speaks for the non-profit sector on a number of issues. One concern of the IS working group is that the valuable role played by social welfare organizations will be tainted by new groups that are being created under section 501c(4) of the tax code but whose purpose is primarily to funnel funds into electoral races.
  6. The Board is recommending to Convention a comprehensive program to educate members and communities on the issue of campaign finance in order to inform our education and legislative efforts as needed.   

WHAT LEAGUES CAN DO

  1. Engage in the League’s Money in Elections reform campaign.  Call on your Senators and Representative to support the DISCLOSE Act.  Respond to LWVUS action alerts, reach out to your members to engage them in this topic, especially to meet with your federal representatives or their staff in the state or district.  Write a letter-to-the-editor of your local papers and call attention to the problems of secret money in campaigns.  Voters deserve to know where the money is coming from.
  2. Participate in the “Stations: Stand by Your Ad” campaign.  LWVUS is encouraging Leagues to participate in this project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that identifies ways TV and radio stations can reduce the number of erroneous campaign ads run by third party organizations.   A description of the campaign and how Leagues and others can get involved is attached.
  3. Engage in public education about how to watch TV campaign ads – particularly those sponsored by third party (and supposedly independent) organizations – with a critical eye.  This effort can build on work already done by many Leagues to develop skills on “Debate Watching 101” and “How to Judge a Candidate”.  LWVUS/EF hopes to produce some tips on this topic, but we need your help!  If your League has developed materials on how to watch campaign ads, please send them to Pam Sterner at psterner@lwv.org, so that we can compile information that can be shared with all Leagues.      

CONCLUSION

Big money in elections – and the related avalanche of questionable and negative campaign ads – will be an inescapable reality in election year 2012. But the League is not sitting back quietly while that happens! There is much to be done, and I encourage everyone to make “money in elections” an important part of our Power the Vote efforts this year.  Thanks for all you do! 

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League of Women Voters
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Phone: 202-429-1965
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