Five Important Stories About Money In Politics That Fox News Sunday Didn't Cover

Five Important Stories About Money In Politics That Fox News Sunday Didn't Cover

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The 2014 midterm election cycle is already one of the most expensive ever -- due in part to the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decisions, which have opened the floodgates for billions of dollars in political expenditures to influence our election system. But the crisis is all but nonexistent on Fox News Sunday, which has rarely discussed money in politics outside of the overblown IRS targeting scandal.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismantled aggregate campaign contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for individuals to influence the political process by donating money to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and super PACs. McCutcheon was an extension of the court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, which allowed corporations to make unlimited political expenditures to support their favored candidates.

Since the Court decided to hear McCutcheon in 2013, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday has discussed campaign finance roughly as often as the Sunday morning news shows on other broadcast networks did -- but its coverage was almost always in relation to the allegation (and right-wing talking point) that the IRS unfairly scrutinized the tax-exempt status of Tea Party nonprofit groups and other conservative organizations.

In fact, out of nine segments on Fox News Sunday that discussed campaign finance reform, seven mentioned the IRS allegations or former IRS director Lois Lerner. The program's other two segments were passing mentions of the existence of campaign finance reform, not comprehensive discussions of the issue. While every other Sunday show aired at least one substantive segment on campaign finance reform, Citizens United, or McCutcheon, Fox News Sunday did not.

Below are five stories that Fox News Sunday could have covered to give its viewers a more complete picture of the crisis of big money in politics.

1. Citizens United Has Helped Elect More Republicans Than Democrats

Wash. Post: Citizens United "Gave Republicans A Measurable Advantage On Election Day." As the Washington Post reported in August, a recent study suggests that Citizens United increased "the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race":

The 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in a new era of political spending gave Republicans a measurable advantage on Election Day, according to a new study.

The advantage isn't large, but it is statistically significant: The researchers found the ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC, was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race.

And in six of the most affected states -- Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee -- the probability that a Republican would be elected to a state legislative seat increased by 10 percentage points or more.

In five other states -- Colorado, Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- Republican candidates were seven percentage points more likely to win.

[...]

The researchers also found evidence that the ruling led to an increase in the number of Republicans who ran for reelection, and a decrease in the number of Democrats who ran for office, especially in state House races. One Democratic candidate dropped out of about every 10th race in states affected by Citizens United, the researchers found. [The Washington Post, 8/28/14]

2. More Money Has Been Spent By Outside Groups On 2014 Elections Than Any Other Midterm Election In History

PBS NewsHour: "Outside Interest Groups" Have Spent More In 2014 Than On "Any Election Except The 2012 Presidential Election." According to a report from PBS NewsHour -- which has dedicated more coverage to the crisis of money in politics than all the other broadcast networks combined -- spending from outside interest groups on the 2014 midterm elections "has now surpassed the mark for most money ever spent in a midterm election":

[T]he $228 million (and climbing) spent by outside interest groups is not only the most ever spent in a midterm, but it's also more spent in any election except the 2012 presidential election, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The fact is: this is a whole new world. There should be a red line drawn on anyone's timeline when reporting on election spending to signify Jan. 21, 2010, the date the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling was handed down, opening up unlimited money to flow into elections from unions and corporations.

Graph via PBS

[PBS.org, 9/22/14]

3. A Majority Of Americans From Across The Political Spectrum Oppose The Court's Decision In Citizens United

Public Citizen: Strong Opposition To Citizens United "Stretches Across Party Lines." Although the Citizens United decision may have been a boon to Republican candidates in particular, opposition to the decision is bipartisan. According to advocacy organization Public Citizen, a majority of voters not only "overwhelmingly oppose" Citizens United, a majority also "believe[s] reducing the influence of money in politics and elections is an important issue" and favors a constitutional amendment to address the problem:

Voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the Citizens United decision. When voters are given a simple description of Citizens United, as a Supreme Court decision that ruled corporations and unions have a constitutional right to spend unlimited money to support or oppose political candidates, more than three in five voters are opposed and intensity is high (51% strongly opposed). Opposition stretches across party lines, with 61% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 58% of Republicans against the court's decision.

[...]

Overwhelmingly, voters believe reducing the influence of money in politics and elections is an important issue. More than three-quarters (78%) of voters feel this issue is important. Voters of all parties assign importance to the issue -- 81% of Democrats and Independents and 71% of Republicans think this issue is important. Independents are particularly motivated by the issue of reducing the influence of money in politics and elections, with over a third (42%) rating it a 10 -- extremely important -- on a 0-10 scale, and a mean rating of 8.1.

When it comes to the way election campaigns are financed in this country, 60% of voters (including 65% of Democrats, 61% of Independents, and 53% Republicans) think we need either major changes or a complete overhaul of our campaign finance laws. Only seven percent don't think we need any changes to our campaign finance laws.

To counteract the influence of money in politics, over half of voters favor an amendment to the United States constitution to overturn and do away with Citizens United and other related campaign finance decisions. Voters support a description of the amendment that would give elected representatives the ability to pass laws that regulate and limit campaign spending, makes clear that money does not equal free speech, and allows limits on how much money can be spent on elections.

Democrats are strongly in favor of this amendment, with 62% in favor and intensity is high (52% strongly favor). Even a majority of Independents and Republicans (50% and 54%, respectively) favor the amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's campaign finance decisions. Only 25% of voters are opposed to the amendment. [Public Citizen, 8/14/14]

4. A Business Solution To The Citizens United Problem

Maryland State Senator: "Shareholders Remain In The Dark Because Nothing Requires Executives To Disclose Their Political Spending." State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) argued in a recent Washington Post op-ed that one way to curb corporate donations to political candidates would be to require executives to disclose political expenditures to their shareholders.

According to Raskin, that kind of disclosure is not required by law, despite the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion in Citizens United that shareholders should have the opportunity to weigh in on political spending "through the procedures of corporate democracy":

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizens United essentially invites a shareholder solution. The premise of the decision was that government cannot block corporate political spending because a corporation is simply an association of citizens with free-speech rights, "an association that has taken on the corporate form," as Kennedy put it. But if that is true, it follows that corporate managers should not spend citizen-shareholders' money on political campaigns without their consent.

Kennedy wrote that, if shareholders oppose political expenditures made by management, they will be able to correct the situation "through the procedures of corporate democracy." This will be easy to do, he predicted, because all political spending will be thoroughly disclosed online: "With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."

Yet this is not the law, and it is nothing like reality. Shareholders remain in the dark because nothing requires executives to disclose their political spending. Congress has deadlocked on the Disclose Act, and the Securities and Exchange Commission refuses to move on new disclosure rules regarding campaign spending.

Executives are spending millions of dollars in partisan campaigns in the name of their shareholders, but, in many cases, the shareholders have no say, if they even know it's happening.

[...]

Our best hope for change is with the state governments that regulate corporate entities throughout the year and receive regular filings from them. I am introducing legislation in January that will require managers of Maryland-registered corporations who wish to engage in political spending for their shareholders to post all political expenditures on company Web sites within 48 hours and confirm that any political spending fairly reflects the explicit preference of shareholders owning a majority interest in the company. [The Washington Post, 10/3/14]

5. Campaign Finance Advocates Sued The IRS To "Roll Back The Use Of Dark Money In Politics"

The Hill: "Top Dem Sues IRS Over Tax Exemptions." Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and several campaign finance reform advocacy groups recently filed a lawsuit against the IRS to bar 501(c)(4) groups ("social welfare" non-profits) from taking part in elections. Van Hollen told The Hill that his suit would address the issues that led to the IRS controversy in the first place by eliminating the agency's ability to review what counts as inappropriate "political activity," which is the basis for groups' tax-exempt status:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and campaign finance advocates on Wednesday sued the IRS in an attempt to roll back the use of "dark money" in politics.

Their lawsuit is closely tied to the targeting controversy that has engulfed the IRS this year, with employees at the agency coming under fire for singling out applications for tax-exempt status that contain terms like "Tea Party."

The IRS says the reviews are meant to ensure that the primary purpose of a group pursuing 501(c)(4) status is promoting the social welfare, but Republicans say the scrutiny has been tinged with an anti-conservative bias.

But the real problem with the IRS reviews, according to Van Hollen, is that agents shouldn't be trying to judge a group's level of political activity at all.

The law governing 501(c)(4) groups, now a century old, says that those organizations must exclusively concentrate on social improvement. But current IRS regulations, adopted in 1959, suggest that a group that devotes less than half its resources to politics can also qualify.

"The point here is that the law is clear," Van Hollen said. "What do you want us to do -- put an exclamation point after exclusively?"

[...]

If 501(c)(4) organizations had to exclusively work on social welfare issues, political groups could still organize as 527s, Van Hollen said. Those groups can directly influence elections, but also have to make their donors public.

"The great majority of the American people believe the public has the right to know who's bankrolling these election campaigns," Van Hollen said.

"If you want to pump money into campaigns," he added, "the legal way to do it is as a 527." [The Hill, 8/21/13]

For more on Citizens United, McCutcheon, and campaign finance reform, see here, here, here, here, and here.

Methodology

This report is based on coverage of campaign finance reform on Sunday morning broadcast news talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press) and four nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour). Our analysis includes any segment that mentioned the campaign finance reform aspects of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC or McCutcheon v. FEC("Citizens United" and "McCutcheon") between February 19, 2013, and October 7, 2014, a time period that reflects when the justices decided to hear McCutcheon through the present. Phrases such as "campaign finance" and "campaign finance reform" were included in the search in the event a broadcast did not refer to these cases by name.

This post has been updated for clarity.

Photo via Flickr/Light Brigading under a Creative Commons License.
Posted In
Elections, Campaign Finance, Election Law, Justice & Civil Liberties
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Show/Publication
FOX News Sunday
Stories/Interests
Courts Matter
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