Libertarian Party

The FEC Fears the Dead Will Corrupt Politics (Through the Libertarian Party)

Could the dead rise up to ruin our political system?

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Zombies

Raymond Groves Burrington, a Tennessee day trader, died in 2007. In his will, he left 25 percent of his estate to the Libertarian Party (LP). After paying the estate's debts and expenses, that 25 percent came out to $217,734, a princely sum for the cash-strapped LP. According to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), Burrington's gift would have covered the party's debts and ballot access costs for the 2008 election cycle. Unfortunately, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) told the LNC it could not accept the Burrington estate's bequest—at least not all at once.

In a 1983 opinion, the FEC decided that contributions from a deceased person's estate should be treated the same as if it came from a living person. And federal law caps the amount of money a living person can give a national political party in a given year (presently $32,400). Therefore, the Burrington estate had to place the $217,734 in escrow and make annual distributions to the LP up to that year's contribution limit. The final payment is expected this year, seven years after Burrington's death.

Three years ago, the LNC sued the FEC in federal court, alleging the restriction on Burrington's gift violated the First Amendment. The LNC wanted "immediate control of the balance of the Burrington Estate funds" and a declaration that future bequests to the LP—or any other political party—would not be subject to FEC limits. The LNC also invoked a special section of federal campaign-finance law that requires certification of "non-frivolous" constitutional questions directly to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins agreed to certify only a narrower question: "Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?" Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington's First Amendment rights, as he was dead. Nor, Wilkins said, could the LNC use this case to mount a broader assault on federal contribution limits. But he conceded the D.C. Circuit could find the LNC has a limited "First Amendment right to receive campaign contributions" as applied to the particular facts of the Burrington donation.

Preventing Non-Existent Corruption

On February 7 of this year, the D.C. Circuit summarily affirmed Judge Wilkins' decision not to certify the LNC's broader constitutional challenge. The court has yet to rule on the narrower question, but in a February 3 filing, the FEC suggested the case is moot, because the LNC will receive its final, restricted payment from the Burrington estate this year. The FEC said there was no longer any need for the court to rule on this issue, because "there is no reasonable expectation that the Contribution Limit will restrict a bequest to the LNC again." The FEC snarked that the LP "has never had a federal officeholder," never received a bequest anywhere near the size of Burrington's, and that "it was highly unlikely" anyone would make such a gift in the future given the party's minor status

And yet, the FEC insists the contribution limit is necessary to prevent the "corruption" of a politically irrelevant group like the LP. This makes no sense. After all, how could a dead man corrupt a party? The FEC offered a number of hypothetical scenarios where corruption might occur—such as granting a potential donor access to party leaders in exchange for a promise to leave a gift through his estate—but that had nothing to do with this case. By all accounts, the LNC had no knowledge of Burrington's bequest prior to his death. Burrington was not a party activist; records showed he previously made only a single contribution of $25 in 1998. Burrington's attorney told USA Today last year that he had "no idea why Burrington donated to the party," and even Judge Wilkins acknowledged the LP offered nothing in exchange for the gift "apart from perhaps a simple expression of gratitude."

Judge Wilkins suggested that even if there were "valid anti-corruption concerns," the FEC could deal with it "through its disclosure and rulemaking authority." But the FEC maintains the eternal creed of the prohibitionist: To prevent some people from abusing a right, it is necessary to revoke everyone's rights. Even if that means trampling upon a minor party whose growth and success might serve as a more effective check upon major-party corruption than the FEC's unconstitutional mandates.

Of course, that may be the point. As the FEC's own filings tacitly acknowledge, the contribution limit hurts third parties like the LP far more than the Democrats or Republicans. Unrestricted access to the Burrington gift, for instance, could have made a significant difference to the party in 2008. Larger parties have the resources to overcome the inconvenience of individual contribution limits; smaller parties do not.

Exporting Campaign Finance Hysteria

Coincidentally, the issue raised by the Burrington lawsuit has become the subject of political debate north of the border. In Canada, the Conservative government recently introduced legislation to crack down on estate bequests to political parties. Historically, Canada has taken the opposite approach of the U.S.; donations from estates are not subject to the limits imposed on living donors. The Conservatives want to end that practice and impose an FEC-style rule.

Why? As the CBC's Kady O'Malley reported, "Judging from past election flings, the move to crack down on the potential for undue political influence by the recently deceased is likely to be felt most keenly by the [opposition] New Democrats, who have collected nearly $1 million in bequests since 2007, including $50,000 from the estate of the party's late leader, Jack Layton, in 2012." Clearly, money corrupts politics when it disproportionately goes to the party that doesn't control the government.

O'Malley expressed skepticism over the proposed change, noting the Conservatives failed to address estate contributions in a prior campaign finance reform law, and she wondered, "what concerns have subsequently arisen that would justify a crackdown on contributions from the dearly departed." Maybe she should talk to the FEC. They'll be able to outline all sorts of "concerns"; just don't ask them for any real-world examples of corruption.

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  1. Reason = just another Koch-funded shill for Big Dead

    “BRAINS 2016”

    1. That’s nothing, imagine what if was George Soros who gived funds for Big Dead? 😉

  2. Fuck the FEC and campaign finance laws.

  3. Yet in Chicago the dead sometimes get to vote dozens of times each.

    1. Uh oh, NutraSweet is already thinking of his Untouchables/Twilight mashup screenplay.

      (shivers uncontrollably)

      1. He sends one of yours to the veterinarian, you send one of his to the garlic patch. GO TEAM JACOB!

        1. Isn’t that just like a wop. Brings garlic to a vamp…oh wait.

  4. For the first three episodes of The Walking Dead I thought I was watching an allegory for what a libertarian America would look like. After that, I was sure of it.

    1. What would happen if people were allowed to act without first asking permission and then obeying orders from their political masters? Chaos!

      Liberty is death!

      1. Give me liberty and give me death!

    2. Libertarians are also the only ones capable of surviving a zombie apocalypse. Coincidence? I think not.

      1. I now have amazing images in my head of you guys & the kids slaying zombies. The kids are obviously the best at it.

        1. The kids will have to keep the zombie ducks away from sloopy.

      2. People really do underestimate the utility of having a ferret farm in their apartment at the end of the world.

  5. The point of campaign finance reform is to prevent unpopular opinions from being heard.

    1. It’s to keep incumbents seated.

  6. Sure he may have donated money to the Libertarian Party, but he has been voting for Democrats for the last 6 years.

    1. A big, hearty LOL.

  7. Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington’s First Amendment rights, as he was dead.

    That settles that.

    1. All people who pass their money on to others, after they die, are, indeed, STILL dead! So Government Almighty could just take ALL of that money, and not violate the rights of ANYONE!!! (PSSST… That’s just between us! Do NOT pass that idea along!)

  8. How silly! Doesn’t everyone know that dead white males are the cause of all problems? This would just give them more power to oppress!

  9. Apocalypse

    This election year will be the moment when individual candidate super PACs ? a form of legalized bribery ? become a truly toxic force in American politics. The giant ideological super PACs formed by political operatives like Karl Rove spent hundreds of millions in 2012, but didn’t produce the conservative revolution demanded by the big donors. So now the torrent of cash is heading toward smaller groups set up to promote a single candidate or, more often, to trash that candidate’s opponent.

    Dozens of these groups have already been formed, and political professionals predict that virtually every Senate race this year, and many contested House races, will have one or more. They can accept unlimited contributions, and thanks to the Citizens United decision, such donations can come from unions and corporations, too. Strictly speaking, these groups can have no contact with the candidate, but that prohibition is a joke. Most of them use the same voter lists as the campaigns, make the same points in their ads, and often are run by cronies of the candidate.

    “Legalized bribery”

    NYT, ever subtle and nuanced.

    1. make the same points in their ads

      Funny thing about free speech. When someone says something other people are allowed to say that same thing later on.

    2. So, the NYT is saying the super-PACs were ineffective (why else would they have failed at their goal and the money start “heading toward smaller groups set up to promote a single candidate . . .”) so we must do something about the over-sized political influence super-PACs *don’t* wield?

      Again, do these people ever stop to read what they wrote before hitting submit?

    3. Because people are so stupid that they base all their decisions on advertising and have no will of their own.

      1. Ah, you’ve noticed that the writer of this article is projecting their own gullibility and stupidity onto everyone else. I noticed that too.

        1. Episiarch|2.16.14 @ 4:20PM|#
          “Ah, you’ve noticed that the writer of this article is projecting their own gullibility and stupidity onto everyone else. I noticed that too.”

          The writer is also, be default, taking the right to make political speech in any amount s/he chooses while denying the same to others.
          I’ll presume this is because the writer claims to be a ‘journalist’ and thereby get special privileges.
          I’ll further presume the writer reads A1 in a particularly distorted manner.

    4. “Legalized bribery”

      NYT, ever subtle and nuanced.

      If their point was that all campaign contributions amounted to legalized bribery, then sure.

      They seem to be implying, however, that all campaign contributions they don’t like are legalized bribery — the ones they do like — coincidentally all for Ds — are an example of noble free speech.

  10. Burrington’s attorney told USA Today last year that he had “no idea why Burrington donated to the party,”

    Why to piss off the vultures masquerading as his widow and children maybe?

  11. What fun is having power if you can’t be arbitrary and capricious with it?

  12. given its minor party status.

    Whoa, wait what? A panel of un-elected officials are dictating how a living will can be executed based on the prominence or stature of the parties involved?

    How in holy hell did we get here?

  13. OT: I think mr. hanauer needs to spend a little more time worrying about mr. hanauer, and a little less time worrying about everyone else.

    Seattle 1-percenter a leader in push for $15 minimum wage

    Know him or not, in 2014, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer’s politics are sure to be in your face ? and headed for your ballot.

    As a renegade member of the 1 percent, Hanauer is trying to tilt the debate over what makes the economy tick, arguing against the conservative dogma that the wealthy are “job creators.”

    Inset: Nick Hanauer visits with Jonathan Roberts, right, a guest at his gun-control fundraiser. The background-checks initiative faces a fall showdown with a measure to stick with federal law.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/l…..lexml.html

    1. You can always tell the heroes by how many classes of voluntary contracts they eliminate.

      [A]s he likes to put it, “Prosperity isn’t something that squirts out of rich people.” It’s a result of policies that boost the wages of average workers, he says….

      Critics of raising the minimum wage ? even his own CEO ? fail to see the big picture, Hanauer says. If all workers receive higher wages, they’ll have more money to spend ? and they’d spend some of it on pillows.

      To hear these people talk, you’d think that Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover never lived. I guess it’s possible that he doesn’t know that he’s parroting Ford’s dictum about keeping wages high so that his workers could buy back the cars they were manufacturing, a philosophy that mired the United States in double-digit unemployment for about a decade when Hoover and FDR refused to allow wages to fall.

      Though at he’s right that prosperity doesn’t squirt out of rich people; riches squirt out of creative people who meet the needs of others efficiently.

      1. Ford’s dictum about keeping wages high so that his workers could buy back the cars they were manufacturing

        That was Ford’s stated reason, but the real reason was likely that paying higher wages than competitors allowed Ford to grab the smartest and most productive employees from his competitors, raising productivity more than the increase in labor costs.

    2. It’s a crusade that drives some of his capitalist pals bonkers. Even the CEO of Hanauer’s family-owned pillow-making business argues a $15-an-hour minimum wage would destroy the company.

    3. I’ve read about this clown before. He’s a trust fund kid who was lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of Amazon.

      1. Bill Dalasio|2.17.14 @ 4:47AM|#
        “I’ve read about this clown before. He’s a trust fund kid who was lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of Amazon.”

        So he got lucky and presumes no one is smarter than him.

  14. I suppose the Obama campaign tactics will not work here. Sell the estate $200,000 in t-shirts, have numerous donations made in $25 increments with Visa gift cards, etc.

  15. [A]s he likes to put it, “Prosperity isn’t something that squirts out of rich people.” It’s a result of policies that boost the wages of average workers, he says….

    As I like to put it, “If you’re so damn rich, why aren’t you smart?”

  16. Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington’s First Amendment rights, as he was dead.

    Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether Burrington’s lump sum gift violated FEC’s rules, as he was dead.

    fify

  17. Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington’s First Amendment rights, as he was dead.

    Since he was alive when he made the will, and was thus deciding while alive how his money would be used at a later date, the FEC violated his rights.

    1. Now, now, prolefeed, don’t let anything like logic or rational thinking get in the way of election law.

  18. Sometimes man you jsut have to roll with the punches.

    http://www.RealAnon.tk

  19. “The FEC snarked that the LP “has never had a federal officeholder” ”

    The GOP should object. The LP and GOP, they’re pretty much the same. Sprite and 7 UP.

    Even if they’re different on ideology, they’re mostly white. So there it is.

    1. On top of which, the only reason the LP hasn’t gotten a candidate elected to federal office is because of suppression of the Somali vote.

      1. If only we could redirect the energy and creativity of the Somali warlords away from the brutal subjugattion of their tribal regions and into door-to-door canvassing for local LP candidates…

    2. Warren G. Harding was close enough.

  20. Where in the Constitution does it authorize regulation of campaigns? Elections, yes. But campaigns?

  21. No one seems to recognize the definition of inalienable. R’s (the defenders of the constitution as they tell it) are perfectly fine with people being permanantly stripped of their inalienable second amendment rights and D’s don’t even pretend to defend the constitution, wholeheartedly calling outright for all people to be stripped of their constitutional inalienable rights.

    Consider this. South Carolina, a pretty pure republican state, only recently discarded the law making oral sex with your spouse a felony. You could actually permanently lose your second amendment rights over having the wrong kind of consensual sex with your wife. If the government can strip you of your second amendment rights permanently they can strip you of any other inalienable right.

    Maybe someone should buy America a dictionary.

  22. He’s a trust fund kid who was lucky enough to be in on the ground floor of Amazon.

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