On the campaign finance reform front, Wilson submitted a statement in support of the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act for a Senate Rules Committee hearing in late June. The legislation would set up a system for public financing of Senate elections and allow qualified candidates to receive funds from the Senate Fair Elections Fund instead of relying upon money from private interests.
In its late June, 5-4 decision on Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC, the Supreme Court said that corporate funding for some "issue ads" that mention candidates in the key period right before elections may not be prohibited by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), because those ads are free speech protected by the First Amendment. The League's response made the front page of The Washington Post. "Chief Justice Roberts has reopened the door to corruption." We, and other advocates of clean elections, were disappointed by the Court's ruling, which appeared to reopen the door to a flood of corporate and union-sponsored advertising for the 2008 election that would have the practical effect of supporting candidates. We are concerned that the FEC might interpret the Court's decision to allow most advertising of this type. The LWVUS amicus brief had argued that BCRA properly applied to the ads in question and that the Court's previous ruling upholding BCRA should be followed.
In late July, the League wrote letters to House members urging opposition to an amendment that would "defund" FEC enforcement of the ban on corporate and union funding of sham issue advertising.
In civil liberties, we saw success in July with Senate passage of the OPEN Government Act, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D VT) and John Cornyn (R TX). After the summer recess, the House will take up the Senate bill and, hopefully, send it on to the President for his signature. The legislation will strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and make information more readily available to the public.
After success in the House, the DC Voting Rights Act was stalled in the Senate and had to wait until after the summer recess for action. In July, the Advocacy staff worked on the national Senate call-in day for the bill and participated with LWVUS President Mary Wilson in a demonstration at the Hart Senate Office Building, chanting "No vacation without representation." The League, together with others, received an award from DC Appleseed for its work on DC voting rights.
We continued to emphasize the League's five key issues in election administration (see June 2007 issue, p. 17). The LWVUS denounced and worked hard to defeat the amendment to the immigration bill proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R KY) that would require photo ID at the polls in 2008. In late July, President Mary Wilson testified on essential elements in election administration reform before the Senate Rules Committee at its hearing on the Ballot Integrity Act, S. 1487. Wilson emphasized the importance of protections for voter registration drives, poll worker training, equitable allocation of polling place resources, protections against erroneous purges and requirements to count provisional ballots of eligible voters. (See Hill Bulletin, p. 13.)
The LWVUS also saw success with veto-proof passage in both houses of historic lobbying and ethics reform legislation containing key bundling and other reforms. The League kept up the pressure and it bore fruit. The League urged support in the House for Rep. Chris Van Hollen's (D MD) amendment to require disclosure of bundled campaign contributions from lobbyists. And we wrote letters and met with congressional leadership urging strong disclosure provisions for bundled contributions as the two houses resolved the differences between their bills. Finally, the League pushed hard for cloture in the Senate so the bill could proceed to final passage over objections from a small minority. On another ethics front, the Advocacy staff met with members of the House ethics taskforce to discuss the four key elements for establishing a nonpartisan and professional ethics enforcement process in the House.
On global climate change, the LWVUS taskforce continues its work on a range of issues, including overall direction, renewable energy performance standards and carbon sequestration proposals.
In the healthcare reform arena, the LWVUS celebrated another success before the summer recess. The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation passed in both houses of Congress. Differences still need to be reconciled in conference (see Hill Bulletin, p. 13). The Advocacy staff also continues to monitor and address other issues of concern as they arise.
The dedicated LWVUS Lobby Corps visited targeted Members of Congress over the past few months on lobbying and ethics reform in the House, Senate public financing, the DC Voting Rights Act in the Senate and SCHIP in both houses. Their hard work bore fruit!
The growing Grassroots Lobby Corps responded to action alerts on the DC Voting Rights Act in the House and the Senate, lobbying reform in the House, Voter ID in the Senate and the National Call-In Day for the DC Voting Rights Act in the Senate. Their actions also had significant impact.
Thanks to all of you who take a few minutes to respond to our action alerts. To keep flooding Congress with our concerns, forward the next action alert you receive to people you know with a personal note asking them to sign up to receive e-mailed alerts. To learn more about how you can take action on the League's priority issues, see Hill Bulletin on page 13. Also visit Take Action at www.lwv.org and sign up for the Grassroots Lobby Corps to receive action alerts by e-mail.