Campaign Legal Center works every day to protect and strengthen the U.S. democratic process across all levels of government. Take a look back at our first 15 years of advancing democracy through law.
Campaign Legal Center works every day to protect and strengthen the U.S. democratic process across all levels of government. Take a look back at our first 15 years of advancing democracy through law.
In January 2002, Campaign Legal Center is incorporated and incubated at the University of Utah with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts. CLC is meant to be a centrist, bipartisan organization dedicated to protecting and implementing BCRA once it passes.
CLC assists FEC in drafting rules implementing BCRA by filing comments, offering testimony, monitoring political activity and filing complaints.Read More
In December 2003, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act becomes law. CLC, working with co-counsel, helps preserve BCRA in McConnell v. FEC, ensuring that the average voter’s voice will not be silenced by the wealthy few.Read More
From 2004 – 2005, CLC, private co-counsel and allied organizational partners win in cases challenging the FEC’s rules implementing BCRA (Shays and Meehan v. FEC). The litigation forces the FEC to put in writing its legal tests and to improve its rules implementing BCRA.
In 2006, CLC testifies before Congress in support of reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA is reauthorized by a unanimous vote in Congress.
CLC plays a significant role in shaping the legislation that creates the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). The OCE curtails the ability of lobbyists to give gifts and pay for travel and puts in place revolving door restrictions.
On June 25, 2007, CLC coordinates friend-of-the-court briefs for FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life. CLC’s amicus strategy minimizes the damage that could have been done to disclosure laws.
CLC files first friend-of-the-court brief in a voting rights case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder. From this case onward, CLC files friend-of-the-court briefs in every voting rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court.Read More
CLC files friend-of-the-court briefs at every stage of litigation in Citizens United v. FEC. Through its amicus strategy, CLC conveys the importance of disclosure, which the U.S. Supreme Court preserves.Read More
On March 30, 2011, CLC President Trevor Potter appears on a series of episodes of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” advising Stephen Colbert on creating his own shell corporation and PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.
On June 25, the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. In response, CLC creates the Voting Rights Institute.Read More
Texas and a slew of other states immediately pass discriminatory voter suppression laws after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In response, CLC files Veasey v. Abbott challenging Texas’s strict photo voter ID law. CLC succeeds in preventing the discriminatory law from going into effect during the 2016 election (case is ongoing).Read More
In 2014, CLC receives the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.Meet our Donors
CLC works in cities and states fighting for a better democracy. CLC has engaged in state and local reform efforts for years, but in 2016, officially launches a State and Local Reform Program.Read More
In 2016, CLC files Thompson v. Alabama in federal district court, a challenge to Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement law. (Litigation is ongoing)Read More
In 2016, CLC litigates Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. CLC’s vice president of litigation and strategy, Paul Smith, presents oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2017.Read more
In 2016, CLC sues the FEC (CLC v. FEC) for refusing to investigate disclosure law violations involving donors who hid behind personal Limited Liability Companies to make anonymous contributions to super PACs. (The suit survives a motion to dismiss and moves forward.)Read More
In 2016, CLC, working with the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, achieves a victory when FCC orders broadcaster disclosure of public files to be on the web (and later adds satellite and cable ads, too).Read More
Beginning in 2016, CLC shapes narrative on President Donald Trump’s ethics conflicts through regular broadcast media appearances.Read More
Each year, CLC welcomes an intern class from the nation’s best law schools. Some of our interns have returned to work as fellows or staff at CLC, and even more have gone on to serve the public interest, using the skills and knowledge they gained at CLC.Read More
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) was founded in 2002 with a generous initial grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. CLC began with a small staff and a focused mission: to advance the goals of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, also known as McCain/Feingold), which was a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill that took five years for Congress to pass.
The law was challenged almost immediately after its passage in the landmark case McConnell v. FEC. CLC was part of a legal team that successfully defended BCRA before the U.S. Supreme Court. In its early days, CLC also played a lead role in watchdogging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as it implemented and enforced BCRA.
Over the last several years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a series of decisions, including Citizens United v. FEC and Shelby County v. Holder, that have undermined our democracy in the areas of money in politics and voting rights. The FEC has deadlocked on every important issue before it, proving incapable of enforcing the law, while the current administration takes positions threatening ethics norms and voting rights. Transparency in our government is under attack.
In the face of these challenges, the CLC team has grown to more than 35 people, working every day to protect and strengthen democracy across all levels of government. Most recently, CLC argued Gill v. Whitford, the groundbreaking Supreme Court case seeking to end extreme partisan gerrymandering. In addition, CLC plays a leading watchdog role on ethics issues, providing expert analysis and helping journalists uncover ethical violations. We continue to participate in legal proceedings across the country to defend the right to vote.
CLC is adamantly nonpartisan, holding candidates and government officials accountable regardless of political affiliation. We will continue in the fight for democracy reform until the United States’ political process is accessible to all citizens, resulting in a representative, responsive and accountable government.
CLC works with state and local governments, Congress, national organizations and grassroots advocates to draft model legislation and offer legal advice on how to pass the most effective and sound laws and regulations.
CLC serves as a watchdog, applying pressure to governmental agencies that fail to enforce campaign finance laws and voting protections.
CLC’s lawyers litigate cases across the nation protecting voting rights, fighting unconstitutional gerrymandering and defending against attacks on campaign finance and disclosure laws.
CLC issues reports, fact sheets and other materials to educate reporters, partner organizations and the general public about current laws protecting our democracy and any threats to these laws.
Since its inception, CLC has been a leader in its efforts to ensure vigorous and fair enforcement of federal campaign finance laws and to hold candidates and political committees accountable for violating those laws. In 2002, as the Federal Election Commission began to develop regulations to implement BCRA, CLC worked to ensure that the agency drafted robust rules interpreting the law – and filed lawsuits when those rules were inadequate. Due to continuous political gridlock, the FEC often fails to take any action against candidates and political committees that violate the law. Hoping to expose the agency for its failure to act, CLC files complaints to draw public attention through the media. If the FEC ultimately fails to take action on a complaint, CLC files proactive lawsuits to hold the FEC accountable.
Voting rights are more imperiled today than at any time since brave marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 to begin the trek from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, leading to states passing a flood of discriminatory voting restrictions. Now, the only way to stop these unconstitutional and discriminatory laws is to challenge them in court. CLC is working to defend the rights of voters nationwide by litigating cases challenging voter suppression laws and cases seeking to affirmatively restore voting rights to all American citizens.
In addition, partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of electoral district lines to benefit one political party, has become one of the largest impediments to a functioning democracy. Both major parties have long histories of redistricting for their own interests, but the practice of partisan gerrymandering is getting worse, decade by decade.
In the last major case on partisan gerrymandering, all nine Supreme Court justices agreed that extreme partisan gerrymandering is inconsistent with our democratic ideals and violates the Constitution. But the Supreme Court has yet to agree on a standard for determining when a partisan gerrymander crosses the line. CLC is aiming to provide this standard through groundbreaking litigation, seeking to end extreme and unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering nationwide.
CLC has played a leading watchdog role on ethics issues, and often provides expert analysis to journalists to help uncover ethical violations. For example, in January 2017, CLC worked with reporters on a story related to President Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price. In 2016, Price purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer a day before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company – raising ethics concerns. By assisting journalists in their reporting, CLC played an instrumental role in an investigation into this issue.
Since CLC’s founding, we have served as the law firm for the democracy movement, assisting in passing strong campaign finance protections at all levels of government, calling for enforcement of the laws on the books and defending campaign finance laws when challenged.
When comprehensive campaign finance reform passed Congress in 2002, CLC was on the front lines, and played an integral role in securing a victory in McConnell v. FEC, the first major challenge to BCRA. At the trial level, CLC worked to help select, prepare and defend witnesses in the sprawling case – which ultimately encompassed 77 plaintiffs and 17 defendants in 11 consolidated challenges, and amassed an evidentiary record totaling well over 100,000 pages – and worked with a pro bono legal team to plan the legal strategy and assist in the drafting of party briefs. We served a similar strategic role when the litigation reached the Supreme Court, helping prepare briefs and participating in moot courts to prepare our advocates for argument before the justices. We also led public education efforts around the case and organized the coalition’s friend-of-the-court briefing strategy.
In 2011, Republican legislators in Wisconsin redrew the state Assembly districts to maintain Republican control. They did this in a secret office – away from the Capitol, the public and the press – and then rushed the passage of their plan through the Assembly. Their strategy paid off, with Republicans gaining 60 percent of the seats in the State Assembly, despite receiving only 49 percent of the statewide vote in 2012. CLC is part of a litigation team representing 12 Wisconsin voters who have challenged the state’s Assembly district lines as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in Gill v. Whitford. Our case is the first purely partisan gerrymandering case to go to trial in 30 years, and through this litigation, CLC and its plaintiffs seek to establish for the first time a manageable standard by which courts nationwide can analyze partisan gerrymandering claims. The Whitford case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wendy Sue Johnson lives in Wisconsin’s 91st State Assembly District. In 2011, the district was redrawn to include almost the entire city of Eau Claire, which contains a large percentage of Democratic voters. Map drawers drew the district this way in order to “pack” Democratic voters into Johnson’s district, making the surrounding districts significantly easier for Republicans to win. As a result, many of Johnson’s neighbors live in a different district, as the district line literally divides her from her neighbors across the street. Johnson believes that because she was packed into the 91st district, her vote does not matter as much as if she lived across the street, a consequence intended by the Republicans legislator who drew the district map in 2011.
Longstanding law requires that broadcasters inform viewers of the identity of ad sponsors, so that viewers and listeners know who is trying to persuade them. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to regulate and enforce this law, and broadcast stations must maintain a “public file,” which contains, among other things, information about the political advertising the station runs. Until 2012, broadcast stations kept public files in the station’s main studio in paper form, accessible to the public only during working hours. Working with the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition, CLC led a campaign calling on the FCC to order broadcasters disclose public files on the web. CLC achieved a victory when the FCC updated its regulations in response to CLC’s call, requiring broadcasters (and later satellite and cable, too), to upload these files to an online FCC database.
CLC has always made an investment in young lawyers and advocates interested in carrying the torch for democracy reform.
CLC staff partners with law schools, including by teaching clinics and courses, and speaking as panelists and guest lecturers.
In addition, each year, CLC welcomes an intern class from the nation’s best law schools. Some of our interns have returned to work as fellows or staff at CLC, and even more have gone on to serve the public interest, using the skills and knowledge they gained at the Campaign Legal Center along the way gained at CLC.
Across the nation, citizens with past felony convictions – who work and pay taxes – are unable to fully participate in their communities because of laws that deny them the right to vote. Broad felony disenfranchisement laws, which are largely remnants of the Jim Crow era, silence the voices of nearly 6 million citizens who are banned from the polls today. Alabama has one of the nation’s strictest disenfranchisement laws and one of the most convoluted systems for restoring the right to vote to these individuals. In Alabama, the restoration of the right to vote hinges on whether individuals can afford to pay court fines and fees, which amounts to a modern-day poll tax. Currently, the law disenfranchises nearly 15 percent of Alabama’s black population. CLC represents Alabamians with past felony convictions seeking the right to vote in the groundbreaking case, Thompson v. Alabama, now before a federal district court. Through this litigation, CLC has developed a number of legal theories and claims that will create a legally viable pathway for ending excessive fees and fines associated with restoring rights to citizens with past felony convictions in Alabama and possibly nationwide.
Timothy is a U.S. citizen living in Birmingham, Alabama. He served 18 years in prison, and now works as a truck driver and wants to fully engage in his community. He would like to register to vote but is not sure whether his convictions disqualify him from voting again under Alabama law. He is a plaintiff in CLC’s case challenging Alabama’s broken system preventing citizens with past felony convictions from voting.
“The psychological impact of not being able to vote is astounding,” Timothy said. “I lived 18 years in below-par conditions and was treated as less than human. I get out and realize that I am still considered less than human – not a true citizen. Decisions are still being made for me, but I am expected to prove myself with both hands tied behind my back. I believe the biggest form of voter suppression is mass incarceration. There are over 5 million people in the U.S. that are unable to vote due to their prior conviction record. The overwhelming majority are black men – like me.”
In 2014, recognizing the demand for voting rights litigation expertise in the coming decades, CLC joined with American Constitution Society and Georgetown University Law Center, thanks to a generous $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, to create the Voting Rights Institute (VRI). The VRI is working to prepare the next generation of attorneys, experts and activists to preserve our democracy and protect the ability of all Americans to vote. By providing resources, litigating, educating, training and conducting new and original research, the VRI is growing the pool of voting rights attorneys and experts at this crucial time.
Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
The Atlantic Philanthropies
The William Backer Foundation
Bessemer National Gift Fund
Brennan Center for Justice
Bright Funds Foundation
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Center for Governmental Studies
Laurie Cohen Fund
Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Community Foundation of Louisville
Cow Hollow Fund
Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund
Betsy and Jesse Fink Fund at Fairfield Community Foundation
Fund for the Republic at Essex Community Foundation
Gallagher Family Fund
Georgetown Law Center
David B. Gold Foundation
Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation
Ham Rove Memorial Fund of Coastal Community Foundation of SC
Heil Family Foundation
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Jonathan Holman Charitable Fund
Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation
Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago
Justice Through Music Project
David Kadish and Michael Norton Charitable Gift Fund
Paul H. Klingenstein and Kathleen R. Bole Family Fund
Layden Family Foundation
Leon Fund II of the Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The McCullers Family Fund
Media Democracy Fund
Mertz Gilmore Foundation
Network for Good
The Next Generation Foundation
Nonprofit Finance Fund
Open Society Foundations
Pew Charitable Trusts
Marc and Tracy Porosoff Fund
Public Interest Projects
Puri-Puniam Family Charitable Fund
Qualcomm Grant Matching
Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation
Red House Fund
Reed Family Foundation
Resources Legacy Fund
Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Rockefeller Family Fund
San Francisco Foundation
Schmeltzer MLJ Charitable Fund
Kevin W. Smith Charitable Fund
Soltani-Plotz Charitable Fund
Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation
State Infrastructure Fund
Stuart Family Foundation
Nancy Tisdall Fund
Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program
Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
Andrea Joy Albrecht
James H. Andrews
Laura and John Arnold
Anne and Don Ayer
Kathyrn A. Behling and Christopher J. Hansen
Philip and Odile Birsh
Mazal Bohhbot Berrie
Ann F Brundige
Sandra F. Burt
David M. Chan
Timothy F. Cullen
Sean Eldridge and Chris Hughes
David and Donna Gerson
Val Gui and Friends
Mrs. Francis W. Hatch Jr.
Gabriel Hendifar and Jeremy Anderson
Hon. William H. and Beverly G. Hudnut
Michael and Linda Spyers-Duran Katz
Donald and Mary Jo Layden
Clara and Bevis Longstreth
Madeleine and David Lubar
John W. Miller
Abigail, Robin and John Moss Hinchcliff
Susan Butler Plum
Tracy and Marc Porosoff
Maureen Redmond Scura
Janet and Benjamin Shute
Robert H. Snyder III
Richard C. and Helen Martin Spalding
C. Bowdoin Train
Paul von Hippel
Mallory and Diana Walker
Steven and Gail Wish
In 2011, the Texas legislature enacted Senate Bill 14, the nation’s strictest voter photo ID law, which threatened to prevent more than half a million eligible voters from participating in the democratic process. The types of ID required under the law left out large swaths of the population, particularly minorities and the elderly, who often cannot afford or otherwise access IDs. CLC represents Texas Congressman Marc Veasey and a group of Texas voters who challenged the law as unconstitutional and discriminatory. Federal courts in Texas, including a full panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, have repeatedly ruled that the law is discriminatory. The law was not in effect for the 2016 election – thanks to CLC’s legal advocacy. The case is ongoing.
Requiring disclosure of money spent in elections has been the bedrock of our political system for many years and has historically claimed widespread support from people across the political spectrum. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently made clear that disclosure of political spending is critically important to our democratic process – most recently in Citizens United v. FEC, where the court, even as it eviscerated other crucial campaign finance controls, upheld disclosure 8 to 1.
But disclosure laws promoting transparency have come under relentless attack since Citizens United. CLC has successfully defended disclosure laws in almost every federal circuit, ensuring that voters know who is funding political communications and who has spent money to influence elections.
Court upholds Vermont’s disclosure provisions. CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Second Circuit.
Court upholds the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act. CLC and attorneys from the law firm WilmerHale represented the Delaware attorney general and Delaware commissioner of elections.
Court upholds FEC disclosure rules. CLC filed friend-of-the-court briefs at every stage of the litigation.
Court upholds Mississippi’s campaign finance disclosure requirements that apply to small groups and individuals seeking to support or oppose state constitutional ballot measures. CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Fifth Circuit.
Court upholds the majority of Minnesota’s “political fund” disclosure requirements. CLC filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the initial three-judge panel and again with the full court (sitting en banc).
Court affirms a district court’s grant of summary judgment to the state on all claims relating to Hawaii’s disclosure laws.
Court upholds dismissal of a challenge to Colorado disclosure provisions. CLC filed friend-of-the-court briefs at the district and appellate court stages.
TIP: Click on the red circles to learn more about what CLC has been litigating in each circuit.
# Representative disclosure cases from different circuits
In 2012, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act, a law that sought to improve transparency of outside spending in state elections. A group called Delaware Strong Families challenged the law as it applied to certain kinds of political communications in elections, in part by claiming that the law’s donor reporting requirement could not constitutionally reach groups that supposedly engaged only in “issue advocacy.” CLC, with attorneys from the law firm WilmerHale, represented Delaware’s attorney general and commissioner of elections in the successful defense of the law in Delaware Strong Families v. Denn. In upholding the law, the Third Circuit agreed – as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held – that disclosure laws like Delaware’s arm voters with the information they need to make informed decisions on Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to revisit the court of appeals decision and denied certiorari in June 2016.
Throughout CLC’s 15-year history, we have worked in states and municipalities across the country. In the past three years alone, we have worked in more than 27 states and 16 municipalities.
Consulted on the innovative democracy voucher public financing measure approved by Seattle voters in November 2015.
Consulted on a comprehensive South Dakota ballot initiative approved by voters in the November 2016 election.
Submitted comments in an advisory opinion proceeding providing guidance to Minnesota candidates.
Worked with local advocates to draft a matching funds public financing program ordinance for Berkeley, CA, that voters approved in the November 2016 election.
Submitted comments in a rulemaking to update California’s anti-coordination regulations.
Submitted comments in a rulemaking to update New Mexico’s campaign finance regulations.
Worked with citizens of Austin, TX, to develop a covered transfer dark money disclosure ordinance approved by the City Council in June 2016.
TIP: Click on the highlighted state map to know more.
Campaign Legal Center works on the ground in cities and states fighting for a better democracy. While we are based in the nation’s capital, we serve as an expert resource to citizens working to improve democracy in their own neighborhoods. CLC provides model legislation, model ballot initiatives and specific expert guidance to help ensure that local reform measures are effective and increase the odds that they will stand up in the courts. A local group of citizens passing a citywide initiative probably doesn’t have nationwide experience and up-to-date expertise in drafting and helping defend new laws. But CLC does.
While CLC has engaged in this work for years, in 2016, we officially launched our State and Local Reform Program.