June 16, 2016
This week the Club for Growth posted a new ad criticizing Louisiana congressmen Charles Boustany and Cedric Richmond for supporting the federal export-import bank, urging viewers to call the two congressmen and “tell them to stop supporting corporate welfare.”
The ad does not explicitly call for the viewer to oppose Boustany, a Republican running for the Senate, or Richmond, a Democrat who is up for re-election in the 2nd Congressional district. Club for Growth, the sponsor, is a “conservative political action group that seeks to promote public policies that support a fiscally conservative economic agenda,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A press release says the 30-second ad will be “broadcast and cable TV throughout Louisiana’s 2nd and 3rdCongressional districts.”
Should this ad be considered an “electioneering” ad, meant to influence the election? Or is it an issue ad? This is a controversial question. The answer affects how much information a person may be able to access about the ad. If it’s an electioneering or independent expenditure, then the sponsor of the ad must report expenditure details about the ad to the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC). Even then, however, as a 501(c) nonprofit group, Club for Growth is not required to publicly disclose its donors.
If the ad is considered an “issue ad,” then the ad need not be reported to the FEC, unless it’s within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary or the national conventions. There may be a requirement for stations broadcasting the ad to disclose ad buy contracts to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) if the ad concerns “a national legislative issue of public importance.” But such information is often incomplete and is more difficult to access than FEC records.
Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, says she considers this ad is a “sham” issue ad of the type that was discussed during debate over the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.
“The original version of that bill would have treated this as an electioneering ad since the it singled out candidates running for re-election and is clearly intended to effect their chances of election,” says McGehee. However, that provision in the bill–informally known as the “walks like a duck” test for “sham issue ads,” did not gain enough support in the Senate to pass. Instead, the Snowe-Jeffords amendment limited the time period for when an ad mentioning a candidate is considered an “electioneering communication” to a window — 60 days before a general and the 30 days before a primary.
“So in this case, this ad purports to be about an issue pending before Congress outside the window. So as a matter of law, this is not an “electioneering communication,”” explains McGehee.
The export-import bank. A failed federal agency so riddled with fraud, it’s been called a petri dish of corruption and graft. Corporate welfare at its worst. The bank spends billions of tax dollars supporting just a handful of giant corporations. Obama and Clinton support it. So do Louisiana congressmen Charles Boustany and Cedric Richmond. Call Boustany and Richmond. Tell them to stop supporting corrupt corporate welfare.