Money in Politics: November Discussion Topic

Unit Discussion Leaders and Unit Leaders

Encourage your members to read the LWVMpls Voter November article and The First Amendment article referred to above.

Prepare for the unit meeting

  1. Read as much of the material online as you have time. Focus on the MONEY IN POLITICS CONSENSUS QUESTIONS WITH LINKS TO BACKGROUND PAPERS posted on September 30, 2015. ( This gives you the background for each section of consensus questions.
  1. Print the Consensus questions and ask someone in your unit to tally the responses. ( )
  1. Print the History of Campaign Finance chart. (

Conduct the meeting

Ice breaker: Print some of the Definitions for Money in Politics Terms (posted June 3, 2015) on individual slips of paper and ask unit members to read them aloud. See the following examples:

Corruption. In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court ruled that corruption or the appearance of corruption is a justification for limiting free speech rights in campaign finance law.  The current Court has continuously narrowed the definition of corruption as a quid pro quo exchange. This fails to recognize the corruption of the political process when millionaires and billionaires can spend unlimited sums in an election.  It also fails to recognize the subtle influence or favored access granted to a large donor by an elected official who was supported by big spending.  (See quid pro quo.)

Dark Money. Political spending, the source of which is not disclosed under current regulations. This is typically accomplished through an arrangement whereby the originating donor contributes to a nonprofit corporation (that is not required to disclose) and that in turn makes an expenditure disclosed under the name of the corporation rather than the originating donor.

Electioneering Communication. Broadcast, cable or satellite transmissions that refer to a clearly identified candidate, targeted to the relevant electorate and made within 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election.

Express Advocacy. Political communications that explicitly advocate for the defeat or election of a clearly identified federal candidate. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) allowed corporations, unions and non-profit groups to use their general treasuries to fund express advocacy so long as it was not done in coordination with a candidate.  (See coordination and independent expenditure.)

Hard Money. Direct contributions to a political candidate. These contributions may only come from an individual or a political action committee, and are limited to $2,600 per election for an individual. They are subject to broad disclosure rules set by the FEC. Corporations and unions may not contribute directly to federal candidates. (See soft money.)

Independent Expenditure. An expenditure that is not coordinated with any candidate or political party committee. (See coordination and express advocacy.)  See, Money in Politics “Independent Expenditure” issue paper.

Issue Advocacy. Political communications in the form of advertising that is framed around an issue.  Outside the election cycle, many groups use issue ads as part of their lobbying campaigns, but close to an election they can point a voter toward or against a candidate even if the ad doesn’t contain express advocacy.  Congress and the Court have not been able to agree what constitutes a “true” issue ad and a “sham” one for regulating contributions and expenditures in elections.   Issue ads that explicitly mention or depict a candidate that are broadcast within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election must be reported to the FEC as electioneering communications.

Quid Pro Quo.  A Latin phrase that literally means “this for that.” In the context of political campaign finance, it refers to the kind of corruption that justifies limits on First Amendment rights.  The Supreme Court has been narrowing its definition of quid pro quo corruption so it is virtually the same as bribery — an explicit agreement by a candidate or elected official to perform a specific act in exchange for something of value.  Hence the Court ignores the subtle influence or favored access granted to a large donor, and rejects the notion of corrupting the election process or achieving greater political equality.   (See corruption.)

Soft Money. Prior to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, 2002), soft money consisted of huge contributions to a political party for “party-building activities.” Such contributions had no limits but could not lawfully be used for express advocacy.   They did, however, provide access and special treatment for donors. Soft money is still barred by BCRA, but Citizens United opened a similarly large loophole by providing for unlimited independent expenditures by corporations, unions and non-profit organizations.


Ask someone in your unit to be the recorder. Discuss Part I and Part II using the suggested readings. Answer each section of each question. Add optional comments. Note that the results of consensus will be submitted electronically.

Next Steps

At the end of the meeting ask three more questions of those assembled.

  • Would you like to dig deeper into this topic by introducing it at Program Planning? For example, would you like to find out more about what Minnesota specifically is doing about money in politics.
  • Do you think LWVMpls should conduct a public forum on this topic in the spring?
  • If yes, would you be willing to work on pulling it together?

Please include the answers to these questions along with your official consensus form.

Thank you for your participation in this update. We hope your discussion is lively and you find the material thought provoking.

Sharon Emery, Sandy Hull, Deborah Jindra