Top Democrat sues Federal Election Commission over anonymous donors

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission in an attempt to force outside groups that engage in "electioneering communications" to disclose the identity of their donors.  

Van Hollen's lawsuit challenges current FEC regulations, passed in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision, that permit nonprofit groups like Crossroads GPS to conceal the identity of their donors.

The suit argues that disclosure requirements previously enacted by Congress "have been significantly loosened by the FEC's interpretation."  

"The lawsuit I am filing today seeks to restore the statutory requirement that provides greater disclosure of the donors who provide funding for electioneering communications," Van Hollen said in a statement Thursday. "If this standard had been adhered to, much of the more than $135 million in secret contributions that funded expenditures in the 2010 congressional races would have been disclosed to the public."

Conservative-friendly outside groups, many of which were not required to disclose their donors, spent millions of dollars supporting Republicans in last year's midterm elections as Democrats in Congress decried their involvement.

In 2010, Van Hollen championed the DISCLOSE Act through the Democratic-led House, which was aimed at dissuading business interests from spending on political campaigns. The bill did not pass the Senate.

Along with the lawsuit, Van Hollen is filing a petition with the FEC asking the agency to adopt tougher rules on so-called independent expenditure groups. 

"It is imperative the FEC change its regulations to properly reflect the laws enacted by Congress," Van Hollen said. "The Supreme Court has determined that corporations may make political expenditures. However, it did not intend for them to do under the cover of darkness."

Van Hollen's lawsuit comes as the White House is engaged in its own effort to force companies vying for government contracts to disclose recent political contributions. The Obama administration is drafting an executive order that would require the disclosure, which top Republicans have labeled an abuse of executive authority and an end-run around free speech.

Democrats, meanwhile, have already formed several outside structures to compete with conservative interests during the 2012 cycle. Two new Democratic Super PACs will focus exclusively on House and Senate races next cycle and activist David Brock has formed American Bridge to take on the conservative group American Crossroads.


Top Senate Republican slams 'outrageous' executive order on disclosure

The Obama administration is drafting an executive order that would force companies vying for federal contracts to disclose their recent political contributions in the process, drawing a strong rebuke from the Senate's top Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a scathing statement Wednesday, labeling the effort politically motivated and saying it amounts to "an effort to silence or intimidate political adversaries’ speech through the government contracting system." 

A draft of the executive order reads, "every contracting department and agency shall require all entities submitting offers for federal contracts to disclose certain political contributions that may have been made within the two years prior to submission of their offer."

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the executive order would be part of Obama's effort to increase transparency. He denied that electoral politics had anything to do with the order.

Carney said the president "believes very strongly" that taxpayers have a right to know how companies awarded government contracts are spending "in terms of political campaigns."

"And his goal is transparency and accountability," Carney told reporters. "That's the responsible thing to do when you're handling taxpayer dollars."

The executive order comes in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision last year, which paved the way for unlimited corporate and union spending in campaigns. The order includes all contributions to political parties or federal candidates or expenditures on their behalf and would require disclosure of contributions that exceed $5,000 in a given year.

McConnell says it's an "abuse of executive branch authority." 

"Let me be clear: No White House should be able to review your political party affiliation before deciding if you’re worthy of a government contract," McConnell said in a statement. "And no one should have to worry about whether their political support will determine their ability to get or keep a federal contract or keep their job." 

-Updated at 3:50 p.m.


DSCC tops NRSC in first-quarter fundraising

With an $11.6 million first-quarter total, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee bested their GOP counterpart in the first three months of the year and reported a $5.6 million haul in March.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee reported $11.2 million during the first quarter and raised $5 million in March.

"The strong support we’re seeing so early in the cycle shows that we’re going to be in a position to not only protect our majority next year, but also play offense in 2012," DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement. "The Republican move to end Medicare and give more tax breaks to the very rich has fueled support from our base. Our campaigns around the country are seeing that their supporters are excited and engaged earlier than ever before, and that will make the difference next year."

The DSCC reported $5.5 million cash on hand and $4.8 million in remaining debt. The committee also touted strong fundraising from its Democratic incumbents, several of whom posted strong first quarters.

For the NRSC, March marked the committee's best month of fundraising in an off-year since the passage of the McCain-Feingold law, which enacted sweeping campaign finance reforms. The committee reported $1.4 million cash on hand and has $2.7 million in remaining debt — down from the $6.5 million in debt the committee reported after the 2010 midterms. 

“Since Senator [John] Cornyn [Texas] assumed the chairmanship in 2009, his finance goals for the NRSC have been three-fold — to be careful stewards of our donors’ money, to continue to close the fundraising gap with Senate Democrats and to ensure that not a single Republican candidate loses on Election Day because of a lack of financial resources," NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer said in a statement. "The NRSC met, and exceeded, those goals last cycle, and while we’re still up against a Senate Democrat majority and the fundraiser-in-chief in the White House, we are committed to building on this success and winning back the majority next year.”

Democrats face a tough Senate landscape next year, with 23 seats to defend. Republicans need a net gain of just four seats to take control of the upper chamber in 2012.


Embattled Florida Republican raised $75K in first quarter

Rep. David Rivera's (R-Fla.) first-quarter fundraising haul can't be reassuring to national Republicans anxious to hang onto Florida's 25th congressional district next year. 

The freshman Republican, who has been dogged by questions about his financial dealings, raised just $75,000 during the first three months of the year, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Rivera reported just $67,000 cash on hand and still has more than $130,000 worth of debt on the books, including close to $90,000 owed to a Florida-based media consultant.

Rivera is sure to be a Democratic target next year, and might even face a GOP primary challenge.

The Republican has been under investigation for allegedly failing to disclose $137,000 in loans, and The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Rivera paid himself hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexplained campaign reimbursements over his eight years in the State Legislature.

National Democrats have hammered the freshman Republican over the allegations in recent months and have used the investigation as an opportunity to lambaste House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the new Republican majority over their promises of "no tolerance" on ethics questions.


Orrin Hatch's PAC donated to Lugar, Snowe

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) may be in the sights of Tea Party activists ahead of 2012, but the Utah Republican has given help to two of his Senate colleagues who face conservative primary challengers themselves.

Hatch's political action committee — OrrinPAC — donated to both Sens. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) during the first quarter of the year, according to the PAC's March filing with the Federal Election Commission. Both Republicans are Tea Party targets in 2012.

Hatch's PAC donated $1,000 each to Lugar and Snowe in February. Asked about the donations, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said the senator "traditionally has given to his Republican colleagues who face reelection."

Hatch has wooed Tea Party activists in his home state and has taken a bit less flak from conservative activists over the past year than have Lugar and Snowe. In Indiana, Lugar has openly sparred with Tea Party backers. 

Hatch's February donations came on the same day he donated to four other GOP senators up for reelection in 2012. Hatch's PAC also gave $1,000 to the reelection campaigns of Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.).

Hatch also gave $1,000 to Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who had not yet announced his decision to not seek another term as of the date of the donation.

Hatch, meanwhile, raised $773,000 during the first three months of the year for his own reelection race and reported close to $3 million cash on hand, according to his campaign.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a potential Hatch primary challenger next year, raised just $110,000 during the first quarter.


Allen West reports $433K first-quarter haul

The fundraising battle is already well under way in Florida's 22nd congressional district, where Republican Rep. Allen West sits atop the list of Democratic targets in 2012.  

West raised an impressive $433,500 during the first three months of the year, but two potential Democratic opponents put up decent numbers.

Businessman and first time candidate Patrick Murphy raised more than $300,000, and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel raised $254,000. Both Democrats just jumped into the race last month.

The first-quarter fundraising numbers signal the start of what's likely to be one of the most expensive congressional races of the 2012 cycle.

"The grassroots support shows we are on the right path of changing the culture of Washington, DC, moving away from the Era of Big Spending and working to ensure a brighter future for our children," West said in a statement touting the numbers Friday.

The average donation to West in the first quarter was $73, according to the campaign, and 99 percent of contributions came from individual donors.

During his 2010 race, West invested a sizable amount of resources to raise money through direct mail, building a national base of small dollar donors.


DCCC outraises NRCC in first quarter

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has taken a major step toward paying down the debt left over from a brutal 2010 election cycle and outraised its Republican counterpart over the first three months of the year.

The DCCC announced Thursday that it raised $19.6 million during the first quarter and has cut its debt to $8 million. The National Republican Congressional Committee wasn't far behind, raising $18.1 million in the first quarter, but also still has $8 million in debt still on the books.

After raising just over $5 million in the month of February, the DCCC reported $17.3 million in debt. 

The one major difference -- the NRCC reported nearly twice the cash on hand of the DCCC at the end of the first quarter with $9 million in the bank, compared to $4.6 million for the DCCC. The NRCC also raised $10.2 million in March.

The DCCC raised more than $1.2 million online in the month of March, and a fundraising appeal pegged to capitalize on the potential for a government shutdown netted the committee its second best day of online fundraising in its history on April 8. That haul, however, came after the books closed on the first quarter. 

The DCCC's first-quarter total comes after outraising its Republican counterpart in both January and February. In February, the DCCC raised $5.2 million to the NRCC's $4.9 million, and in January, the DCCC raised $4.4 million to the NRCC's $3 million. 

Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to take back the House majority in 2012. 

-Updated at 10:32 a.m.