Page:Full Disclosure Appendix, Eighteen Major Cases.djvu/20

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Appendix: Eighteen Major Cases

money” to circumvent campaign spending limitations. Soft money refers to funds used to finance issue ads that promote particular candidates. As part of the effort to regulate “soft money,” Congress required organizations that sponsored candidate-specific issue ads to disclose the names of contributors and spending on such ads. Anyone who “knowingly and willfully” violated disclosure provisions could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison. 165 In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, decided in 2003, the Supreme Court again upheld the constitutionality of disclosure requirements as an important means of informing voters, reducing corruption, and enforcing spending limits. 166

Campaign finance disclosure remains widely supported in concept but perennially debated in its specifics. Over the years, the system has gained diverse users and the support of many candidates. The press, advocacy groups, political consultants, groups concerned with expa nding public information , a nd other intermediaries often repackage the disclosed data and provide their own interpretations for the public. Federal enforcement authorities use the data to ferret out violations of spending limits. Candidates use the data to gather information about their opponents and sometimes have a reputational interest in disclosing campaign finance information beyond what is required by federal law. In the 2000 and 2004 elections presidential candidates disclosed all their contributions on campaign Web sites. 167

The Internet is fundamentally changing the dynamics of campaigning and of campaign finance disclosure. By 2006, candidates used the Internet to raise money, convene virtual town meetings, collect signatures, reach organizers, and customize email messages to supporters. The campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004 raised $100 million on the Internet, mostly in small donations. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, built much of his 2004 presidential campaign on the Internet. Advocacy groups used the Internet to convene online primaries and mobilize supporters and resources. Ordinary citizens used the Internet to share facts, express their views about candidates, and provide contributions. 168

In 2006, Congress and regulators were still struggling to integrate into federal campaign laws changes in campaigning brought about by the Internet. “The rise of the Internet ...changes the fundamentals of political speech,” Trevor Potter and Kirk L. Jowers concluded in an early analysis of election law and the Internet. By making it possible to reach large audiences with rich and customized information at little or no cost, the Internet challenges the premise of election law that controlling and disclosing funding controls corruption. “With no cost of communication, current law has nothing to measure ...[and] the entire mechanism for disclosing political expenditures thrown into question.” 169 The Internet has also created new ways to spread false or misleading information. Sham Web sites proliferated during the 2004 campaign, and both Republicans and Democrats routinely set up sites to post negative information about opponents. 170

In the 1990s and early 2000s, new requirements also employed the Internet and computer technology to provide more timely campaign finance information. In the 1970s, committees made paper or microfilm filings to the FEC, which could be accessed by the public only at FEC headquarters. In the early years of the Internet, the FEC allowed information to be downloaded for a fee. By 2006, most information was required to be filed electronically and was available on the FEC Web site within forty-eight hours free of charge. 171