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15 Things We Learned About Money in Politics in 2015

(Photo: Rachel.Adams/flickr/cc)

15. It was a pretty good year for anti-pay-to-play rules in court as the SEC anti-pay-to-play rule for investment advisers to public pension fund survived a court challenge, Hawaii got to keep its anti-pay to play law, and the Hatch Act was upheld 11-0 in the D.C. Circuit.

14. Wisconsin took the cake for legal contortions to avoid Supreme Court review of the John Doe saga when the State Supreme Court fired the special prosecutor in the case.

13. Maryland’s strong new campaign finance law passed in 2013 went into effect. It’s the first of its kind to require corporate disclosures directly to investors.

12. Montana is combatting dark money with a new bipartisan law requiring disclosure of electioneering communications.

11. Sadly, the SEC was unmoved by clever graphic subway ads urging them to fight dark money from corporations in elections. But shareholders continued to hold their firms accountable through shareholder resolutions on corporate political activity.

10. It was also a good year for public financing as Seattle passed the nation’s first publicly financed voucher system for local elections. And Maine voters voted to strengthen their public financing system.

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9. A Crossroads GPS document from the FEC finally saw the light of day after a court order.

8. Vermont won a key case on coordination and enmeshed PACs.

7. Shell left the American Legislative Exchange Council (better known as ALEC) in August making it the 106th corporation to cut ties with the group.

6. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s “soft money” ban is being challenged, again.  This ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003 in McConnell v. FEC.

5. The FEC deadlocked in a way that gave a free pass to a foreign pornographer and his foreign corporations that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a L.A. election. But the California Fair Political Practices Commission stepped in to pick up the slack.

4. The Department of Justice reminded all that it is on the campaign finance beat as a campaign manager was sentenced to 24 months for coordinated campaign contributions and false statements.

3. Dark money is being used by 2016 presidential hopefuls to bankroll their campaigns, including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s “unprecedented” benefit of hidden cash from the Conservative Solutions Project.

2. A mere 158 families provided nearly half the seed money for the Democratic and Repubican presidential candidates.

1. If that wasn’t enough to convince you that money in politics matters, consider how much reforms are being fought about tooth and nail.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leveraged his power over the federal budget to strip campaign finance rules from federal law through anti-campaign finance reform riders.

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Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy is a Brennan Center Fellow and an Associate Professor of Law at Stetson University College of Law. She is the author of Safeguarding Markets from Pernicious Pay to Play: A Model Explaining Why the SEC Regulates Money in Politics.

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