Organizational Approaches to Political Advocacy: the Legal and Regulatory Debate

Credits: 2.00

Americans traditionally are joiners; individuals have always worked in groups in order to advocate for their perceived unique interests. The variety of permutations seems limitless, and among the most common (and the subject of this seminar) are self-defined constituency organizations, labor and workplace organizations, business trade associations, churches and PACs (i.e., political committees). The strong protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments for group advocacy are both the result of and the incentive for our tendency to work in groups. Each type of group is subject to a complicated array of legal rules at the federal, state and local levels, and these rules have an impact on what these groups may say about the issues that are important to them, how they may be funded, and the manner in which they must disclose their supporters to the government and to the public. Federal income tax rules play a primary role in regulating the activities of these groups because each of these groups may be exempt from tax, but to be eligible for the exemption, federal tax law may impose limits on their advocacy work. The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United has greatly expanded the ability of tax-exempt groups to speak on candidate-related issues by limiting the ability of federal, state and local governments to regulate this political speech. The decision is also textbook example of the way First Amendment decisions can create seemingly odd political alliances. This course will focus on the interaction between the tax rules applicable to groups that engage in political advocacy and the campaign finance rules. It will also focus on current efforts to enhance the regulation and disclosure of expenditures in elections and the impact these efforts may have on speech by groups on behalf of their constituencies.

Grading and Method of Evaluation:

Letter grade only. A paper is required which may be used to satisfy the upper class writing requirement.