Robert Bauer, a Washington, D. C. political power lawyer who recently became White House Counsel, is likely to emerge as the most important in-house counselor to President Barack Obama and his reelection campaign committee as they begin to gird themselves against what could be a torrent of negative advertising openly attacking the President’s leadership, sharply criticizing his policies and aggressively advocating his defeat.
That spate of advertising probably will be fueled by gushers of political money, in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, which corporations are now free to spend seeking to influence the outcome of the 2011 Presidential Election. The prediction is fair in light of the recent decision of the SCOTUS in Citizens United v. FEC. The Supreme Court declared, in a 5-4 decision, that corporations have a free speech right protected by the First Amendment to tap their vast treasuries, without government interference or regulation, and spend unlimited sums of money on advocacy and advertising to defeat or support candidates in federal elections for political offices.
Bauer formerly chaired the political law practice group of Perkins Coie, a national law firm. He is an expert in campaign finance and the regulation of political money. In addition, he has authored several books and maintained a weblog on the subjects. He also has lectured and litigated on the subjects.
More important for the President, Bauer has been his personal lawyer. He represented President Obama in the litigation challenging the President’s nationality and qualifications to serve in office. There is no question about Bauer’s loyalty to the President, and his motivation to lawyer and advocate for the President with zeal.
So what’s the bottom line?
Corporations may spend their treasury money as they please to make independent expenditures playing politics. Having said that, there are still regulations in place limiting their political activities. Those regulations prohibit direct corporate contributions to political candidates; limit the amounts of contributions which can be made to political candidates through corporate political action committees; and, outlaw any political spending in federal elections by foreign corporations.
The law is clear with respect to corporations making independent expenditures. What’s not clear is whether corporations have a First Amendment free speech right to collaborate with political candidates on the expenditure of corporate political money to advocate or advertise the defeat of their opponents. As stated by Craig Engle, head of the Political Law Group at Arent Fox: “These expenditures must still be made independent of the candidate’s campaign.” Supreme Court Strikes Corporate Speech Prohibition in Campaign Finance Case (01-21-10) Link: Arent Fox Article That issue alone is likely to generate a slew of complaints, compliance investigations and enforcement suits.
Bauer’s task is clear.
He must give counsel and direct implementation of a broad strategy to monitor and review closely corporate political expenditures for advocacy and advertising adverse to the President. He and his staff must respond quickly and aggressively to any negative advocacy and advertising that damage the President. They also must take the necessary action to assure that the related expenditures comply with the regulations which have survived the Supreme Court decision.