WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (August 22-28, 2011)

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Our view: Presidential race not the place for secret donors.” Editorial. USA Today. August 22, 2011. Candidates have always found creative and questionable ways to raise the money they need to get elected, but some of the schemes being used to support the current crop of presidential candidates sound as if they were invented by organized crime. Allies of President Obama and a slew of Republican hopefuls are taking advantage of loose campaign-finance laws, a toothless Federal Election Commission and a 2010 Supreme Court decision that equated big money with free speech. The result? A system that Ohio political boss Mark Hanna would have loved in the wild, anything-goes campaign days of the 1890s. The credit for making hash out of the campaign-financing laws goes to both Democrats and Republicans. The Supreme Court opened the door to this mess with its 2010 ruling. A typically inept Congress was unable to find the votes to shut it. President Obama, a professed champion of transparency, and leading GOP candidates could stop these nefarious dealings with a few well-placed words. That none of them has done so speaks volumes. They want enough money to win. And, apparently, they don’t care how their supporters get it.

Facebook Gift Spurs a Lawsuit.” By Andrew Grossman. Wall Street Journal. August 24, 2011. A group of parents, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, is suing the city of Newark for failing to turn over correspondence related to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to the city’s struggling school system. A member of the group, called the Secondary Parent Council, filed a request in April under the state’s Open Public Records Act seeking copies of messages between Newark Mayor Cory Booker, his staff and a long list of people, including Mr. Zuckerberg, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and various state officials. They also want messages exchanged between the mayor’s staff and some of the biggest players in the effort to overhaul schools around the country: Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, hedge-fund manager William Ackman and the foundation started by billionaire entrepreneur Eli Broad. A spokeswoman for Mr. Booker, Anne Torres, said in a statement that there are no documents showing correspondence between the mayor and Mr. Zuckerberg. She didn’t specifically address the other documents requested by the parents group.”There is no secret here,” she said. Spending by the foundation started by the Zuckerberg donation “is public and has been made public.” Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift is a significant cash infusion for Newark’s schools, but has also sparked debate over how it will be used. The parents’ group says in its lawsuit that it wants to see copies of the correspondence because it has “a strong interest in insuring that appropriate public officials, rather than private individuals, decide how allocate the donated funds.” Newark denied the group’s request in July for reasons including being too broad, according to a letter from city attorneys to the parents group that was posted on the ACLU of New Jersey’s website.

Planned Parenthood vs. The States: The Legal Battles Rage.” No by-line. Huffington Post. August 24, 2011. The states launched an unprecedented avalanche of attacks against Planned Parenthood in their 2011 legislative sessions, but Planned Parenthood is battling back in the courts. Eighteen states have passed one or more measures to limit the services the family planning provider can offer. Four are already facing Planned Parenthood in what promise to be lengthy and expensive legal battles to defend their right to enact those laws. Legislators in five states — Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas — defunded Planned Parenthood in 2011 because some of its clinics provide privately funded abortions. Planned Parenthood attorneys challenged three of those laws in court this summer, and judges in all three states — Indiana, North Carolina and Kansas — temporarily blocked their enforcement, unanimously ruling that state governments may not punish a particular health provider for offering a legal, constitutionally protected medical service. “If all of the judges are saying the same thing that we have been saying in all of these defunding battles, there really is very little doubt that it is illegal under many federal funding streams and unconstitutional to disqualify us from participating in these government programs,” said Roger Evans, Planned Parenthood’s attorney on the North Carolina case. Whether the states will take these rulings seriously is a different question, Evans told HuffPost. All three states are appealing the court decisions. Kansas is dragging its feet on restoring funding to Planned Parenthood despite having been ordered to do so immediately by a federal judge. Despite the first injunction against a defunding law — in Indiana — other states, such as Wisconsin and Ohio, moved forward with their own legislation.

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