TIME Campaign Finance

How Gridlock Is Hurting Campaign Finance Oversight

FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel confers with Commissioner Steven Walther before her first meeting at the Commission's downtown office.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel confers with Commissioner Steven Walther before her first meeting at the Commission's downtown office.

The Federal Election Commission, a bipartisan agency charged with enforcing and administering the nation’s campaign laws, will next month zoom past a fairly preposterous milestone given its mission: two years without anyone leading its nonpartisan legal office.

Such a power vacuum persists amid what will assuredly become the longest and most expensive presidential race in U.S. history, with candidates of all political persuasions waltzing along the increasingly blurry boundaries of what’s legal during federal elections and what’s not.

FEC commissioners parsing the legality of candidates canoodling with their supportive super PACs? Regulating so-called “dark money” flowing freely into elections?

Forget it.

The general counsel stalemate is emblematic of the FEC’s broader ideological cold war with itself, waged by commissioners who, for example, spent much of a recent public meeting debatingwhetherthey’re actually people — or, alternatively, aliens — for the decidedly odd purpose of petitioning their own gridlocked agency to write new campaign finance rules.

Three FEC employees familiar with the general counsel hiring process tell the Center for Public Integrity that conservative commissioners insist on a person who reliably supports political actors’ ability to campaign with minimal restrictions. And they don’t want a bomb-thrower who frequently clashes with them.

Liberals, for their part, refuse to back someone who won’t press for a more tightly regulated election environment. They’d particularly love a general counsel who believes the law compels all organizations — namely nonprofit groups — to reveal their donors when advocating for or against political candidates.

The FEC had, late last year, identified two potential general counsel candidates after what was already an unprecedentedly long search for a top lawyer.

But FEC commissioners couldn’t agree on one of the candidates — it takes four of the agency’s six commissioners to appoint a general counsel — and never put the person up for a formal vote.

The other general counsel candidate accepted a job elsewhere.

Since then, FEC commissioners have made no meaningful progress. Once advertised on the federal government’s jobs website, the general counsel position is no longer posted. The agency’s top Republican and Democrat acknowledged they aren’t formally considering candidates at the moment, and lawyers aren’t exactly clamoring to be hired by an agency deemed by its own leader to be “worse than dysfunctional.”

“It’s extremely demoralizing to the agency and the employees of the agency not to have anyone in this position,” said Ann Ravel, a Democrat who’s halfway through her one-year term as the FEC’s chairwoman and generally backs tighter campaign finance rules. “There was no appetite from the majority of the commission to fill that position.”

Matthew Petersen, a Republican and the FEC’s vice chairman, said that “all of us will agree it’s far from ideal not to have this position filled” and that he’ll work with fellow commissioners this summer to determine “what would be the best way now to go about filling it.”

Further complicating matters is one point on which Ravel and Petersen do agree: The general counsel job doesn’t pay nearly enough.

Congress has ignored requests by FEC commissioners to raise the position’s salary cap — it was last advertised at $147,200 per year, which is hardly workman’s wages, but far less than what prominent private-sector election lawyers make. Consider an assistant general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board stands to earn up to $183,300 annually.

Petersen and Ravel say the position’s relatively modest pay has hurt the agency’s ability to attract good candidates in the first place.

Regardless, general counsel is one of two positions at the FEC (the other is staff director) mandated by federal statutes.

It’s a powerful position. The general counsel’s many functions include overseeing the FEC’s enforcement, litigation, policy, complaints and legal administration divisions. He or she also serves as FEC commissioners’ chief nonpartisan adviser on legal issues, helping determine what matters they prioritize.

It used to be that transitions between FEC general counsels were smooth, even perfunctory.

Until now, the agency had never gone a full year without a bona fide general counsel. Typically, gaps lasted only a few months. Even during times when the FEC lacked a permanent general counsel, commissioners almost immediately designated one of their top staff lawyers as an “acting general counsel.”

And during 2011 — no less a period of ideological turbulence among liberal and conservative commissioners — the commission unanimously appointed lawyer Tony Herman as its general counsel, balancing (among other factors) his history of donating money to Democratic political candidates against his resume representing big business as a private law practitioner.

But Herman quickly grew weary of the commission’s antics. He resigned on July 5, 2013, in part frustrated by constant infighting and the body’s unwillingness to act on variety of legal recommendations his office made to it.

One particularly high-profile matter involved the Herman-led FEC general counsel’s office asserting that conservative nonprofit group Crossroads GPSlikely broke federal law by spending too much money on politics. The commission couldn’t muster the requisite four votes needed to affirm Herman’s finding — and dismissed the matter nearly three years after the FEC first began investigating it.

It also sparred with him over how much information his office could share with the Justice Department, which, unlike the FEC, has power to pursue suspected election scofflaws with criminal charges.

Herman is now again a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, one of Washington, D.C.’s more prominent law firms.

“It’s all bad — it’s bad for the agency, it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for the public,” Herman said of the FEC operating without a general counsel. “It’s a reflection of the polarization at the agency among the commissioners.”

Other former top FEC lawyers concur with Herman.

“There was a sense of shame in the past that doesn’t exist now,” saidLawrence Noble, the FEC’s general counsel from 1987 to 2001 and now senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization. “It’s clear now [commissioners] don’t want anyone making recommendations they disagree with.”

Said Wamble Carlyle attorney Jim Kahl, an FEC deputy general counsel from 2002 to 2007: “Clearly, it’s going to be a challenge to find a general counsel given the state of relationships over there now.”

For now, the FEC’s general counsel duties are shared by the agency’s two deputy general counsels, Gregory R. Baker and Lisa J. Stevenson.

In addition to lacking a firm commission endorsement, Baker and Stevenson, who declined to be interviewed, are hurting for help: Two of the FEC’s three associate general counsel positions, like the general counsel post, are also vacant. They’re filled in the meantime on an “acting” basis by lower-ranking attorneys. FEC fine assessments, once in the millions of dollars annually, havedropped to historic lows.

When someone without a commission mandate assumes a general counsel’s duties, “you’ve upset the agency’s balance, and you’ve weakened the ability of that person to fulfill his or her statutory mandate,” said Larry Norton, a partner at Venable LLP who served as FEC general counsel from 2001 to 2007. “You can’t act with strength and independence.”

The size of the FEC’s Office of the General Counsel has also shrunk in recent years.

During the 2008 fiscal year, it housed the equivalent of 119 full-time positions. FEC officials confirmed that figure is now 110, with 101 of those jobs occupied.

This largely mirrors a years-long trend of staffing declines and stagnant congressional funding that only in the past year began ticking upward again.

Jason Torchinsky, a partner at the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak PLLC law firm who regularly represents conservative political clients before the FEC, singled Stevenson out for praise.

“Lisa Stevenson is doing a fine job of running [the Office of the General Counsel], moving matters along internally and dealing with the litigation and regulatory matters before the agency,” he said.

Other lawyers who regularly work with the FEC disagree.

One is Marc Elias, chairman of law firm Perkins Coie’s political law practice and general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Elias, who’s represented numerous clients including the Democratic National Committee to the FEC, says that “whatever the ideological differences the commissioners have, the legal department would run much better with a leader.”

What’s to be done about the FEC’s general counsel saga?

At the moment, the various government bodies best positioned to exert external pressure on the FEC are in little hurry to do much.

President Barack Obama could immediately nominate new commissioners, who the U.S. Senate must confirm. After all, five of the FEC’s six commissioners continue to serve despite their terms having expired, with Ravel the only one currently with an active Senate mandate.

But Obama has not floated new FEC commissioners since mid-2013, when he nominated Ravel and Republican Lee Goodman, who served as agency chairman during 2014. The White House did not respond to the question about whether Obama will attempt to this year replace current FEC commissioners.

Congress could pass a bill, such as one introduced Thursday by Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., that scraps the FEC’s six-member commission — instituted after the Watergate scandal to defend against partisans dominating the agency — for a five-member body.

An odd number of commissioners — two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent — mirrors Washington state’s reasonably collegial congressional redistricting commission and would be less prone to ideological impasses, Kilmer argues.

“The FEC today makes Congress look comparatively functional,” Kilmer told the Center for Public Integrity. “We, as taxpayers, are paying for an agency in constant gridlock. We can do better.”

But Congress, writ large, isn’t much interested in campaign finance-related bills of late. Most languish in congressional committees and never even get a vote. Kilmer, who has two Republican co-sponsors for the bill, said he’s hopeful both parties will find merit in legislation that makes a government agency more efficient.

Meanwhile, two congressional bodies — the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Committee on House Administration — oversee federal election matters, and by virtue, the FEC.

But neither committee has conducted an FEC oversight hearing this year, where lawmakers could formally and publicly question the agency’s commissioners. None are scheduled.

For Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the onus of appointing an FEC general counsel is on the agency’s six leaders.

“It would be preferable to have one in place,” Blunt spokesman Brian Hart said, “but the commissioners need to come to a consensus on a candidate.”

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush to Release 33 Years Of Tax Returns

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions from employees of Nephron Pharmaceutical Company June 29, 2015 in West Columbia, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions from employees of Nephron Pharmaceutical Company on June 29, 2015 in West Columbia, South Carolina.

He'll set a record for transparency

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will release 33 years of personal income tax returns, his campaign confirmed Tuesday.

The afternoon release comes on the final day of the fundraising quarter in which Bush is expected to have hauled in record sums of cash for any presidential candidate at this stage of the campaign. News of the tax return release was first reported by Fox News.

The 33-year release is a new record in American politics, highlighting Bush’s stated commitment to transparency, topping the record set in 1996 by then-Sen. Bob Dole, who released 30 years of returns, and George Romney, who released 12 years’ worth in 1968. In 2012, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney only released two years of returns, totaling hundreds of documents detailing complicated financial positions lingering from his time as a private equity executive. Sen. John McCain also released two years of returns in 2008.

Hillary Clinton released eight years of returns in 2008, but has yet to release her latest financial figures beyond the mandated filing of her assets with the Office of Government Ethics. Bush’s move adds pressure to Clinton, who is under fire, along with former President Bill Clinton, as being out-of-touch with average Americans for making tens of millions off speeches and books.

The release Tuesday will provide the first window into Bush’s finances in more than a decade. Bush made millions in Florida real estate and other ventures in the 1980s and early 1990s, before becoming governor in 1999. After leaving office eight years later, Bush joined several corporate boards as well as the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers and later Barclay’s. In recent years, Bush launched at least three private equity funds, including the $61 million BH Global Aviation fund created in 2014. Bush severed his official ties to all his business ventures as he prepared to run for president early this year.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie Highlights Glory Days at Campaign Launch

"No suffering in silence, if you’ve got a problem, tell me”

For Chris Christie, the gymnasium will be a familiar setting. Livingston High School is where he watched classmates play basketball and cheer the football team before big games, cheering on the powerhouse Lancers. He rose over his contemporaries—including the man who now serves as President Obama’s top economic adviser, as well as a former baseball teammate whose role in closing a bridge into New York City would dog Christie’s political future—to become a three-time student body president.

On these polished hardwood floors, trimmed in green paint, the New Jersey Governor will try to return to the rosier times, when ahead of him lay years as the Big Man on Campus at Delaware and then a high-profile posting as a young U.S. Attorney. As Christie launches his White House bid on Tuesday, his approach echoes the craggy vocals of his musical hero, a beloved figure in the Garden State with whom the politically ambitious Christie has had a tortured relationship.

“Glory days,” Bruce Springsteen bellows on the eponymous track, released while Christie in his young 20s. “Well, they’ll pass you by, glory days.”

It’s as fine a metaphor as any for the famously outspoken governor, who has descended from far-and-away front-runner to potential also-ran in a matter of 18 months.

Burdened by the lingering scandal of the politically motivated closure of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge by former aides, including his longtime pal and fellow Livingston High School alumnus David Wildstein. The state’s fiscal malaise has taken its toll; the wonk a year ahead of Christie, White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger has faced it on the national level. And Christie’s challenge to his state’s public sector unions on pensions and benefits, deemed too modest, have sent him into a six-month scramble for a fix as he has tried to lay the groundwork for the most difficult campaign in American politics.

His national poll numbers have collapsed, from a high of 20 percent in the RealClearPolitics average just before the Bridgegate revelations in early 2014 to 4 percent today. Even the announcement date reflected Christie’s newfound troubles—pushed forward to allow him to fight to earn a spot on the first debate stage in Cleveland on Aug. 6. Even at home, his poll numbers put him among the most unpopular governors in the country.

Christie aides maintain that despite the low approval figures, his overall strategy hasn’t substantially changed. But it’s clear his ambition has. Gone are the long-laid plans to run a national campaign as a well-funded establishment powerhouse. His fundraising numbers, which will be announced next month, are expected to pale in comparison to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz, let alone former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Some of the mega-donors who pushed him to enter the 2012 race against Mitt Romney have moved on, while others have opened their checkbooks only for cautious sums.

What Christie has left are his glory days: the personal narrative of growing up in a blue-collar family to prosecuting terror cases that will serve at the core of his speech. More important, will be recapturing the spirit of the long days of 2011, when the relative-unknown Governor became a YouTube and cable news staple in weekly clashes with critics over his pension reform plan. The give-and-take, in which Christie would argue that the state would go broke unless the retirement programs were restructured, defined Christie’s tenure in Trenton and, he hopes, one day the White House.

It’s an all-in bet that Christie’s dynamism on the stump and raw political talents can overcome more than a year of drama-filled headlines. That New Hampshire, the state with a penchant for embracing candidates’ “straight talk,” could vault Christie back into the top-tier. That the rest of the field, filled with candidates calibrating their messages to appeal to one group or another, will wear on voters seeking a leader.

“Voters are starved for authenticity, which is why Governor Christie has been successful in winning in a blue state,” Christie’s chief strategist, Mike DuHaime, told TIME last week. “Voters are looking for leaders who treat them like adults and tell them the truth. They are rejecting politicians who tell everyone what they want to hear and speak only in cautious focus-grouped terms.”

In four policy rollouts in recent months, Christie has deployed his “tell it like it is” message to calling for privatizing college loans and raising the retirement age. “They call it the third rail of American politics,” he said recently in New Hampshire. “They say, ‘don’t touch it.’ So we’re not going to touch it. We’re going to hug it.”

It’s signature Christie, and more such proposals are planned in the coming months.

Already Christie has held eight town halls in New Hampshire this year, and he will hold three more this week, beginning seven hours after his announcement address.

Christie’s speech Tuesday in the high school gymnasium, is staged to mimic the feel of the more than 135 town hall events he conducted in New Jersey, spotlighting the centrality of that storyline to his campaign. His pre-announcement video provides the origin story for those moments, a staple of his stump speech designed to make New Jersey brash palatable to the rest of America.

“I get accused a lot of times of being too blunt and too direct and saying what’s on my mind just a little bit too loudly,” Christie says at one of the Granite State town halls. “I have an Irish father and I had a Sicilian mother … My mom was the one who set the rules and set the tone. No suffering in silence, if you’ve got a problem, tell me.”

Christie would do well to heed his late mother. Sondra Christie’s advice given to the still-unformed future Governor could be what lifts him out of the current slump. If that tough talk cannot, Christie will be left with another truism from his idol, Springsteen: “Time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of glory days.”

TIME Hillary Clinton

What Hillary Clinton Learned From This 2013 Campaign

Hillary Clinton Addresses Virginia Democratic Party's Annual Jefferson-Jackson Party Dinner
Alex Wong—Getty Images Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful and former U.S. Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton comes on the stage with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during the Democratic Party of Virginia Jefferson-Jackson dinner June 26, 2015 at George Mason University's Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

Her campaign manager, a number of staffers and her strategy all come from the successful Virginia gubernatorial race

When Terry McAuliffe stormed the stage at a Virginia Democrats’ rally at George Mason University on Friday, Hillary Clinton followed on with an arm around her decades-long friend and political partner.

“I’ll tell you an honest story. When we’re on vacation, come about 6 o’clock at night, I’m ready for a cold beer,” McAuliffe told the crowd of 1,800 supporters, heaping unscripted love on Clinton as she stood smiling by his side. “I don’t go looking for Bill Clinton. I go looking for Hillary Clinton. Because she’s a lot more fun than Bill Clinton is, and I love him too!”

“Woah!” said Clinton, taking the microphone and matching McAuliffe, gush for gush. “I love your governor and I love your first lady.”

Clinton and McAuliffe shared more than just a stage and some kind words on Friday: they are now splitting the spoils of his successful 2013 race for governor of Virginia. Now in its third month, Clinton’s campaign for president has adopted key strategic lessons from McAuliffe’s gubernatorial race, including the finer details of a data-driven field organization focused on turning out the Democratic base and unmarried women, leaning into progressive Democratic positions and hiring many of the same staff members that helped McAuliffe win the governor’s mansion. And Democrats say that McAuliffe’s 2013 victory sets the stage for the state to go blue in the 2016 general election, when Hillary Clinton is the likely candidate.

Bill and Hillary Clinton took a keen interest in the 2013 race—and campaign manager Robby Mook—beyond their role as longtime friends of McAuliffe, her 2008 presidential campaign chairman and his 1996 presidential co-chair. McAuliffe’s staffers recall their candidate receiving excited late-night calls from Bill with stump speech pointers and campaign advice.

Former McAuliffe aides are quick to say that their energy in 2013 was focused on getting their man to the governor’s house. But since then, the victorious McAuliffe campaign has become an ex post facto lab experiment for Clinton’s current bid for the White House.

A purple state that is trending blue, Virginia bears similarities to the general American electorate: its nonwhite population is growing and its voters are increasingly adopting liberal stances social issues. The swing state offered an ideal test run for the Clinton operation, combining vast rural tracts with midsized cities and expansive suburbs.

More alike than the voters, though, are the ethos, spirit and strategy of the campaigns themselves, much of it coming from Mook, the general on McAuliffe’s campaign who is now leading Clinton’s army.

“I can’t think of a state campaign where the esprit was as good as it was in Terry’s campaign. It was not just a minimal amount of backbiting: there was no backbiting,” said Geoff Garin, the pollster for McAuliffe’s campaign who is now working on the pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action. “And part of Robby’s strength as a leader is he does get people engaged and pulling in the same direction.”

Central to McAuliffe’s campaign was his embrace of staunch Democratic positions on gay rights, abortion, gun control and healthcare a hard play for the Democratic base in Virginia that capitalized on the left-shifting electorate in his 2013 race for governor. Clinton has likewise embraced gay marriage, making it a central platform of her campaign messaging this year, just as public support has reached an all-time high. And she has fervently called for action on gun control at a time when a majority of Americans are in favor of universal background checks. Both have also embraced the Affordable Care Act, the controversial law that is growing in acceptance among the general populace but remains anathema to Republicans.

Those progressive positions succeeded in energizing the Democratic base without alienating Virginia moderates, also a central organizing tack of Clinton’s campaign.

To turn out Democrats, McAuliffe adopted and expanded the Obama grassroots vision, bringing on a huge staff of field organizers and signed up volunteers to knock on doors and work the phones from the very beginning of his campaign. Clinton hired about 100 field staff across all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia for a two-month intensive effort after her announcement, and at least half the staff remains on the payroll.

Both the 2013 and the current presidential campaigns will rely on an army of volunteers, a flurry of commit-to-vote cards, targeted door-to-door canvassing and plenty of money to fund the efforts.

“The hallmarks of what Robby did in Virginia, and what he’s building now, is that the organizing occurred on the ground very early in the campaign,” Garin said.

Beyond Mook, a bevy of key McAuliffe alumni have migrated to the Clinton camp. Brynne Craig, Clinton’s deputy political director, was the political director on McAuliffe’s campaign. Josh Schwerin, a spokesman on Clinton’s campaign, was the press secretary in the 2013 gubernatorial race. And some of the key players organizing Hillary’s large ground operations in Iowa are former McAuliffe staffers as well, including Clinton caucus director Michael Halle and organizing director Michelle Kleppe. In fact, when Clinton announced on April 12, about a dozen McAuliffe veterans were already on the ground in Iowa, having arrived quietly days before to help lay the groundwork for her campaign in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Despite the talk of focusing on the race at hand, it was clear that whatever happened during the gubernatorial campaign would matter in 2016.

“Everybody knew Robby was in the running for that job” of running the top 2016 Democratic operation, said someone close to the McAuliffe campaign. “But there was a real sense of cream rising to the top broadly: nobody could do well if this campaign didn’t go well.”

Clinton and McAuliffe have had long and closely entwined careers. McAuliffe put up $1.35 million as collateral on Clinton’s mortgage to buy their home in Chappaqua, N.Y. The Clintons, in turn, have provided McAuliffe a large network for his business and political enterprises.

And together, they are magnets for controversy. On the campaign trail in Virginia in 2013, McAuliffe’s strategy was to sidestep the accusations of shady business deals, including a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of an electric car company he founded. Clinton, similarly, has herself largely tried to skirt questions about the Clinton Foundation and her private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Both are reflection of Mook’s long-held strategy “to keep the principals in their box and away from making mistakes, giving the rest of the campaign room to do its job,” says a McAuliffe confidant.

“People who have a lot of history—that needs to be managed when you’re messaging to voters,” said another former McAuliffe campaign staffer. “The campaign in Virginia relied on us not taking the bait on fights on anything in his public record. And you may see that with Clinton campaign.”

McAuliffe, for his part, acknowledged as much in an interview with TIME earlier this year, crediting Mook for keeping his campaign’s eye on the prize.

“In Clinton world there are a lot of friends, a lot of people who want to help, and what he is able to do is direct all of their energy in a positive way. He can make sure campaign staff can do their jobs without losing focus,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe’s victory was due in no small part to unmarried women voters, whom he won by a huge margin of 67% to just 25% for Cuccinelli. McAuliffe blasted ads during the campaign framing Cuccinelli as a right-wing zealot on contraception and abortion issues. That demographic is crucial for Clinton, who tops unmarried woman over a generic Republican candidate with 66% of the vote to 29%, according to a recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll.

For all the similarities, there are fundamental differences in the two campaigns. McAuliffe outraised his opponent for the governor’s office by about $15 million—a large margin for a gubernatorial race that Clinton is unlikely to replicate in 2016.

“It’s easy to be the smartest guy in the room when you are able to spend at least $15 million more than your opponent in a statewide race,” said a former advisor to McAuliffe opponent Ken Cuccinelli. “One of the other major differences between 2013 and 2016 is that the huge funding disparity between the two candidates won’t be present again.”

Update: A Clinton campaign spokesperson said campaign manager Robby Mook has no recollection of meeting the Clintons after Gov. McAuliffe’s inauguration. That reference has been removed.

TIME White House

Millions More Americans Will Qualify for Overtime

overtime
Getty Images

The maximum salary for exemption will more than double

Millions more American workers will be eligible for overtime under new eligibility rules to be released Tuesday, according to reports.

Under current federal regulations, workers making more than $23,660 are not guaranteed overtime. The new rules will boost that to $50,440, Bloomberg reports.

Proponents of the regulation say it would protect workers below the poverty line who are not currently compensated for their work beyond 40 hours per week. Critics say it could cause some businesses to hire more part-time workers rather than pay their managers overtime.

The rules, which received their last major update in the 1970s, are part of a second-term effort by President Obama to help working-class Americans without going through Congress.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Supreme Court

Why Conservatives Are Nervous About Church Tax Breaks

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Gay Marriage
Mark Wilson—Getty Images People celebrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week guaranteeing same-sex marriage in all 50 states was a cause for celebration for many across the country.

But many social conservatives saw the ruling as a threat to religious institutions like churches and schools, whose tax-exempt status as non-profits they believe could be at risk.

Why are conservative groups nervous? In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled that a fundamentalist Christian university in South Carolina that barred interracial marriage and dating, Bob Jones University, could not hold onto its tax-exempt status.

That case came up in an exchange during the same-sex marriage arguments between Justice Samuel Alito and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in April.

Justice Alito: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax-­exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?

General Verrilli: You know, ­­I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is –it is going to be an issue.

Many conservatives argue that churches and other religious institutions that hold marriage is between a man and a woman could be subject to scrutiny. They could have their tax-exempt status revoked by the same standard as Bob Jones—for violating a “fundamental national public policy.”

Who’s nervous about it? Some members of Congress, churches, and religious schools. Earlier this month, officials from more than 70 schools sent a letter to congressional leaders warning that a Supreme Court ruling would endanger tax-exempt status for all schools “adhering to traditional religious and moral values.” Among the signatories were Catholic high schools and colleges, evangelical universities and associations of Christian schools.

In anticipation of the ruling, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced a bill that would “clarify and strengthen religious liberty protections.” He told leaders of conservative Christian groups recently that “if the government recognizes a right to same-sex marriage, you could at some point have a move by the government, a move perhaps by the IRS, to remove the tax exempt status of any religiously affiliated educational institution.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association’s chairman and chancellor of the conservative Patrick Henry College, Michael Farris wrote in an op-ed published Friday that the IRS implications won’t stop with colleges: “religious high schools, grade schools and any other religious institution will face the same outcome. And this includes churches,” he wrote.

Are the fears exaggerated? In his majority opinion for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy assured people of faith that they would still be allowed “to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Legally, it’s unclear that the Bob Jones decision from 1983 could be applied broadly beyond race. At the time of the case, discrimination based on race was enshrined in federal law and constitutional interpretation. Today, discrimination based on sexual orientation has not been banned by federal law.

Gender discrimination, on the other hand, is prohibited by federal law. Even so, gender-based religious discrimination is often permitted: the government doesn’t force Catholic Churches to ordain women as priests, for example.

TIME 2016 Election

Both Sides Won When Donald Trump Was Fired

NBC and Univision Dump Trump. Presidential Hopeful Gets Another Target to Bully.

In the end, the draw of Donald Trump just wasn’t worth the headaches for the television networks. Many in the Republican Party wish they could fire The Donald just as easily.

NBCUniversal on Monday joined Univision in dropping its involvement with the fiery business mogul-turned-reality star-turned White House hopeful over comments he made about immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico. During his campaign launch, Trump said the Mexicans were rapists and criminals, although he added he was sure that some were fine individuals.

The backlash was swift. It was hardly one-sided. Yet, for the moment, it seems it has given both sides the wins they wanted.

The Spanish-language Univision last week broke off its broadcasting relationship with Trump’s beauty pageants. Univision then banned employees from staying at Trump properties while traveling on the company’s dime. That gave the advocacy-minded Univision added credibility with its deeply loyal and highly engaged viewers.

The blunt businessman promised to sue the broadcaster and banned Univision executives from golfing on his Miami Doral resort. He let loose a series of social media posts, interviews and statements designed to embarrass his one-time business and broadcast partner. That only further won him love from supporters, many of whom think his brash style would bring much-needed change to Washington.

Under growing pressure, NBC on Monday it was distancing itself from the Miss Universe Organization, a joint venture between NBCUniversal and Trump that produces Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA events. “Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump,” the network said. For a broadcaster still dealing with the fallout of Brian Williams’ exit from the anchor desk amid criticism that he embellished stories, it was a decisive move aimed at avoiding another headache.

Trump used Monday’s setback to yet again promote himself—and took a dig at the Williams imbroglio. “They will stand behind lying Brian Williams, but won’t stand behind people that tell it like it is, as unpleasant as that may be,” Trump said in a statement.

That personal kind of attack is a Trump signature. Earlier, Trump took to Instagram as he sought to paint himself as the victim of political correctness run amok. On the popular photo-sharing website and app, he posted an image of a hand-written note from popular Univision anchor Jorge Ramos requesting an interview even after his network cut business ties. Trump’s picture of the note captured Ramos’ personal cellular phone number. Trump later followed up with a tweet: “Please send me your new number, your old one’s not working. Sincerely, Donald J. Trump.”

Republicans were left shaking their heads. Here was a figure whose hair was a punchline and who hosted a reality show in which his signature line was “You’re fired.” (NBC and Trump both agreed he would not appear on the upcoming season of “The Apprentice” if he moved forward with a White House run.) Yet he is still polling ahead of all other rivals except former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in two New Hampshire surveys. If the polls stay where they are, Trump could be on-stage when the GOP field meets for its first debate in Cleveland in August—while sitting Senators, Governors and former CEOs are left out. Where other candidates would have shown contrition or tried to move on, here was Trump continuing to trumpet his opposition to Mexican immigrants.

MORE: The GOP’s First Big 2016 Test: Fitting Candidates on the Debate Stage

Then again, Trump is not the typical candidate. His antics drew this headline on the conservative Breitbart.com: “Dear GOP: Trump’s Fearless War With Univision Only Increases His Appeal.”

The whole affair began at Trump’s campaign kickoff last week at his gold-plated, 68-story Trump Tower in New York. During the course of a speech that seldom resembled the prepared text, he vowed to crack down on China and Saudi Arabia, mocked President Obama and proved why Trump is among the most entertaining figures on television. But his comments on immigrants coming from Mexico were the ones that left many—Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike—smarting. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Trump said.

It led to quick reaction. Univision’s head of entertainment programs posted a picture of Trump side-by-side with the man accused of killing nine churchgoers in an historically black church in Charleston, S.C. Alberto Ciurana deleted the posting but not before conservatives captured it and shared it around the Internet. To Trump’s fervent supporters they found it unconscionable that Trump was being compared to someone being described as a white supremacist who sought to start a race war.

Ciruana said he should not have posted the photograph. “Apology not accepted,” Trump said in a statement. “I call for his resignation as president of Univision.”

Trump promised the photo post would be part of his ever-growing lawsuit against Univision—as he made his way through interviews with conservative news organizations such as Fox News and The Daily Caller. “Univision apologized to me but I will not accept their apology. I will be suing them for a lot of money,” he wrote on Twitter.

Read Next: Trump Launches Presidential Campaign With Empty Flair

TIME Supreme Court

The Last Holdout Has Now Issued Gay Marriage Licenses

gay marriage Louisiana
Kathleen Flynn — The Times-Picayune /Landov A rally was held in reaction to the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states by the Forum for Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU in Jackson Square on June 26, 2015.

Louisiana, in which only 42% of residents approve of same-sex marriage, was the last to do so

The last state holding out on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after Friday’s historic Supreme Court ruling has relented.

Louisiana officials issued a marriage license to two men, Michael Robinson, 41, and Earl Benjamin, 39, in New Orleans, who are believed to be the first same-sex couple married in Louisiana, ABC News reported. The two have been together for 14 years.

The state’s attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, released a statement on Friday expressing disappointment in the ruling and stating that he “found nothing in today’s decision that makes the Court’s order effective immediately.” Echoing Caldwell’s sentiments, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association advised parish and city clerks to wait 25 days, the period of time for states to file an appeal of the decision, before issuing licenses.

Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court John Geggenheimer disagreed. Geggenheimer told ABC News that the office’s attorney, after carefully examining the ruling, found that there was no reason for delay. Benjamin and Robinson then received the license in Jefferson Parish and were married in New Orleans—which is in neighboring Orleans Parish—in front of 40 friends and co-workers during lunchtime.

Although licenses were issued in Texas on Friday, the state’s attorney general Ken Paxton released a statement Sunday saying that county clerks and judges can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it opposes their religious beliefs. However, Paxton acknowledged that “any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said Sunday that the state would comply with the decision, which he has argued will erode religious liberty.

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages in 2004. Only 42% of Louisiana residents support same-sex marriage, according to a 2015 poll by Louisiana State University, lagging far behind the national average of 57%.

[ABC News]

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Keeps Texas Abortion Clinics Open for Now

Blocks restrictions from going into effect until the court decides whether to hear appeal

The Supreme Court voted Monday to temporarily block several abortion restrictions in Texas until the court decides whether to take the case on appeal.

The Court voted 5-4 to grant an emergency reprieve from the restrictions, which would have forced many Texas abortion clinics to close. Earlier this month, a lower court upheld the two restrictions, which would have required abortion clinics to meet the same building, equipment and staffing standards that surgery hospitals must meet, and required physicians who administer abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If upheld, the restrictions would force half the abortion clinics in Texas to close, leaving the state with fewer than a dozen clinics. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the five majority votes, according to SCOTUSblog.

The Fifth Circuit Court previously sided with the Texas legislature, writing that the restrictions “protect the health and welfare of women seeking abortions,” and adding that “there is no question that this is a legitimate purpose that supports regulating physicians and the facilities in which they perform abortions.” Major medical groups like the American Medical Association say that the restrictions “impede, rather than serve, public health objectives,” and reproductive rights advocates say they’re expressly designed to restrict access to abortion.

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has stepped in to protect women’s access to safe, legal abortion, for now. Restricting or banning abortion blocks women from getting safe medical care,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “This dangerous law never should have passed in the first place — which is why we need to elect leaders who will champion women’s health and rights.”

The Supreme Court decision does not strike down the restrictions—it merely prevents them from going into effect until the Court decides whether or not to hear an appeal from the clinics. If the law stays as it is, the abortion regulations in Texas will be among the most restrictive in the country.

The Court is also hearing a similar case from Mississippi, involving the requirement that doctors get admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the Court upholds that restriction, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi may be forced to close. The Court may issue a decision on that case as early as Tuesday.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com