In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin explores how Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a seemingly narrow case about political attack ads, ended up fundamentally changing campaign finance law and becoming the signature decision of the Roberts court. So what could be the next Citizens United? Here's a look at some of the biggest campaign finance cases working their way through the federal court system, and what they could mean for those who'd like to reform the current system (and roll back Citizens United):


Van Hollen v. FEC
Outlook for reformers: Promising
Last month, a district court closed a major loophole that allowed outside groups producing election ads (for example, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS) to avoid disclosing their donors. On Monday, a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request to stay the decision, putting an end to the secret financing of ads airing within 60 days of a general election—that is, if the notoriously ineffective Federal Election Commission enforces it.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine, says the case remains a "moving target," but he suspects the request for a stay will wind up before the Supreme Court, which voted 8-1 to uphold disclosure laws in Citizens United. Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21 and one of the lawyers who filed suit against the FEC, considers the case "the first major breakthrough in the battle to restore disclosure of contributions being spent to influence federal elections." Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Democracy 21 are considering bringing a second lawsuit that would take aim at the disclosure rules for outside ads that specifically call for the election or defeat of candidates.

The American Civil Liberties Union has invited the leader of the nation's largest private prison enterprise, Corrections Corporation of America, to a public debate on the merits of prison privatization.

The organization's May 8 letter to CEO Damon T. Hininger notes that CCA "has repeatedly criticized the views of the ACLU regarding for-profit incarceration. If you truly believe that private prisons are right for our country, we see no reason why you would be unwilling to defend that position in a public debate." The letter, signed by David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project and David Shapiro, a staff attorney, goes on to suggest that Hininger debate Shapiro for 90 minutes "at a mutually agreeable time and public venue."

David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC to debate whether conflicting new polls point to an Obama or Romney White House.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic school in Ohio, made news today for dropping its student health-care plan in protest of the Obama administration's decision that health insurers must cover contraception. (Via the Huffington Post.)

The school announced online that it will no longer offer student health care starting this fall:

The Obama administration has mandated that all health insurance plans must cover 'women's health services' including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Up to this time, Franciscan University has specifically excluded these services and products from its student health insurance policy, and we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life.

Although the contraception decision has sparked outrage from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, as we've noted before, a number of Catholic institutions already offered that coverage before the new law. And the Obama administration created an exemption for Catholic institutions like Franciscan, requiring the health insurer, not the institution, to cover the contraception coverage. Nor does the mandate require insurers to cover abortion.

So, is there something else going on here? Franciscan also happens to be the school that, in 2008, ousted a university trustee for his endorsement of Barack Obama for president. The trustee, Nicholas P. Cafardi, resigned after the school president expressed "concern" to him about the endorsement. Cafardi, a Catholic legal scholar, had penned a column in the National Catholic Reporter expressing his support for Obama despite his pro-choice stance, noting, "We have lost the abortion battle—permanently."

Franciscan University, then, isn't just any Catholic school. It's one that seems to have a long-term gripe with Obama that existed well before this mandate. And they seem willing to go so far as to take away student healthcare entirely to make that stance clear.

The National Partnership for Women & Families released a new report that assigns grades to states based on their laws protecting new parents, like paid parental leave, paid sick days, and laws to accommodate breastfeeding mothers. While many of these laws benefit both moms and dads, they're certainly more important for women, since we actually have to give birth and all. 

Only two states–California and Connecticut—got an "A." Eighteen states got a big old "F" for doing nothing help new, working parents. This is the first time the group has scored states like this, and the overall grade for the US is pretty grim:

National Partnership for Women & FamiliesNational Partnership for Women & Families

Marchers at the 2011 annual gay pride march in New York City.

Black people aren't willing to jettison their multigenerational aversion to the Republican Party over President Barack Obama's embrace of marriage equality, according to the latest poll from Pew

About half of Americans (52 percent) say Obama's marriage stance didn't affect their view of him, while 25 percent say it made them see Obama less favorably and 19 percent say they looked upon him more favorably. Those viewing Obama less favorably tend to be older and/or Republicans, the latter having finally decided that there's definitely no way they're voting for a communist Muslim who also endorses same-sex marriage. 

The nation's collective shoulder shrug, however, becomes even more pronounced among black voters, 68 percent of whom say their view of Obama was unaffected. The trend line for approval of same-sex marriage has risen sharply for Americans as a whole, and black voters are no exception: According to Pew study released in April, while 67 percent of black voters opposed same-sex marriage in 2004, the number has dropped to 49 percent. Opposition fell from 60 to 43 percent among Americans generally over the same period.

Perhaps even more indicative of the direction black voters are heading, a Washington Post/ABC poll released Tuesday shows a larger percentage of whites (48 percent) disapproving of Obama's decision than blacks (37 percent) despite the fact that polls have consistently shown black voters more opposed to marriage equality on average. The fifty-seven percent of black voters who approve are even more likely to approve strongly (31 percent) of Obama's decision than the population as a whole (28 percent). If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that black voters, more favorably disposed towards the president, are more likely to see Obama as having taken a risky stance on principle even if they disagree with his conclusion.

Of course, both Pew and the WaPo/ABC poll have a relatively large margin of error among black voters (11 and 12 points, respectively) and it's possible that getting hammered in the pulpits of black churches from now till November could erode Obama's numbers and convince some of the president's more conservative-minded black supporters to stay home. Ultimately, though, the number of black voters who decide to vote against Obama on the basis of same-sex marriage is most likely marginal, since from big-city mayors to members of Congress, we have yet to see a black Democrat ousted from office on the basis of his or her support for same-sex marriage. Black voters, like other Americans, are evolving on marriage equality pretty rapidly—if anything, Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage is likely to speed the process. 


A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team passes before the rising sun during a patrol into a village on May 4, 2012 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts (left) at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs might finally win one.

On Tuesday, Nebraska Republicans will pick their nominee to take on former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) in November's US Senate election (Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is retiring). It's a fairly straightforward race—in one corner, there's establishment pick Jon Bruning, the state's attorney general; in the other is state Sen. Deb Fischer, a tea party favorite who has the backing of Sarah Palin. Fischer holds a narrow lead according to the most recent poll of the race, and she's had a little bit of help. As Nebraska Watchdog reports, over the final week of the campaign, a super-PAC called Ending Spending Action Fund has poured $200,000 into television ads attacking Bruning for using his political connections for his own enrichment. One week ago, Bruning had a 16-point lead. Now he trails Fischer by five points.

Who's behind Ending Spending? Just one man: Joe Ricketts, billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, father of 2006 Nebraska GOP Senate candidate Tom Peter Ricketts, and owner, with his family, of Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs.

Ricketts, you may recall, is also one of the leading donors behind the Campaign for Primary Accountability, the super-PAC dedicated to financing primary challenges to entrenched incumbents in both parties. Ricketts gave that group $500,000. In 2010, Ending Spending dumped $600,000—all of it from Joe Ricketts—into the Nevada Senate race in the final month of the campaign in support of Sen. Harry Reid's GOP challenger Sharron Angle. As Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel reported, the super-PAC was formed one month before the election, and its treasurer, Nancy Watkins, served as the treasurer for three other dark money outfits.

Super-PACs have been a dominant story of the presidential campaign so far, but their influence is just as pronounced at the state and district level, where a large sum of money can easily tip the scales in favor of one candidate or another.

Update: Cubs win! Cubs win! The Associated Press has called the race for Fischer.

David Corn and Mark Halperin joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the Obama campaign's recent negative advertisement targeting Mitt Romney's role at Bain Capital.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

The tea party movement is kicking into gear again, buoyed by the success of Richard Mourdock in defeating longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana's GOP primary. They're intent on proving that the movement is not dead, as so many commentators have declared. To that end, the Tea Party Patriots (TPP), which claims to be one of the movement's largest national umbrella groups, is recruiting volunteers for phone banks and promising a massive outpouring of support for embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The tea party has already been active in the recall fight, but is preparing to go all out in the last few weeks before the election.

Jenny Beth Martin, who heads Tea Party Patriots, told Breitbart News that the organization would be on the ground in the state by Wednesday and would be joining local tea party groups in setting up command centers for volunteers as well as "virtual call centers" so that people outside the state can help work the phones. "Wisconsin is pivotal, and it is ground zero for our political landscape," Martin said. According to Breitbart News, she added that her organization was responding to a call for help from local groups "because they are exhausted from two years of non-stop campaigning, which they have been forced to do because of the left's relentless tactics to thwart the will of the people."

Tea Party Patriots could prove to be a formidable force in Wisconsin given the size of its fundraising machine; Martin recently bragged that the group raised $12 million last year.

And that could be problematic. As a nonprofit group, TPP is banned from devoting the bulk of its resources to campaign activities—those resources are supposed to be devoted to promoting social welfare, not political candidates, according to tax regulations. Yet TPP has been openly publicizing the fact that it's supporting Walker in the election, and if it goes in for a big campaign in support of him, it may risk violating its tax-exempt status.*