Daily Media Links 1/28: It Only Seems That Political Corruption Is Rampant, Coordinating with a Super PAC, Raising Money for It, and the Difference Between the Two, Senate Democrats’ January of doom, and more…

In the News

NY Times: It Only Seems That Political Corruption Is Rampant

By Michael Wines

Nevertheless, political analysts say, one rotten apple — or even the scores of them picked up in the past two decades — does not spoil the barrel. “I’ve studied American political corruption throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and, if anything, corruption was much more common in much of those centuries than today,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. 

What has skyrocketed, he argues, is the public perception that politicians are corrupt. And to an extent, the numbers back him up.

The Justice Department’s public integrity section, which prosecutes official corruption at all levels of government, reports annually the number of public officials it has charged with corruption or convicted of corruption-related crimes. The data cover not only elected officials, but public servants from cabinet secretaries to enlisted soldiers.

Read more…

More Soft Money Hard Law: Coordinating with a Super PAC, Raising Money for It, and the Difference Between the Two

By Bob Bauer

How much can a candidate do for a Super PAC without illegally “coordinating” with it? Recent proposals would answer that she has to keep her distance—no publicly (or privately) stated support and no fundraising for the independent committee. A bit of a surprise has developed in the debate. While questioning how far these restrictions can go, Rick Hasen concludes that as a matter of constitutional law, Congress may prohibit the fundraising, and on this point, he sides in theory with Brad Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics. Richard L. Hasen, Super PAC Contributions, Corruption, and the Proxy War Over Coordination, Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy (forthcoming), 16-17, available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2383452 ; Bradley A. Smith, Super PACs and the Role of “Coordination” in Campaign Finance Law, 49 Willamette L. Rev. 603, 635 (2013).

Rick Hasen and Brad Smith are not often found in the same jurisprudential company.  So it is interesting to consider how they may have arrived there and why, in their judgments about the regulation Buckley would allow, they appear to have erred.

The two agree that coordination requires interaction or contact between the candidate and the committee, but not just any: the contact has to involve the committee’s strategy for achieving its goals. Hasen at 16 (“As … Smith persuasively argues, Buckley’s understanding of coordination focuses on coordination of campaign strategy.”) (emphasis in original).  By urging financial support for the Super PAC, Hasen argues, the candidate “by definition” is coordinating “fundraising strategy.”  Id.  In linking his views to Smith’s, he cites  Smith’s suggestion that the contact between candidate and donor presents a “bargaining opportunity” of the kind that gives rise to actual or apparent corruption.  Hasen at 17; see also Smith at 635.

Read more…

Independent Groups

Bloomberg: Labor Unions Financing Republican Rift With Tea Party

By Greg Giroux

A Republican group promoting pro-business candidates as it battles the Tea Party in U.S. primary campaigns is being financed mostly by labor unions, one of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies.

Defending Main Street, a super-political action committee aligned with the Washington-based Republican Main Street Partnership, received more than 90 percent of its $845,000 in donations last year from labor groups, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The group is led by former Ohio Representative Steve LaTourette, a Republican who had good relations with labor in Congress. He voted for a minimum wage increase, the 2009 auto bailout and a bill making it easier to organize a union.

Read more…

Washington Post: Daniel Werfel leaves government after guiding IRS through troubles 


President Obama tapped Werfel to guide the IRS after the agency acknowledged using improper techniques to screen advocacy groups during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. An inspector general’s audit found that the actions, which included focusing on certain groups because of their political ideology, largely affected conservative and tea party organizations.

Werfel led the IRS as the agency launched an internal investigation into the targeting scandal. The review found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by IRS employees or proof that the White House directed the controversial efforts. Many Republicans questioned the findings.

As acting IRS administrator, Werfel was also responsible for implementing new safeguards to restore public trust in the agency and help it avoid future screening mistakes.

Read more…

Washington Times: Silencing the political opposition 


Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, thinks the Internal Revenue Service hasn’t done enough to silence the Tea Party. He wants the White House and the IRS to “immediately redouble” efforts to shut down conservative political-action groups through tougher government oversight and enforcement.

The Tea Party opposes much of President Obama’s agenda, and to Mr. Schumer, that’s both a sin and a crime.

In a speech last week to the liberal Center for American Progress, the senior senator from New York said, “There are many things that can be done administratively by the IRS and other government agencies” to silence groups that obstruct Democratic policies.

Read more…

RNLA: Campaign Legal Center misunderstands Citizens United, First Amendment 

By Paul Jossey

Ms. McGehee’s misinterpretation speaks to a larger misunderstanding about what the First Amendment protects. In the end, it is irrelevant when the Court blessed corporate personhood. The First Amendment proscribes government meddling with speech not speakers. (Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech). When Congress impedes corporate speech—for profit or not—it inhibits the political marketplace and by definition acts outside the Constitution.

Ms. McGehee champions this marketplace distortion lest gobs of corporate money unduly influence politicians, and cause Americans to lose faith in democracy. She points to polls stating the citizenry is “concerned” about unregulated corporate spending. But is this supposed concern justified? And would banning corporate political money revive faith in our political institutions? Empirical evidence suggests not.

First, Citizens United did not presage an avalanche of corporate electioneering. Corporate money funded only 12% of Super PAC spending in the 2012 elections. And supposed “dark money”—money contributed to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits, and 501(c)(6) trade associations who can shield their donors—accounted for only about 4.5% of total election spending in 2012.

Read more…

Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

CPI: Senate Democrats’ January of doom 

By Dave Levinthal

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently predicted that Democrats will successfully defend their Senate advantage over Republicans following the 2014 midterms.

But since late December, in a bid to raise big bucks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has shown little such confidence, expressing itself with equal parts hysteria, hyperbolie and doomsaying.

The degree to which it does so well exceeds the routinely over-the-top national party fundraising efforts by Democrats and Republicans alike, all of whom employ provocative subject lines to attract readers’ attention — and dollars.

Read more…

NBC: Sen. Menendez Reached Out to U.S. Attorney Investigating a Top Fundraiser 

By Jonathan Dienst

“After hearing from several reporters about leaks of information in the Bigica case, Sen. Menendez both personally and through his attorney expressed his concern about such leaks to the U.S. attorney. He in no way expressed any opinions about how the case should be handled,” Tricia Enright, communications director for Menendez, said in a statement. “His only concern was that his reputation not be unfairly besmirched by false, anonymous statements. Sen. Menendez and his campaign, which was a victim of Bigica’s crime, cooperated fully with the U.S. attorney’s investigation every step of the way and we’re glad that it was prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Legal experts say this type of call from a sitting senator to federal investigators raises questions. 

“No one gets special treatment in the eyes of the law,” says Weysan Dun, former special agent in charge of the FBI in New Jersey. “So, for a prominent public official to attempt to influence a criminal investigation for their own benefit violates that concept of justice.”

Read more…

State and Local

Colorado –– Denver Post: Equal campaign finance limits for all Colorado candidates


Colorado lawmakers need to level the campaign finance playing field. That’s the lesson from a successful legal challenge to a system that is clearly unfair.

The bottom line is that the interplay of a Colorado constitutional amendment and state law allows Republicans and Democrats to collect up to $400 from each donor in an election while most unaffiliated, minor-party and write-in candidates can typically accept only $200.

No matter how you look at it, that’s unfair.

The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this week that the result was a violation of federal equal protection guarantees.

Read more…

Maryland –– Washington Post: Phil Andrews to put forth bill setting up public financing in Montgomery County elections 

By Bill Turque

Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), a candidate in the June Democratic primaryfor county executive, said he sees public financing as an essential counter weight to the influence of special-interest money in Montgomery elections, primarily from real estate developers and public employee unions.

His proposal, which he plans to introduce at the Feb. 4 council meeting, attempts to leverage the power of small individual contributions ($50 to $150) with matching funds.

The objective, he said, is twofold: to draw more small donors into local politics and to encourage those without money — or the ability to raise it in large amounts — to run for county executive or the County Council.

Read more…

Montana –– Helena Independent Record: ‘Partisan hack’ or ‘thorough professional’? Crusading political commissioner has been called both  

By Mike Dennison

But Motl’s aggressive stance is raising eyebrows among supporters and critics alike, the latter of whom are calling him everything from a “partisan hack” to a misguided crusader on a “witch hunt.”

A former investigator in his office and attorneys representing his targets also say Motl is using questionable tactics, such as refiling old complaints that had been dismissed and directing investigations to get the results he wants.

“He targeted specific candidates, and he just took over the investigations, directed everything I did, from day one,” said Julie Steab, who quit as an office investigator last fall after three years on the job. “Every commissioner I worked for before … stayed out of investigations, and now he’s directing them.”

Read more…

Virginia –– Richmond Times-Dispatch: McDonnell’s aides repeatedly raised red flags on ethics 


“Aides flagged these (situations) and were appalled,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “They tried to get the McDonnells to focus on them and in the end, they were overruled.”

“They didn’t know the whole picture,” Sabato said of the governor’s staff. “They thought it was an occasional indiscretion, not that it was potentially selling the office.”

The federal indictment says Williams had in mind an unusual clinical test to prove the anti-inflammatory benefits of Anatabloc: state government employees enrolled in the state health plan.

Read more…

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.