Daily Media Links 1/29: Tip Of The Hat: More Soft Money Hard Law, Will McCutcheon Replay Citizens United?, Meet Preet — Obama’s hatchet man against filmmakers, and more…


Tip Of The Hat: More Soft Money Hard Law

By Luke Wachob

A useful story isn’t necessarily true, however. As we often point out, research into the role of money in politics has generally rebutted the pessimistic view of its corrosiveness, instead finding that money does not buy votes, that there really isn’t a ton of it in politics, and that various forms of campaign finance regulation have no measurable impact on corruption or citizens’ trust in government.

We like to offer a tip of our hats when we find someone recognizing these oft-forgotten realities about campaign finance. Today it’s Bob Bauer, who earns our praise for two recent posts on his More Soft Money Hard Law blog.

In a post titled “Campaign Finance, Polarization, and the Case of the Lost Car Keys,” Bauer discusses a recent American Political Science Association Task Force report on campaign spending and polarization. He notes that the report’s co-authors “refer to the research that shows the “weak connection” between contributions and roll call votes, and between campaign spending and election outcomes. One would not know this from standard media coverage of the issue. This is not to say, of course, that money in politics does not present important public policy issues. But one is reminded once again that much of what passes for a telling critique of campaign finance in America is weakly or inconsistently supported by social science research.”

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Independent Groups

Wall Street Journal: Enemies of Friends of Abe

By James Taranto

The news value to the Times may lie more in the nature of the organization than its trouble with the IRS. “In a famously left-leaning Hollywood, where Democratic fund-raisers fill the social calendar, Friends of Abe stands out as a conservative group that bucks the prevailing political winds,” reads the lead paragraph.

But Friends of Abe–as in Lincoln–has sought nonprofit status under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Tax Code, which would allow it to collect tax-deductible contributions. The IRS has been reviewing the application for some two years, seeking information about meetings where politicians spoke. A 501(c)(3) is prohibited from engaging in campaign activity, such as hosting a fundraiser, but as the Times notes, “tax-exempt groups are permitted to invite candidates to speak at events.”

The most troubling revelation in the Times account is that at one point the IRS “included a demand–which was not met–for enhanced access to the group’s security-protected website, which would have revealed member names.” The Times points out that FOA “keeps a low profile and fiercely protects its membership list, to avoid what it presumes would result in a sort of 21st-century blacklist” and that “tax experts said that an organization’s membership list is information that would not typically be required.”

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Roll Call: Will McCutcheon Replay Citizens United?

By Eliza Newlin Carney

At issue in McCutcheon is the constitutionality of existing overall limits on how much a contributor may give to candidates and political parties in a single election cycle. Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, who brought the challenge, argues that the $123,200 cap on total contributions per cycle violates his First Amendment rights.

The limit’s defenders say that tossing it out will bring back the “soft money” days when donors freely wrote large, unrestricted checks to the political parties. That soft money, banned by the 2002 law known as McCain-Feingold, was raised by the elected officials who ran the parties — and wrote the bills that the big donors lobbied for and against. It was an invitation to abuse, a parade of lawmakers and donors told the court when it took up McConnell v. FEC, the constitutional challenge that upheld the soft money ban in 2003.

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Roll Call: Eight Million-Dollar Donors Are Top Givers to National Section 527 Groups

By Kent Cooper

Many political groups, organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, target their political activity on a state and local basis and do not get involved in federal elections. However, there are more than 70 of them that operate on a national basis and often have an indirect impact on federal elections. These groups have so far reported 2013 receipts of  $82,393,295 and disbursements of $62,231,077. These groups will be reporting their donors during the final months of 2013 when they file their year-end report by January 31st.  

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Roll Call: Republican Field for Radel’s Seat Expected to Grow (Updated)

By Abby Livingston

An already brewing and nasty battle to oust an embattled Florida Republican escalated Monday when Rep. Trey Radel announced his resignation from Congress.

Now local GOP operatives only expect the field to grow with familiar faces — a couple of whom have run in Florida’s 19th district before.

Radel pleaded guilty to a cocaine possession charge last year and, until recently, insisted he would seek re-election. On Monday, he wrote in his letter of resignation that he could not “fully and effectively serve” in Congress anymore.

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Washington Post: Campaign cash used to pay for some State of the Union guests

By Ed O’Keefe

Several members greeted their invited guests Tuesday, and some even attended news conferences with their “plus one” in tow. But what they probably failed to mention is that several guests are enjoying a trip to Washington paid for with campaign cash.

Take Josie Maisano, for example. She’s from St. Clair Shores, Mich., and is one of dozens of unemployed people invited to attend the speech by Democrats, who are using the stories of unemployed constituents to humanize the ongoing debate over extending the federal unemployment insurance program. Maisano is a guest of Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who is using money from his leadership PAC to pay for her travels, according to an aide.

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New Republic: Why Is Herman Cain Trying to Cure Your Erectile Dysfunction? When failed presidential candidates become spam kings

By Ben Adler

Campaigns are very much in the lists business: lists of donors to call, lists of likely voters, lists of identified supporters, sub-lists of the addresses of the friendly voters needing rides to the polls. When the race is over, some of those databases become hot commodities as brokers peddle them to other candidates and like-minded interest groups willing to pay for access to their contents. A master file of the names and contact information collected during Alan Keyes’s perennial candidacies, for instance, remains “top performing,” according to direct-marketing clearinghouse NextMark, thanks to the highly engaged constituency it reaches: “These conservative individuals are passionately pro-life and pro-family and will do what it takes to ensure that their voices are heard!” The asking price is $100 per 1,000 names, with surcharges for pulling out targets by congressional district, gender, and other variables.   

E-mail lists can be especially valuable, since the people on them have effectively asked to be contacted (not so with lists of phone numbers) and can be reached more reliably and more cheaply than they can through bulk snail-mailings. But there are specific rules governing how e-mail addresses are handled by office seekers. Generally, someone running for president enters the race with an existing list of e-mail followers—in Cain’s case, from the Atlanta talk-radio show he hosted and the syndicated column he wrote in the years leading up to the 2012 contest—which can be transferred to his or her campaign organization. That initial roster grows as supporters and fence sitters subscribe to the candidate’s bulletins. “Obviously, the size of the list expanded quite a bit,” says Best of Cain editor-in-chief Dan Calabrese. After Cain dropped out, he donated his enlarged list to Cain Connections, a newly formed super PAC, which then gave it to his new media company. Federal election statutes bar candidates from using campaign resources for personal use, but by passing the e-mail list through his PAC, Cain kept things inbounds. The maneuver, says Matt Sanderson, an election-law expert at the Washington, D.C., firm Caplin & Drysdale, was a means “to indirectly do what you otherwise couldn’t.”  

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Lobbying and Ethics

Washington Times: Meet Preet — Obama’s hatchet man against filmmakers

By Charles Hurt

And how exactly is it that one of the few movie directors in all the land not euphorically supportive of President Obama is the one who wound up having his campaign contributions scrutinized by the feds? Has the Department of Justicealready combed through the $160 million Hollywood dumped into political campaigns in the past six years — the vast, vast majority of which goes to Mr. Obama and his Democrats? And the first hit just happens to be the one conservative in the whole bunch?

“Routine review,” Mr. Bharara told reporters.

Yeah right. You mean the “routine review” of conservative filmmakers whose scathing anti-Obama documentaries have titles that begin with the letter “O” and end in the year “2016.”

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