Daily Media Links 7/21: The “Reform Community” discovers it has gone bald, Gutting the First Amendment, and more…


The “Reform Community” discovers it has gone bald: The FEC, disclosure timelines, and Little Jerry Seinfeld

By Brad Smith

There’s an episode of Seinfeld, “The Little Jerry“,  in which Elaine begins dating a competitive swimmer who, for reasons of speed in the pool, had shaved his head, and then kept it shaved for many years. He liked his look, and was quite happy with it, until Elaine sees an old picture of him with a full, luscious head of hair, and suggests that he grow in his hair again. But when he tries to do so, he discovers that in the intervening years, he has become bald. This baldness, which until then hadn’t bothered him at all, sets him into a state of total alarm. Similarly, CRP has discovered something that was so irrelevant that they hadn’t even noticed it – but having noticed it, it is suddenly undermining democracy.

Biersack’s column is interesting, too, because Bob has been in this game a long time – he began his long service at the FEC in 1981. Surely he recalls that it wasn’t that long ago that no FEC disclosure reports were online, period because, well, there was no “online.” To view reports, one had to go physically to the FEC, and pore through reals of microfische or hard paper copies. Oh, those despairing days of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, when American democracy nearly came apart over the lack of immediate access to campaign finance filings.

As supporters of reasonable, effective disclosure, we’ve watched in some amazement and some amusement as the lobbyists for more regulation have become veritably unhinged about disclosure. We have more disclosure, and more information about political spending in America, than at any time in our nation’s history, yet to hear “reformers” tell it, we face a crisis of non-disclosure and “dark money.” The regulatory lobbyists seem to think that Americans are unable to make reasonable decisions at the polls in November, if April disclosure reports are not online four weeks later in May. And yet, they themselves really hadn’t even noticed that it was taking more than 4 weeks for some reports to appear online.

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What Investigation? (Video)

How hard has the Justice Department investigated the IRS targeting of conservative-leaning nonprofits? Hard enough to find out from the press that Lois Lerner’s (and other’s) emails were lost.

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Amending the First Amendment

The American Spectator: Gutting the First Amendment

By Steve Simpson

Supporters of campaign finance laws have been apoplectic since the Supreme Court struck down a ban on corporate political ads in Citizens United. Having lost another big case this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, they now want to write their views directly into the Constitution.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would let government limit contributions to candidates and spending by and on behalf of them. The House will take up a similar proposal soon. To see where this amendment would lead if enacted, consider that the law in Citizens United prevented a group from distributing a film that criticized Hillary Clinton during her last presidential bid. During arguments in the case, the government’s lawyer admitted that the law could apply to books as well.

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Washington Post: Why did the IRS provide a trove of taxpayer information to the FBI?

By Josh Hicks

The Justice Department initiated contact with the IRS in 2010 to discuss tax-exempt groups. Cole testified that a Justice attorney reached out to determine “what potential violations related to campaign finance activity might evolve following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v the [Federal Election Commission].”

Lerner, then-head of the IRS’s tax-exempt division, met with a Justice Department lawyer as a result of that request, according to Cole. “In the course of that meeting it became clear that it would be difficult to bring criminal prosecutions in this area,” the attorney general said.

Cole testified that the IRS did not refer any groups for prosecution, and the Justice Department never opened any investigations as a result of the discussion. But he said the meeting prompted the IRS to provide the FBI with “discs that we understood at the time to contain only public portions of filed returns of tax exempt organizations.” He was referring to the database of 12,000 tax returns.

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Cincinnati.com: Tea party can pursue claims against IRS

By Dan Horn

Tea party groups won the right Thursday to pursue their claims against IRS employees in Cincinnati for improperly holding up their applications for tax-exempt status.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott threw out some of the claims but allowed several others to go forward. Justice Department lawyers had asked her to reject all of the claims and dismiss the case.

The ruling is significant because it opens the door for the tea party groups to seek government records connected to the case, which could, in turn, lead to a broader legal battle.

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Independent Groups

USA Today: Some candidates’ super PACs are a family affair

By Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars

An outside political committee has spent thousands of dollars on signs and billboards to boost Florida Democrat Gabriel Rothblatt’s long-shot bid for Congress.

Every dollar the super PAC has collected — $225,000 — has come from his parent, Martine Rothblatt, the CEO of a Maryland-based biotech company.

The pro-Rothblatt “Space PAC” is one of dozens of deep-pocketed super PACs financed by a handful of donors — some of which have close ties to the candidates they support. More than 40 super PACs that have raised at least $100,000 since Jan. 1 list fewer than five donors on campaign-finance reports, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Federal candidates can’t accept donations larger than $2,600 for a primary or general election. Super PACs can accept unlimited corporate, union and individual donations as long as they operate independently of the candidates they back. It’s perfectly legal for candidates’ mothers, siblings, grandparents and other relatives to finance super PACs. Campaign-finance watchdogs argue the practice demonstrates the broken state of election laws and regulations.

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Washington Post: Must-have accessory for House candidates in 2014: The personalized super PAC

By Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger

Daniel Innis, a former business school dean running a long-shot campaign for the House in New Hampshire, faced a big financial disadvantage until a wealthy friend put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a super PAC backing his candidacy.

A similar assist from a billionaire hedge fund chief helped New York state Sen. Lee Zeldin secure the GOP nomination for a Long Island congressional seat.

Both men hit upon the must-have ingredient in this year’s midterm elections: Along with a driven campaign manager and sophisticated social media strategy, candidates need a rich friend or relative.

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Washington Post: President Obama has held 393 fundraisers in his six years in office

By Sebastian Payne

On Thursday morning, President Obama is off to a party fundraiser in New York. Next week, he’s flying to the west coast for another fundraiser with the Hollywood glitterati. When Obama was in Denver last week, he attended no less than four cash-gathering events in the space of 24 hours.

In his first term, Obama attended more fundraising events than any other president in recent history. According to author Brendan J. Doherty, from 2008 to 2012 Obama went to 321 events, compared to just 80 for Ronald Reagan.  And, as the chart below shows, he’s done 72 events in his second term – 34 this year alone. So far, he’s ahead of  the pace of George W. Bush, who had been to 30 events at this point in 2006. In his two presidential terms combined, Bush hosted 318 fundraisers. Obama has already smashed that number with 393 events to date.

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Times Record: David Pryor: Perpetual Fundraising Adds To Rancor In Washington

By Jeff Arnold

Former Arkansas Gov. and U.S. Sen. David Pryor said the increasing time congressmen spend raising campaign funds contributes to the level of rancor in Washington.

Pryor and his wife of 56 years, Barbara, stopped Thursday at Sweet Bay Coffee Co. in Van Buren while campaigning for their son, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is running for re-election and faces U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, in November.

After three terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1961 until 1966, David Pryor served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966-73, as governor from 1975-79 and in the U.S. Senate from 1979-97.

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More Soft Money Hard Law: More on the Mann-Corrado Brookings Paper: the Resistance to Campaign Finance Change as a Response to Polarization

By Bob Bauer

In their new Brookings paper, Tom Mann and Tony Corrado wish to debunk the notion that changes in campaign finance law could temper political polarization.  They dispute the suggestion that more money to political parties would better equip party leaders to run their caucuses.  Then they turn attention to small donors and question the belief that these sources of giving, rallied by “partisan taunting and ideological appeals,” exacerbate political division.  Id. at 15.  In sum, Mann and Corrado warn against relaxing protections against big money influence.  It won’t help strengthen the parties, they say, and it is wrong to assume that a reliance on smaller donations will worsen polarization.

But it is apparent from the way they argue their case that Mann and Corrado have a mission and that this mission has shaped the framing of the issue, their treatment of the evidence and their conclusion.  It is a time of keen peril for the old reform school of thought, culminating in McCain-Feingold, and Mann and Corrado are among its most prominent defenders.  They have had to endure heavy damage to their position: stalemate at the FEC, the Roberts Court, defections within the reform coalition, and scholarship that challenges premises about the effects of reform. They face a new case for de-regulation—liberalized party financing to alleviate polarization—and they are moving to fend it off.

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NY Times: Sticking to His Travel Plans, at Risk of Looking Bad

By Michael Shear

WASHINGTON — As smoke billowed from the downed Malaysian jetliner in the fields of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, President Obama pressed ahead with his schedule: a cheeseburger with fries at the Charcoal Pit in Delaware, a speech about infrastructure and two splashy fund-raisers in New York City.

The potential for jarring split-screen imagery was clear. Reports of charred bodies and a ground-to-air missile attack from Eastern Europe dominated television screens while photographers snapped pictures of a grinning Mr. Obama holding a toddler at the restaurant. The presidential motorcade was later filmed pulling up to Trump Place Apartments, the Riverside Avenue venue for his first fund-raiser.

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WSJ: Politics in the Modest Age

“I’m just plain Mr. Truman now, a private citizen.” So said an overwhelmed Harry S. Truman to a boisterous, affectionate crowd that surprised him as he ventured to a private home in Washington for a farewell lunch soon after his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, was sworn in as president of the United States. It was Jan. 20, 1953.

Later, a regular Baltimore & Ohio train with a special car attached would take Truman and his wife, Bess, from Union Station westward, to their home in Independence, Mo. Thousands saw them off at the station. “So long, Harry!” they cried, as if they knew him. “At 6:30, with the crowd singing ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ the train began pulling slowly out of the station, until it was beyond the lighted platform. It had been a long road from Independence to the White House, and now Truman was going home.” (This is from David McCullough’s magisterial 1992 biography, “Truman.”)

And he really did go home. He had, for almost eight years since the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, been the most powerful man on earth, the wager and completer of wars and saver of Europe. In his diary Truman wrote of Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who led in his country’s hour of need and then, work done, returned to his plow. It is what George Washington did. Heck, it’s what Calvin Coolidge, like Truman from modest means, did.

Truman would go back to being “just anybody again.” But there was something people didn’t know. He was—amazingly, this wasn’t a lie—pretty much dead broke.

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State and Local

Pennsylvania – Talking Points Memo: Pennsylvania Capitol Adds Prison Sentence Info To Official Portraits Of Politicians

The portraits of three former Pennsylvania House speakers and one former top state senator hanging in the Capitol’s marble corridors each have new information to tell visitors: their criminal histories.

Plaques that add those details were hung Tuesday.

Aides to the current House speaker and presiding senator say the new plaques are intended to keep the portrait tradition intact while addressing criticism that the portraits of convicted former lawmakers shouldn’t be displayed near the likes of Ben Franklin.

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New York – NYT: U.S. Issues Subpoena in Inquiry on Cuomo’s Closing of Moreland Commission


Federal prosecutors investigating Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s shutdown of an anticorruption commission have subpoenaed the assistant to its former executive director to testify before a grand jury in Manhattan, suggesting that the criminal inquiry has moved to a new stage, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

Federal agents served the subpoena on the assistant, Heather Green, on Wednesday morning, appearing at her doorstep before 7 a.m., the people said. Ms. Green, who is not believed to be a target of the inquiry, worked as an executive assistant to the anticorruption panel’s former executive director, Regina Calcaterra, until Mr. Cuomo announced he was disbanding the panel, known as the Moreland Commission, on March 29.

The subpoena, according to two people who have seen it or been briefed on its contents, asked for documents and correspondence, including any communications with Mr. Cuomo and his senior aides. It also directed Ms. Green to appear July 28 to testify before a grand jury in Manhattan, the people said.

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Ohio – Cleveland.com: As Tea Party vs. establishment dispute simmers, Rob Portman says he disapproves of ‘racist’ ads that his and others’ donations may have funded

By Steven Koff

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is in charge of fundraising for the Republican Party effort to re-elect GOP Senate incumbents and defeat Democrats. If successful, the Ohioan’s work for the National Republican Senatorial Committee could be credited with supplying enough cash for ads and other operations that Republicans win a majority in November, giving them control of both houses of Congress.

But right now, his personal political spending is creating serious heartburn within the Tea Party arm of his party.

Portman told The Plain Dealer today that he had “absolutely no discretion” over how his donation would ultimately be used. He said, “I believe using race as a political issue, as these ads apparently did, was wrong.”

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