Daily Media Links 7/24: Brad Smith’s Opening Statement to the Senate Rules Administration Committee, Closed Minds on Open Display, and more…


DISCLOSE Act 2014 — Brad Smith’s Opening Statement to the Senate Rules Administration Committee (Video)


Closed Minds on Open Display

By Luke Wachob

Sen. Schumer stated flatly that there is no principled reason to oppose disclosure. Case closed, I guess. Everybody can go home now. Sen. Klobuchar talked about fire in a crowded theater, as all would-be censors do, and said money in politics “drowns out” the speech of average citizens so much that “the integrity of our electoral system is at stake.”

Such overheated rhetoric leaves no room for honest disagreement, for study of the evidence, or for consideration of alternatives. Even the hearing’s title – “The DISCLOSE Act (S.2516) and the Need for Expanded Public Disclosure of Funds Raised and Spent to Influence Federal Elections” – makes clear that much of the campaign finance debate is not actually up for debate at all, in the minds of DISCLOSE supporters.

They have already decided that money corrupts. They have already decided that the current disclosure system is a failure. If you disagree, they have already decided that you are aiding the demise of democracy itself. If you suggest that independent spending may not corrupt, or that some disclosure requirements might do more harm than good to public knowledge, you will simply be labeled a shill for Big Money™. Can this be healthy for a topic in which so much is still unknown? Whether they realize it or not, defenders of the existing regulatory regime have elevated its underlying assumptions to the level of gospel at the expense of truth.

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Testimony of Bradley A. Smith to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on the DISCLOSE Act of 2014

The bill being considered today is not narrowly tailored. While the stated goal of the DISCLOSE Act is to increase disclosure of spending to elect or defeat candidates, this radical bill would chill speech, force nonprofits to fundamentally alter their fundraising and public advocacy efforts, and implement several vague and unenforceable requirements on citizen groups attempting to speak out on issues of public importance. Placed in the context of existing disclosure requirements, this bill is a clear overreach that will do mostly harm and little good to public knowledge and trust in government.

The alleged disclosure “problem” itself, as I will outline below, is routinely overstated. Data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics show that just over four percent of political expenditures in 2012 were financed by groups that did not itemize their donors. And in all cases, the name of the group making the expenditures was disclosed (at least if they were operating legally under already existing disclosure rules).

Legislation regulating the discussion of public affairs should be grounded in a realistic understanding of what the law actually is; it must be based on a realistic assessment of the effects it has in practice; and it must take into account the actual costs, as well as alleged benefits, of added compulsory disclosure. Discussion of disclosure should eschew loaded terms like “dark money,” that to do little to enlighten and much to obscure those costs and benefits.

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In the News

Sunlight: The DISCLOSE Act and the First Amendment

By Peter Olsen-Phillips

Heather Gerken, a Yale professor who specializes in election law, told the committee in testimony that increased transparency receives broad bipartisan support among the electorate. But Brad Smith, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, countered that the current campaign finance system had more regulations than ever before and that the DISCLOSE Act would have a chilling effect on political speech — subjecting large donors to public harassment and threats if they supported unpopular causes.

Both McConnell and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, drew analogies to the civil rights era, when donor rolls to the NAACP in the deep south were kept anonymous to protect their supporters. They also noted that the Socialist Workers Party of America continues to enjoy an exemption from reporting its donors by the Federal Election Commission for their safety.

It’s a familiar line of reasoning for supporters of more anonymity in political giving. Conservative elections lawyer and campaign treasurer Dan Backer, who argued for the winning side in the Supreme Court’s landmark McCutcheon v. FEC case, asked the commission in Nov. 2013 to grant an advisory opinion as to whether a similar exemption could be extended to the Tea Party Leadership Fund on the grounds that Tea Party supporters encountered “unprecedented harassment from both government officials and private actors.” Commissioners ultimately failed to grant the request in a 3-2 party line vote.

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Wall Street Journal: Hunt for Missing IRS Emails Resumes

By John D. McKinnon

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service’s inspector general is reviewing some agency computer backup tapes to find out whether missing emails are still recoverable, Commissioner John Koskinen said at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

The IRS chief’s comments to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee confirmed a report Monday that some of the backup tapes—which perhaps contain copies of the missing emails—might not have been reused, as the IRS previously said.

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Politico: Republicans separate in IRS probe

By Rachael Bade

Two House Republican chairmen leading the charge against former IRS official Lois Lerner used to interview witnesses together, but now they’re calling in the IRS workers separately.

Republicans say the shift is meaningless.

The two investigative teams led by Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) seem to be jockeying for a position over who gets what pieces of the controversy — a political winner with the base in a midterm election year.

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Fox News: Tale of the Tapes: IRS head confirms investigators have found backup tapes in Lerner probe

The head of the IRS confirmed Wednesday that investigators looking into missing emails from ex-agency official Lois Lerner have found and are reviewing “backup tapes” — despite earlier IRS claims that the tapes had been recycled.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, testifying before a House oversight subcommittee, stressed that he does not know “how they found them” or “whether there’s anything on them or not.” But he said the inspector general’s office advised him the investigators are reviewing tapes to see if they contain any “recoverable” material.

The revelation is significant because the IRS claimed, when the agency first told Congress about the missing emails, that backup tapes “no longer exist because they have been recycled.”

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The Hill: IRS halts own probe into missing Lerner emails

By Bernie Becker

The IRS commissioner said Wednesday that the agency had effectively halted its own probe into former official Lois Lerner’s missing emails to allow an inspector general (IG) investigation to take precedence.

John Koskinen, testifying before the House Oversight Committee for the third time in the last month, said Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration had asked the IRS to stop interviewing staffers, while it looks into Lerner’s 2011 hard drive crash.

That left Koskinen with little to add to his previous testimony, even as Republicans pressed him with new questions about whether tapes backing up Lerner’s emails still existed, whether agency higher-ups knew emails were missing in February and whether Lerner’s hard drive had been merely “scratched.”

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Press-Citizen: Braley attended three fundraisers on day of missed veterans affairs hearing

By Jennifer Jacobs

Democrat Bruce Braley attended three fundraisers for his own campaign on a day that he missed a committee hearing on the lack of oversight at the Veterans Administration, records show.

A year later, news reports exposed systemic problems in patient care that have since resulted in the resignation head of the federal department of veterans affairs.

Republicans argue that Braley, who has come under criticism for missing 78 percent of his Veterans’ Affairs Committee meetings in 2011 and 2012, has shown a lack of commitment to conditions within the health care system for veterans.

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NY Daily News: Sen. Ted Cruz blasts ‘True Blood’ episode that depicts violent GOP fund-raiser

By Adam Edelman

If there was ever any doubt, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has now made clear he is not a fan of HBO’s “True Blood” television show.

The Texas Republican laid into the hit vampire program Tuesday just days after the airing of a controversial episode, in which two characters attend a fictional Cruz fund-raiser that quickly turns into a bloodbath.

“Of all the places I never thought to be mentioned, HBO’s True Blood vampire show would have to be near the top of the list,” Cruz wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. “Sunday night, they aired a misogynist and profanity-ridden episode where Texas Republicans are murdered attending a ‘Ted Cruz fundraiser.'”

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Roll Call: Number of Potential Senators in the House Dwindles

By Kyle Trygstad

Rep. Jack Kingston’s Tuesday defeat in a Senate primary runoff means no more than nine House members could join the ranks of the Senate in the 114th Congress — and that number could shrink again next month.

With 13 members giving up their seats to run for Senate, Kingston became the third House member from Georgia and the fourth nationwide to unsuccessfully seek a Senate nomination. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who failed in his primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn, and Georgia Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, who failed to advance in the May primary, were the others.

Of the final nine, only Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, is not yet assured of appearing on the November ballot. She faces appointed Sen. Brian Schatz in an Aug. 9 special-election primary. The winner will be favored in the general election.

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NY Times: Milking the Money Machine

By Thomas B. Edsall

It used to be that the Democratic Party, the party of the little guy, was the party of big money. Up until 2004, the party was dependent on so called soft money – contributions of as much as $10 million from corporations, unions and individuals that were beyond the reach of federal regulation.

Conversely, the Republican Party, the voice of Wall Street and corporate America, surpassed the Democrats in attracting small donations. The party pieced together direct mail lists of tens of thousands of men and women who were willing to contribute $5 to $25 a month, often motivated by the social and cultural issues of the 1960s and 70s.

Figure 1, taken from OpenSecrets.org, clearly demonstrates the Republican advantage before 2004 in raising funds in small and medium-size donations known as “hard money.” The chart shows that from 1987 to 2002, the Republican National, Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees decisively outraised their Democratic counterparts in relatively small federally regulated hard money contributions, often by a 2 to 1 margin.

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NY Daily News: Nick Di Iorio, longshot GOP candidate for Congress, signed to star in reality show about ‘unwinnable’ races

By Annie Karni

A longshot congressional candidate in Manhattan apparently makes for a sure-fire winner on reality television.

Nick Di Iorio, a Republican challenging veteran Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, has been signed to star in a proposed reality show about candidates running in “unwinnable” races.

In a draft opinion released Monday, the Federal Election Commission said Di Iorio can appear on the series — as long as he doesn’t get paid.

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NY Times: President Obama’s Fundraising Scandal


As usual, though, they’ve latched on to the wrong scandal. The problem isn’t that the president is neglecting his duties, any more than are the many Republicans who spend every night courting big givers over cabernet and steak. It’s that the president has become an avid member of the money-at-all-costs club, abandoning a position he once held that unlimited money is poisoning the political system.  

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The Commission issued an advisory opinion today to Representative Paul Ryan, his principal campaign committee, Ryan for Congress, Inc., and his leadership PAC, Prosperity Action (“Requestors”)- The opinion endorses Representative Ryan’s legal right to author, market, and earn royalties on his book, consistent with the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (“Act”) and prior advisory opinions. However, the opinion failsto answer by the necessary four votes two critically important questions posed by the Requestors: (1) whether the book and its publisher are exempt from Commission regulation under the “media exemption” of theAct;and(2)whethertheleadershipPACmayadvertiseRepresentativeRyan’sbookonits .website. We write separately to state our position on these two questions. 

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State and Local

Delaware – News Works: Delaware governor signs campaign finance reform bills into law

By Shana O’Malley

Gov. Jack Markell signed a package of several bills that strengthen Delaware’s campaign finance laws and give new powers to the state’s Public Integrity Commission.

Under House Bill 301, an individual who makes a political contribution from a joint bank account will have to attribute the name of the donor. Similarly, Senate Bill 186 requires LLCs and corporations that donate more than $100 to disclose the name and address of one “responsible party” who exercises control over the entity.

Reforming the state’s election laws became a top priority for lawmakers earlier this year following a report by the Election Law Task Force and former Chief Justice Norman E. Veasey.

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New York –– NYT: Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission


With Albany rocked by a seemingly endless barrage of scandals and arrests, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set up a high-powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. It was barely two months old when its investigators, hunting for violations of campaign-finance laws, issued a subpoena to a media-buying firm that had placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party.

The investigators did not realize that the firm, Buying Time, also counted Mr. Cuomo among its clients, having bought the airtime for his campaign when he ran for governor in 2010.

Word that the subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

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