Daily Media Links 6/25: Clowns, slumlords and 'pimp daddies' all donate to campaigns, The first-ever Super PAC criminal is going to jail. But the real scandal is what's legal., and more…


Comments to Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission Regarding Proposed Changes

Eric Wang

If a legislative issue is closely associated with particular politicians, a group that has just formed to address that issue should not be subject to greater reporting burdens than a preexisting group if both groups sponsor a few expenditures advocating for or against those politicians. The Commission’s proposal to treat new and preexisting groups differently, even if they engage in the same type of speech, violates a basic principle of fairness, as well as the First Amendment. As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, “the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity.”

As the U.S. Supreme Court also has noted, “PACs are burdensome . . . expensive to administer and subject to extensive regulations.” Thus, treating advocacy groups as political committees by evaluating their “primary purpose” only within the arbitrary and limited temporal snapshot of a single “election cycle,” or presuming that groups formed within certain time windows are political committees, as the Commission’s proposed rule would do, is unduly burdensome and overly broad. Instead, a more holistic approach is needed to determine an organization’s “primary purpose.”

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Washington Post: W.H., Watchdogs rail against ‘dark money’ provision tucked into House bill

Tom Hamburger

The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill last week that included little-noticed provisions to hobble executive branch efforts to mandate campaign finance disclosure by federal contractors and other corporations.

The bill would also prohibit the IRS from moving ahead with a rule defining political activity for nonprofits.

The restrictions were tucked into a 157-page financial services funding bill. The vote occurred June 17, as the White House was considering renewed requests from public interest groups and congressional Democrats to issue an executive order mandating contractor disclosure.

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USA Today: Clowns, slumlords and ‘pimp daddies’ all donate to campaigns

Fredreka Schouten

This year, for instance, San Francisco resident Melburn Knox made four contributions of $250 each to Democratic Party committees in which he described his occupation as “pimp daddy,” the center’s data show.

“I’m not really a pimp daddy,” Knox said, when reached by phone this week. He’s actually an equipment salesman, who said he sometimes also describes himself as a “mack daddy” as a joke. “I always wonder whether people read that stuff.”

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Contribution Limits

Washington Post: Can unlimited contributions to political parties really reduce polarization?

Lee Drutman

The simple conclusion is that states with limits are less polarized. Six of the seven least polarized lower chambers have limits on contributions to parties, and four of the five least polarized upper chambers have limits. In their lower chambers, states with limits on contributions to parties have, since 2004, averaged a median difference in party medians of 1.31, as compared to a median difference of 1.68 for the states with no limits…

Looking more closely at the distribution of states up and down the y-axis, the first thing that should be clear is that there is considerable variation in polarization across states. So, while we do observe differences, it’s hard to put too much emphasis on party limits as a key explanatory factor. A lot else is probably going on.

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Associated Press: IRS workers mistakenly erased tea party emails

Stephen Ohlemacher

IRS workers erased 422 computer backup tapes that “most likely” contained as many as 24,000 emails to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner, who has emerged as a central figure in congressional investigations, according to IRS’s inspector general.

The workers erased the tapes a month after IRS officials discovered that an untold number of Lerner’s emails were lost. The IG says the workers were unaware of a year-old directive not to destroy email backup tapes.

  1. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Oversight Committee about his investigation into the emails.

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Mother Jones: You’re Going to See an Explosion of Online Political Ads in 2016

Russ Choma

Thanks to antiquated campaign finance laws, there is one giant loophole when it comes to internet advertising: A disclaimer is only required if someone paid to place the ad on a website. This does not cover material that is posted for free on a campaign’s website or that can be distributed via free-to-use apps and services, such as YouTube and Facebook. And so-called issue ads—spots that praise or slam a candidate without explicitly urging a vote for or against the person—are not required to carry a disclaimer of any kind when they run online.

Federal Election Commission rules got their last major overhaul in 2002. As it stands, there is simply no law that gives the FEC the ability to examine how a campaign or any other group spends its money online.

“It’s not clear to me that the FEC has much of a watchdog role in terms of digital spending,” says Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics who previously worked at the FEC for 30 years. “Without some kind of statutory reason to care, the FEC isn’t going to force candidates to be too specific about their strategic behavior.”

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Morning Consult: Why the FEC’s Deadlock Won’t Change Any Time Soon

Will Dobbs-Allsopp

“If you’re actually knowledgeable and qualified, you take a huge hit by joining the government,” said Donald McGahn, a former chairman of the FEC.

McGahn, a Republican, explained that it isn’t just about the pay cut. Building a client base in election law takes time because once politicians find competent legal counsel, they tend to stick with that attorney every cycle. That makes keeping business relatively easy, but breaking into the industry hard.

By joining the FEC, an election lawyer would lose clients they had spent years to sign on. And members of Congress, who need compliance help in every election, are hardly going to wait around for even a well-regarded election specialist to finish a stint at the FEC.

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Ethics Reform

More Soft Money Hard Law: Congressional Ethics Before the Court

Bob Bauer

For all the study expended on public corruption and possible measures to control it, few take seriously or pay much attention to the “ethics” rules that Congress makes for itself.  Something interesting is going on here.  On the one hand, supporters of campaign finance reform are quick to defend Congress’ legislative handiwork over the years.  Defenders of McCain-Feingold deny that it was infected with incumbent self-interest.  Upholding the new law against constitutional challenge, the Court in McConnell v. FEC even situated it within a long history of Congressional steps to combat corruption, characterized as   “careful” and “cautious” and deserving of deference… Yet when Members prescribe rules to govern their conduct in dealings with supporters or donors, the applause is thin and it is rare that legislators get even the benefit of the doubt.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Boston Globe: Why is the GOP presidential field so large in 2016?

James Pindell

Lastly, the bar to entry has became lower for would-be candidates as a result of changes in campaign finance law. Before candidates would have to recruit a massive team of fund-raisers who would raise a few thousand from a broad group of donors. Today, all that is required is the financial backing of one rich person willing to put money into a SuperPAC.

As many as 18 potential and announced candidates want to appear on the debate stage. Media organizers for the first two debates have decided to limit the main debate to just 10 candidates, using national polling to determine who will be included. Republican leaders in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have criticized these debate rules as unfair while also acknowledging that 18 candidates is too many for one stage.

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US News: Why are so many Republicans running in 2016?

Matthew Dickinson

The combination of campaign finance reform and technological developments has lowered the entry barriers for candidates with less moderate political views and allowed them to remain viable for a longer period. Even though their prospects of winning their party’s nomination may not have increased, these long-shot candidates nonetheless have a greater incentive to enter the race.

Finally, in an era that has witnessed the proliferation of cable news shows and more ideologically-oriented media outlets, we should not underestimate the post-race benefits that potentially accrue to losing presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee parlayed his failed 2008 presidential bid into hosting his own political talk show on the Fox News cable network. Eight years later, Huckabee is once again running for president, and while he is unlikely to win, he will probably bolster his cache as a television talking head.

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Vox: The first-ever Super PAC criminal is going to jail. But the real scandal is what’s legal.

Andrew Prokop

What has sprung up in practice is a system in which each major candidate has a Super PAC that is operated by trusted former (and possibly future) aides and acts in accordance with the candidate’s strategy. And the law isn’t set up to distinguish “Super PACs run with the candidate’s tacit approval” from “Super PACs run by random outsiders.”

Unlike Tyler Harber, who’s headed to jail, these political operatives are generally careful not to violate the letter of the law. But whether it’s CARLY for America, Jeb Bush’s six months of work with his Super PAC aides, or Marco Rubio’s longtime closeness with his major donor, these groups are showing that the real scandal is what’s legal.

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The States


AFP: AFP-AZ comments on clean elections commission’s latest assault on free political speech

Tom Jenney

The rules far exceed the Commission’s statutory authority. While seeking to regulate activity beyond its mandate, the Commission through these vague and overbroad rules would deter citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights to advocate on important public policy issues, diminishing politicians’ accountability to their constituents. All of this is contrary to the Commission’s mandate “to restore citizen participation and confidence in our political system.”

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Huffington Post: The Campaign Everyone Should Be Talking About – No, Not Hilary’s

Cameron Fegers

This year they put a citizen-led referendum on the ballot that won’t just strengthen Clean Elections but will also hold corrupt politicians, special interests and wealthy contributors in check by increasing transparency, requiring greater disclosure and toughening fines and penalties for those who break the state’s ethics laws.

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