Daily Media Links 9/25: The IRS’s abuse of power, Republican ‘Super PACs’ Turn to TV Ads for High-Stakes Primaries, and more…

Independent Groups

New York Times: Republican ‘Super PACs’ Turn to TV Ads for High-Stakes Primaries

Trip Gabriel and Ashley Parker

A super PAC backing Jeb Bush will spend $37 million on ads through February, money it is forced to spend early because Mr. Bush’s popularity with elite donors has not been matched by support from voters. Rival super PACs and allied groups are also set to run TV ads primarily in early voting states for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey ($11.4 million), Senator Marco Rubio of Florida ($15 million) and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana ($5 million), according to a firm that tracks political ad spending.

None of those groups plan to attack Mr. Trump any time soon, according to their strategists, for fear of repercussions. “When you go negative on advertising, the natural physics of doing that increases your unfavorables,” said Matt David, a strategist for the super PAC supporting Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio.

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Political Parties

Washington Post: Libertarians, Greens ready lawsuit against Commission on Presidential Debates

Dave Weigel

Bruce Fein, the attorney for the new plaintiffs, argues over 43 pages that keeping them out of a “multi-billion dollar” market violates “antitrust laws, the First Amendment, and District of Columbia tort law.”

“The unlawful agreement among Defendants has several illicit purposes,” writes Fein. “The first is to acquire, maintain, and exercise duopoly control of the multi-million dollar market in organizing, promoting, sponsoring, and fundraising for holding national general election presidential and vice-presidential debates to artificially advantage the Democratic and Republican Party candidates… the second illicit purpose is to acquire, maintain, and exercise duopoly control over, and to exclude and severely undermine competition in, the multi-billion dollar market of organizing, promoting, fundraising for, and engaging in general presidential and vice-presidential election campaigns.”

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Election Law Blog: The Future of the Party and Campaign Finance — A Response to Bob Bauer

Heather Gerken

We think Bob may overstate the differences between our positions, though that’s likely due to a failure of exposition on our part. Bob reads us as opposing all change in the way we fund parties. But we are pretty close to where Bob is on these questions. We aren’t ready to go as far as Tom Edsall and lift all restrictions. But, like Bob, we are certainly open to a more robust funding structure, especially one targeted—as the Brennan Center’s report is—at certain type of party activities. At least one of us is ready to support substantial increases in the contribution caps, and both of us favor allowing candidates and parties to work more closely together in raising and spending money. We’re just not ready to reproduce, jot for jot, the funding structure for the parties that we now have for the SuperPACs and 501(c) organizations.

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The Hill: The IRS’s abuse of power

Tom Schatz

This is the same IRS that left taxpayers in the lurch during the most recent tax season, when it shut down call centers due to “budget cuts.” On April 22, 2015, House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) cited the $2.2 million contract as misspent funds at the IRS that could have used to assist 252,000 individuals with their taxes.

This extraordinary episode should be troubling for all taxpayers. On top of the waste of tax dollars, the hiring of outside litigators at Obama’s IRS is the latest overreach by the administration and the same agency that spawned Lois Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations unit.

While there is no excuse or justification for this action by the IRS and no one should be subject to such an misuse of the taxpayers’ money, a large company can battle to maintain its rights under the law (albeit at the expense of conducting its ordinary business). It is bad enough when IRS auditors and bean counters come knocking at someone’s door, but there is no way that a small business or individual taxpayer could withstand a grilling by high-powered and highly paid litigators.

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Citizens United

The Nation: The Many Sins of ‘Citizens United’

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

Not to worry, the Citizens United majority assured us, since a regime of prompt and effective disclosure would “provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” In reality, of course, disclosure has completely broken down in the wake of the ruling. In the 2014 elections, the most expensive midterms in US history, The Washington Post reported that dark money made up at least 31 percent of all independent spending. And that doesn’t count spending on so-called issue ads, which is also not reported.

The Supreme Court may someday grow sufficiently sickened by the “tsunami of slime” it has unleashed and correct itself. Until then, it will fall to Congress to restore a measure of integrity to our campaign-finance system.

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Wisconsin ‘John Doe’

Wisconsin Watchdog: ‘Nonpartisan’ GAB staff has partisan past

M.D. Kittle

The Wall Street Journal and Wisconsin Watchdog have reported on former GAB staff counsel Shane Falk’s partisan emails related to the political John Doe investigation into dozens of conservative groups and the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker. That investigation, it is becoming increasingly clear, was driven in large part by the accountability board, Wisconsin’s finance, election, and ethics law regulator. Falk was a big player at the agency and in the political probe.

Falk, who in 2008 urged the GAB to find ways to “get around the constitutional right to free speech,” once served as the Democratic appointee on the state elections board, the GAB’s predecessor.

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Candidates and Campaigns

The Hill: Fundraising deadline will test 2016 field

Jonathan Swan and Harper Neidig

The quarterly deadline for campaigns to report their finances is fast approaching, and will be a significant test for the GOP and Democratic presidential fields.

Here’s what the candidates need to show in their upcoming statements, which will cover their earnings and expenses from July 1 to September 30.

The next deadline for independent super PACs to file reports with the FEC is January 31.

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The States

Lexington Herald-Leader: GOP state senator suing to overturn Kentucky laws limiting campaign donations

John Cheves

They are challenging the state’s $1,000-per-election contribution limit to individual candidates. They also want the court to strike down ethics rules prohibiting Frankfort lobbyists from donating campaign money to legislators or legislative candidates; barring the employers of lobbyists from donating while the General Assembly is in session; and outlawing gifts from lobbyists to legislators, including private meals.

“They have gone so far overboard with these rules that it’s ridiculous,” said Christopher Wiest, an attorney for Schickel and the others. “If you’re a legislator and a lobbyist is your next-door neighbor, and he invites you over to his place for a Christmas party, you can’t accept, because it might be considered a form of entertainment or a thing of value.”

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New Mexico Political Report: Anti-abortion mailer may have violated city election law

Joey Peters

An anti-abortion group is getting attention for targeting an Albuquerque city council candidate with graphic imagery and one of their mailers is being investigated by the city’s ethics board.

ABQ, the group that sent the mailer, isn’t registered with the city as an Measure Finance Committee, which is required to be in order to send material opposing a political candidate. The mailer also didn’t list the address of Protest ABQ or the printer of the mailer, which city campaign rules require.

Sent out last week, the mailer shows a picture of what’s purported to be a bloody fetus from a “late-term” abortion and a woman who the mailer says “died from LEGAL abortion.”

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