Daily Media Links 12/18: Free Speech and the Freedom Caucus, Conservatives, transparency win! GAB settles lawsuit, agrees to open up its secrets, and more…


Seven Pro-Free Speech Provisions in Omnibus and Tax Extenders Deal

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) today released a fact sheet praising seven provisions in the Omnibus appropriations and tax extenders bills that protect or enhance First Amendment free speech and association rights…

“Each of these measures would provide important new protections for First Amendment free speech rights. These outstanding new speech provisions will further advance protections for individuals and groups that speak out about government policies and candidates,” said CCP President David Keating. “The IRS and the SEC have little understanding of First Amendment rights, and we should not task them as our speech police.”

“We are disappointed that the provision eliminating coordination restrictions between candidates and political parties was not included, but we are confident such a change will happen soon. It is not a matter of if it will become law, but when,” added Keating.

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Wall Street Journal: Free Speech and the Freedom Caucus

Editorial Board

Republican disunity has limited Congress’s power of the purse, but the GOP majority has marked up a few victories. The budget and tax bills moving this week usefully block the IRS and other agencies from restricting political speech.

In 2014 opposition from the left and right forced the IRS to back down on its rule limiting political activities by tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups. But director John Koskinen, the most tone-deaf man in Washington, says he wants to try again, and the spending bill includes a provision that shuts that down.

The tax bill also blocks the practice of IRS employees using personal email for official business. The use of personal email by Lois Lerner, then head of the tax-exempt division, became a stumbling block for investigators trying to discover what happened. A provision in the tax bill also bans the IRS from imposing the gift tax on donations to 501(c) groups, an idea the agency considered in 2011 when it audited several conservative donors.

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American Prospect: GOP Riders Fuel Secret Spending

Eliza Newlin Carney

he disclosure movement’s only modest success thus far has been to convince the FCC to require political advertisers to file their public disclosures electronically instead of on paper. Attempts to pressure the IRS to crack down on politically active nonprofits have yielded little, as have efforts to pressure the SEC to require campaign disclosure from corporations.

Still, advocates of election transparency had pinned their hopes lately on signs of movement at the SEC, and on the pending release of a new set of proposed IRS rules to clear up the agency’s muddy definition of political activity. Those hopes were dashed this week with the release of a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that explicitly blocks either agency from taking action.

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More Soft Money Hard Law: The Omnibus and the Direction of the Reform Debate

Bob Bauer

Another reading is that Congress will balk at the fashioning of reform policy by regulatory agencies lacking experience, clear statutory direction and expertise – – maybe, too, the will.  The SEC seems disinclined to move on corporate political spending. The IRS has struggled on (c)(4) disclosure, and there are fair questions to be raised about the tax collector’s place in regulating political activity.  Of course it is understandable that frustration over slow or feckless FEC rulemaking and enforcement has prompted a search for alternatives.  But not everyone is persuaded that the alternatives are advisable.

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Wisconsin ‘John Doe’

Wisconsin Watchdog: Conservatives, transparency win! GAB settles lawsuit, agrees to open up its secrets

M.D. Kittle

Conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth resolved their lawsuit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, with the GAB agreeing it will refrain from funding and assisting future criminal prosecutions in violation of its statutory authority…

While the regulator doesn’t admit any wrongdoing, it acknowledges “it had contact with prosecutors about the subject of John Doe II and later made expenditures in conducting GAB Investigation No. 2013-02 in cooperation with prosecutors conducting the John Doe II investigation,”

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Press Release


Center for Public Integrity: New FEC chairman aims to calm agency at war with itself

Dave Levinthal

It will do so under the leadership of Matthew Petersen, a Republican who his five commission colleagues, in a perfunctory vote, today appointed chairman for 2016. The job switches annually between Republicans and Democrats.

But Petersen, a soft-spoken and professorial attorney by trade, says his tenure at the FEC’s helm will prove decidedly different than that of Democrat Ann Ravel, the current chairwoman who’s used her office’s meager power — a bully pulpit, mainly — to its maximum.

“I’ve learned to take a more low-profile approach,” he told the Center for Public Integrity in an interview earlier this month. “I don’t feel any need to have my face out there any more than it is.”

Low profile is something Ravel is not.

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USA Today: Clinton intern fights election law banning student stipend

Maureen Groppe

The law and FEC regulations prohibit a corporation, including nonprofit organizations like a university, from contributing to a federal candidate. Contributions include compensating someone for time spent on a campaign, the draft opinion said. (The exception is compensation for legal and accounting services.)

But commission members agreed to continue to debate the issue before meeting again in January.

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, called Houghtalen’s case “very sympathetic.”  She was particularly drawn to the argument that not allowing the stipends would disproportionately hurt students from families with less means.

Houghtalen said she was only able to attend DePauw through enormous help from academic scholarships, and it was not easy to come up with an additional $5,000 to travel to, and live in, Brooklyn for eight weeks.

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Independent Groups

New York Times: ‘Super PAC’ Supporting Jeb Bush Attacks Donald Trump in New Ad

Nick Corasaniti

White text on a black background proclaims, “One candidate tough enough to take on the bully … ” before Mr. Bush is shown delivering his smackdown: “Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” The screen freezes on Mr. Trump closing his eyes and smiling, or smirking, as if acknowledging the joke is on him, while the crowd cheers. As Mr. Bush is shown addressing rapt crowds with forceful gestures, a male narrator promises Mr. Bush “will destroy ISIS,” represented by video of an airstrike on an Islamic State target. An American flag and white picket fence stand in for the homeland, and Mr. Bush, addressing a crowd of Citadel cadets, is meant to embody security.

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The Hill: Pro-Clinton super-PAC ad attacks GOP rivals for backing Trump

Lisa Hagen

The ad, which is part of Priorities USA’s $1.5 million campaign called “Wrong for Us,” targets all Republican candidates for not standing up to the GOP presidential front-runner after his latest proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States. But many Republicans were quick to criticize Trump’s controversial plan.  

“The Republican candidates for President are all trying to tell us how strong they are,” the ad says in text over pictures of the top GOP candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

“But they’re showing themselves to be quite weak. They all seem to be afraid of Donald Trump,” the ad continues, playing a video of tigers brawling, which then cuts to video of kittens fighting.

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Huffington Post: Harry Reid Directly Solicited Contribution From Private Equity Giant Before Controversial Rider

Ryan Grim and Paul Blumenthal

Reid, with or without contributions, has fought for the casino industry, a leading job creator in Nevada, his entire career. According to a source who was present at the Reid-Bonderman meeting, Bonderman gave Reid a rundown of the difficulties Caesars was having that led to a controversial restructuring and bankruptcy. Caesars opponents have challenged the bankruptcy, suggesting the company improperly moved assets. TPG has been hoping a legislative fix would bail them out, though Bonderman did not specifically ask for any legislation during the meeting.

After Bonderman’s presentation, Reid said Democrats were in desperate straits and might lose the chamber in 2014, and then asked Bonderman for a contribution. Often, after a lawmaker or candidate asks for the legal limit, a fundraiser connected with the super PAC will follow up. Bonderman got the message and he and his wife, Laurie Michaels, came through over the course of 2014.

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Washington Post: Republicans ‘rein in’ the IRS in new budget after years of grievances

Lisa Rein

Its employees must not use personal email accounts for work communications, a practice that got both Hillary Clinton and Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the scandal over tax-exempt groups in trouble.

The IRS must now report to Congress on how much it spends on salaries of full-time union officials, who are paid by taxpayers.

And it cannot target groups for scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs, new language repeated in three separate provisions of the bill.

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KWCH 12: Nonprofits team up against new IRS proposal

The new proposed amendment to the federal tax code would require non-profits to ask for personal information, like donor’s name, address and social security number, for those who give more than $250. The IRS said giving that information to the charity would be up to the donor, but if they choose to, the non-profit would be require to store it. Then, the charity would file a special form with the IRS and send a second copy to the donor.

“We here at the United Way do not want social security numbers of donors,” said Pat Hanrahan, CEO and President of the United Way of the Plains. “That’s just information that doesn’t need to be here and is a real liability. If some charity came to me and asked me to give, and ‘Oh by the way I have to give you my social security number’, I’m not going to give.”

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Candidates and Campaigns

Washington Post: DNC: Sanders campaign improperly accessed Clinton voter data

Rosalind S. Helderman, Anne Gearan and John Wagner

Officials with the Democratic National Committee have accused the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders of improperly accessing confidential voter information gathered by the rival campaign of Hillary Clinton, according to several party officials.

Jeff Weaver, the Vermont senator’s campaign manager, acknowledged that a low-level staffer had viewed the information but blamed a software vendor hired by the DNC for a glitch that allowed access. Weaver said one Sanders staffer was fired over the incident…

The DNC maintains the master list and rents it to national and state campaigns, which then add their own, proprietary information gathered by field workers and volunteers. Firewalls are supposed to prevent campaigns from viewing data gathered by their rivals…

The DNC has told the Sanders campaign that it will not be allowed access to the data again until it provides an explanation as well as assurances that all Clinton data has been destroyed.

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Washington Examiner: Sanders hits record for individual campaign donations

Ariel Cohen

No other non-sitting president has ever surpassed 2 million donations at this point in the primary. Barack Obama received 2.2 million donations by the end of 2011 during his re-election campaign, a number Sanders’ campaign believes they “still could surpass.”

Only 261 of Sanders’ donors have given the legal maximum contribution of $2,700, so there is room for them to give more money to the democratic socialist’s campaign.

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FiveThirtyEight: Marco Rubio’s Lousy Ground Game In Iowa Will Probably Cost Him Votes

Josh Darr

There’s reportedly a joke going around among Iowa Republicans that Marco Rubio must be running for mayor of Ankeny, the Des Moines suburb where his sole Iowa office is located. Defying Iowa’s tradition of retail politics, Rubio also rarely holds campaign events outside of that area and is choosing to invest in television ads over staffers and offices in the state. Rubio is making a deliberate gamble that Iowans will brave the cold on his behalf this Feb. 1 simply because they saw his advertisements or debate performances on television, not because they have seen him in person or heard from his campaign.

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The States

New York Post: De Blasio returning $20K in ‘corrupt’ campaign funds

Michael Gartland

Cuomo spokesman Austin Shafran declined on Thursday to say whether the governor would follow the mayor’s lead and give back the money.

When The Post raised the issue earlier this week, Shafran insisted “the governor’s decisions are not influenced by contributions, as testimony in the trials showed.”

The mayor’s campaign — which would certainly say the same about de Blasio — nevertheless decided it would refund Glenwood’s money, according to a campaign spokesman.

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Huffington Post: The Public Should Pay for Elections So Politicians Can’t Be Bought

Dave Palmer

Until election campaigns in New York State are publicly funded, getting rid of bad-apple politicians won’t do much. The whole tree is rotten. It’s Albany’s money culture that blurs the line between legal fundraising and give and get-in-return criminal activity. The Legislature must act, but it’s time for Governor Cuomo to lead the charge, and actually try to win reform this time.

Yesterday, now-former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was found guilty on corruption charges. Last week, it was now-former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Before them, even in recent history, there’s a very long list.

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