In the News
Denver Post: Colorado’s broken campaign rules
Beginning in 2010, and again this month, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Colorado law governing groups that raise and spend relatively small amounts of money on ballot measures violates those groups’ First Amendment rights.
We agree with the court that this is the case, and that it needs to be addressed. Coloradans’ right to political speech shouldn’t depend on their capacity to hire an accountant or attorney.
However, the court has refused to take the obvious next step and declare that the problem starts with the ludicrously low threshold of $200 that is set in the state constitution, thanks to an amendment approved by voters years ago. As soon as a group takes in or spends that amount of money, it becomes an official “issue committee,” subject to a host of registration and reporting rules that are time-consuming and complex.
Time: Major Republican Donors Fatigued by Presidential Race
Only U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Trump remain in the Republican presidential primary, and they’re aggressively courting those who once wrote checks to their opponents. But some GOP megadonors with millions of dollars to spend haven’t selected a new date to the presidential dance. Others are on the arms of their second and third choices.
For instance, members of the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, contributed $5 million to a super PAC supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential bid.
Washington Post: How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election
Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy
Advocates for stronger campaign-finance enforcement fear there will be even more pop-up limited liability corporations (LLCs) funneling money into independent groups, making it difficult to discern the identities of wealthy players seeking to influence this year’s presidential and congressional contests…
One out of every eight dollars collected by super PACs this election cycle have come from corporate coffers, including millions flowing from opaque and hard-to-trace entities, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance filings.
So far, 680 companies have given at least $10,000 to a super PAC this cycle, together contributing nearly $68 million through Jan. 31, The Post found. Their donations made up 12 percent of the $549 million raised by such groups, which can accept unlimited donations.
CPI: Catching a political phantom
This is the story of a phantom who sponsored a political attack ad in the heat of Florida’s critical presidential primary and sidestepped federal transparency laws.
It begins with a single TV spot — one that aired last week on an independent, Spanish-language station in South Miami…
Like all political ads, the spot ended by disclosing its sponsor: “Inspire America.” Federal law requires such disclaimers for the sake of political transparency and informing voters.
But exactly what — or who — is Inspire America?
An easy answer refused to reveal itself.
Politico: Pro-Trump super PAC praises him as a unifier
The commercial is the first from Great America PAC, a group that is devoted to boosting the real estate mogul. It is part of a nearly $1 million TV buy the group has placed nationally, but with a focus in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut —upcoming primary states that Trump is counting on in order to secure the 1,237 delegates needed for the Republican nomination.
The commercial uses public remarks from Trump in which he talks about his ability to expand the GOP ranks.
Cost of Campaign Regulation
Library of Law and Liberty: Plutocrats Protected
Hasen tries to balance political equality with free speech and, to his credit, his legal proposals and his philosophical arguments are both far friendlier to the Constitution than those of the vast majority of campaign-finance reformers. Nevertheless, his model would still require a robust federal agency more powerful than the current Federal Election Commission to enforce its limits. Inevitably this involves the policing of speech, to a degree that is at least as draconian as—and certainly more expensive than—the current regime.
In one of the few slips into hyperbole in the book itself, Hasen suggests that anyone not favorable to political equality as he defines political equality is likely to be a supporter of poll taxes. The nub of the problem: that he has not considered political equality from every angle.
One of the free speech problems with campaign-finance law—namely, the cost of compliance—is seldom addressed by reformers, and unfortunately Hasen is no different from the run of the mill in this respect. The cost of compliance is a de facto “campaign tax” that prevents or at least hinders political participation. Currently, well-financed campaigns and political groups pay large amounts of money to attorneys and accountants to complete their campaign reports and to comply with many other complex rules. Even with professional assistance, mistakes are made.
Daily Caller: Failure At The Speed Of Government: Nearly Eight Years Later, I’ve Finally Heard Back From The IRS
On July 2, 2008, nearly eight years ago, I was part of a group that applied for tax exempt status with the IRS on behalf of a 501(c)(3) foundation that I helped set up named the Alaska Dental Outreach Consortium. This foundation simply was meant to help connect rural Alaskans with oral health providers throughout the state.
Fast forward seven years, seven months and six days into the future to February 8, 2016: I finally receive confirmation, from the now disgraced Cincinnati branch of the IRS, confirming that the Alaska Dental Outreach Consortium has officially been granted tax exempt status.
Seven years, seven months and six days.
Putting aside the fact that we now know the IRS is guilty of illegally targeting innocent Americans based on their political views; in what world is it acceptable for a government agency to take seven years, seven months and six days to respond to a simple request?
Dangers of Disclosure
Sports Illustrated: Trump warns he will run attack ads about Cubs owners
In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump laid out exactly what he meant last month when he said the Ricketts “better watch out” when spending against him.
“Well, it means that I’ll start spending on them,” Trump said. “I’ll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they’re doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me.
“I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.”
New York Times: Will a Liberal Supreme Court Limit Money in Politics?
The words “Citizens United,” especially when amplified by a vigorous Democratic presidential nomination fight, have become a potent shorthand for the influence of great wealth over American democracy. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the possibility of reversing the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee quickly became a live issue in the election and in the shadowboxing over Justice Scalia’s replacement.
So imagine that a Democratic president’s nominee is eventually confirmed, and at the next opportunity, Citizens United is reversed. What happens next? Will money lose its hold on American politics?
Probably not — though not because money in politics doesn’t matter. Citizens United stands at the end of a long line of decisions that have weakened Congress’s ability to limit money in politics, not all of them wrongly decided.
Washington Post: Do Republicans really think Donald Trump will make a good Supreme Court choice?
George F. Will
The Republican Party’s incoherent response to the Supreme Court vacancy is a partisan reflex in search of a justifying principle. The multiplicity of Republican rationalizations for their refusal to even consider Merrick B. Garland radiates insincerity.
Republicans instantly responded to Antonin Scalia’s death by proclaiming that no nominee, however admirable in temperament, intellect and experience, would be accorded a hearing. They say their obduracy is right:
Because they have a right to be obdurate, there being no explicit constitutional proscription against this.
More Soft Money Hard Law: Judge Garland and Buckley Jurisprudence in the Citizens United Era
On this question, it has been useful to consider Judge Merrick Garland’s record on campaign finance. He wrote for an en banc Court of Appeals in Wagner v, Federal Election Commission, upholding a complete ban on contributions to candidates by individual federal contractors. It is a thorough, scholarly piece of work, and the Court was united behind it.
The plaintiffs looked for help to Citizens United, but Garland and his colleagues blocked that path. The reasons were rooted in Buckley, as was the balance of the analysis: the court leaned hard on the distinction between contributions and expenditures, and it emphasized that CU was concerned only with the latter. From that point on, the opinion constructs a well-considered case out Buckley materials to support the full contributions ban.
New York Times: The Mutual Dependence of Donald Trump and the News Media
Mr. Trump riled up his fans against a recurring villain in his running campaign narrative and ensured the news was once again all about him. Fox News, the cable news ratings leader that is so often impugned as an arm of the Republican Party, got to ring a bell for journalistic independence. Ms. Kelly got the sort of support from the network that she has described as lacking from her colleague Bill O’Reilly; guaranteed big ratings to come; and got more fodder for the book she sold for many millions of dollars after the Trump feud began.
Newspapers and online news organizations got a click-worthy story line tailor-made for a fast read on the iPhone. And, finally, there were the viewers and the readers, who are benefiting from a transitioning media industry’s desire to give them what they want, where they want it, as fast as possible. As the people have made clear, they want Trump.
Candidates and Campaigns
New York Magazine: Trump Would Probably Be Winning This Primary by Much More If He Weren’t Cutting His Campaign Spending
Trump has mounted virtually no ground game, done little to no retail campaigning, boasts no super-pac, and has spent only a small fraction of his personal fortune — and yet he’s far and away the GOP’s most likely nominee. But imagine where he’d be if he weren’t so cheap. The Donald’s bargain bid seems like it will prove effective enough, but if he put more effort into fund-raising and campaigning, there would probably be a lot less chatter about contested conventions right now. Perhaps more significantly, Trump’s failure to establish a broad donor network and campaign infrastructure has only fueled GOP operatives’ anxiety about the mogul’s chances against Clinton in November, Politico reports.
USA Today: Bernie Sanders’ wins come at a high price
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders raised more money in February than any of the remaining candidates seeking the presidency. And he spent the most.
Sanders, who has won nine states to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s 17, raised $43.5 million last month, outpacing Clinton, new campaign-finance reports show. But he also spent much of what he took in.
Burlington Free Press: Vermont Campaign finance battles continue in court
Staff and Wire Reports
Sixteen months after Progressive/Democrat Dean Corren lost his bid for lieutenant governor, he and the Attorney General’s Office still are embroiled in a double-barreled court fight over whether Corren violated Vermont’s campaign finance law.
The case may turn on whether an email blast urging support for a candidate counts as an electioneering communication and therefore a political contribution, or, because it involves the use of computers and mailing lists, is exempt from the types of contributions that need to be reported to the secretary of state.