Daily Media Links 3/24: Chipping Away at the IRS Stonewall, What’s Behind The FEC’s Inquiries Into The Bernie Sanders Campaign?, and more…

IRS

Wall Street Journal: Chipping Away at the IRS Stonewall

Editorial Board

In 2013 the NorCal Tea Party Patriots filed a class-action suit on behalf of groups whose applications were slow-rolled by the agency. To get the names of IRS workers involved in the targeting, plaintiffs sought access to files the IRS kept on the targeted groups. The Justice Department argued the files are protected by Section 6103 of the U.S. code, which was intended to protect taxpayers by assuring confidential returns.

Nice try. Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Raymond Kethledge dismantled that argument and excoriated the IRS for stonewalling during discovery. Charges that an executive agency targeted citizens for their political views are “among the most serious allegations a federal court can address,” he writes. In this case, he added, they are “substantial” and based on a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Equally appalling is the agency’s effort to obstruct the legal process. “[I]n this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it,” Judge Kethledge wrote, calling the IRS response “one of continuous resistance.” He added: “The district court ordered production of those lists, and did so again over an IRS motion to reconsider. Yet, almost a year later, the IRS still has not complied with the court’s orders.”

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Independent Groups

Politico: Democrats have momentum but lack money in battle for Senate

Burgess Everett, Seung Min Kim and Kevin Robillard

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has steadily outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but the NRSC has slightly more cash on hand. And in an interview, DSCC Chairman Jon Tester of Montana raised a red flag that “these damn super PACs” might be an even bigger factor this year than in recent election cycles.

“We’re poised to compete, but the issue is that we need campaign finance reform badly and there’s going to be a lot of money spent this cycle,” Tester said. “Resources, especially in a presidential year, are finite.”

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Washington Post: The GOP — and its big funders — scramble to insulate Congress from Trump

Matea Gold and Paul Kane

The anxiety about Trump’s potential spillover effect on down-ballot races was underscored Wednesday when House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin lamented the “disheartened” state of the campaign and criticized the “identity politics” on display in the increasingly toxic race for the GOP presidential nomination.

The efforts are being driven by major players such as the Koch brothers’ political network, which has already begun laying groundwork in Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with the Crossroads organizations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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The Nation: How to Fight Big Money in 2016 and Beyond

Layne Amerikaner

Corinne Dodge led an effort to pass the measure through her city’s conservative town council. Dodge became active in political organizing in the aftermath of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead. She joined an organization of mothers focused on ending gun violence, but was frustrated by the inability to push forward even basic, popular gun-safety measures.

“I realized that nothing was going to happen on gun control, or on many other issues, until the money was out of politics,” Dodge said.

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FEC

Daily Caller: What’s Behind The FEC’s Inquiries Into The Bernie Sanders Campaign?

Brad Crate

The Bernie Sanders campaign’s most recent Federal Election Commission filing ran over 85,000 pages. A few weeks earlier, the Sanders campaign had received a 43 page letter from the FEC asking to make sure certain donors have not contributed over the legal limit. This week they received a 95 page letter with a similar inquiry…

Bernie Sanders has done a tremendous job raising money from small dollar donors. The New York Times cites the campaign’s number of 1.3 million donors. That explains why the campaign’s (Bernie 2016) Year End FEC report is almost 100,000 pages long. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s Year End Report was about 35,000 pages long.

When a candidate like Bernie Sanders is bombarded with such a high volume of contributions, the campaign’s treasury department is tested in ways that it may not have anticipated with potentially inadequate staff or an inadequate system.

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Supreme Court

Columbia Daily Tribune: Supreme Court pick present a political puzzle for Clinton

Associated Press

For Hillary Clinton, locked in a fight for the hearts of progressive voters, Merrick Garland’s nomination presents a political puzzle. She had no choice but to embrace the mild-mannered moderate Democrats plan to make into a symbol of Republican obstruction. But she does not want to hold him so close that she angers the party’s left, wary of Garland and worried the party might end up forfeiting a chance to install a more liberal justice on the court.

Clinton’s dilemma was evident in her campaign’s cautious reaction to Obama’s choice. In a statement, she mentioned Garland’s “considerable experience” both in the judiciary and in public service, his “brilliant legal mind” and past achievement of “bipartisan support and admiration.”

But her campaign would not say whether she would commit to Garland for the long haul, arguing Republicans won’t be able to sustain denying the judge a Senate vote.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Huffington Post: Donald Trump Has Spent Less Than Any Other Primary Front-Runner

Paul Blumenthal

Through the end of February, Trump spent $33 million while winning 19 contests and racking up 680 delegates, the most of any candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. After adjusting for inflation, Trump’s total spending is lower than every other major party front-runner since leading candidates refused public financing during the primary elections in 2000.

The next lowest spender was the Democratic Party’s 2000 presidential nominee, Al Gore, when he spent $46 million at the same point in the election. Then the sitting vice president, Gore’s primary campaign was far less competitive than the current race for the Republican nomination. He won each of the first 20 primaries and caucuses and his opponent, Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.), dropped out of the race on March 10 of that year.

President Barack Obama holds the record for the most spent in a contested primary through February with $174 million in 2008. George W. Bush’s 2000 run was second with $88 million spent through February.

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Bloomberg: Steve Spinner Just Fixed the Worst Thing About Being a Politician

Joshua Green

It could soon get easier. For months some of Washington’s top campaign professionals have been buzzing about a product with the potential to turbocharge political fundraising and possibly much more. The product is a piece of software—an algorithm, actually—that is the distilled essence of a pioneering approach to fundraising developed by a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, an innovation that helped lift him to the presidency. The approach grew out of a simple insight: You can raise a lot more money if, rather than just ask for a check, you ask people to reach out to their own social networks and raise money themselves.

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Sunlight Foundation: What happens to the leftover money after each 2016 candidate drops out?

Libby Watson

For those campaigns and super PACs with money left over, the question is: What exactly will happen to it? Campaigns have a number of options. They can return money to donors, donate it to charity or give it to party committees. Super PACs can really do whatever they want, except donate it to a federal candidate. As CBS put it, “The leaders of [a super PAC] could legally cash out, buy a yacht, name it The SS Thank You FEC and sail off into the political sunset.” But they tend not to, because “they have a real profession incentive to not abuse the good will of their donors,” according to Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, speaking to CBS.

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Forbes: How The Trump Campaign Spends Its Money

Deniz Cam

Donald Trump brags about not spending a fortune on advertising and media as his adversaries do, and relatively speaking, he is right. Trump has received a huge amount of media coverage due to his provocative presence and highly controversial statements. However, one of his biggest campaign expenses has been fees paid to Rick Reed Media, a political media consultancy firm based in Virginia. The firm has produced ads on behalf of various Republican politicians in the past, including Senators Jim DeMint, Mel Martinez, and Richard Burr. Trump’s campaign has paid Rick Reed Media $10.96 million in total since November 2015.

The nearly $11 million figure pales when compared to what some other candidates have spent on media: Hillary Clinton’s media expenses exceed $23 million; Marco Rubio (who dropped out of the race on March 15) spent more than $15 million.

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The States

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Bill erasing local officials ethics fines receives final passage

Aaron Gould Sheinin

The legislation represents a compromise hammered out in committee between the state ethics commission and the lobbyists for the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. The commission’s database of late filers currently has about 27,000 entries, most of which represent missing local reports.

The commission’s computer system for years was overwhelmed and many of those local officials who were fined claimed they field on time but the commission’s system didn’t work properly.

No longer in the bill, however, was a provision Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, wanted that would have required politically active groups to disclose how they raise and spend money.

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New York Times: New York Ethics Board Picks Ex-Cuomo Aide as Director

Associated Press

Mr. Agata will be the board’s third consecutive director with close ties to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat. The first, Ellen Biben, served as his inspector general and worked for him when he was the attorney general. The second, Letizia Tagliafierro, worked in the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office before that. She left the commission last year to return to the Cuomo administration.

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Columbus Dispatch: Miss. senators seek to end personal campaign cash use

Associated Press

A Mississippi Senate committee Tuesday proposed to ban elected officials and candidates from spending campaign money on themselves, after Associated Press and Clarion-Ledger reports highlighted widespread personal use.

The Senate Elections Committee amended House Bill 797 to say campaign money can’t be used for purposes including rent, gasoline purchases, car payments or loans to candidates. The bill also says candidates can’t cash out campaign accounts at career’s end. The AP reported Sunday that at least five former Mississippi officials in recent years cashed out more than $50,000.

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