Daily Media Links 3/29: The IRS scandal continues, Super-PAC promoting Carson for VP shuts down after torrent of criticism, and more…


Significant Constitutional and Practical Issues with Rhode Island Senate Bill 2369

Matt Nese

This legislation exacerbates significant issues within existing law and turns Rhode Island’s long and storied history of direct democracy and citizen advocacy on its head. Far from promoting these values, this bill and the existing statute actively discourage citizen groups and civically-engaged individuals in Rhode Island from participating in the state’s proud tradition of financial town meetings and financial town referenda.

Section 17-25-7 already chills participation in Rhode Island’s financial town meetings by subjecting all “entities” to the same regulatory burdens and reporting requirements as political groups. To make matters worse, S. 2369 aggravates this already constitutionally-suspect approach by requiring such reporting from private individuals and by making explicit that such reporting is required of even small nonprofits – for whom such burdens have outsized effect. To this end, S. 2369 would chill protected speech by mandating the disclosure of donors to individuals, charities, and other organizations who desire to engage in basic issue advocacy relating to issues relevant to financial town meetings and referenda. Such speech chilling laws are unconstitutional.

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Richmond Times–Dispatch: The IRS scandal continues

Editorial Board

The lawsuit stems from the IRS’ abuse of tea-party and other conservative groups, whose activity the IRS hampered and from which the agency demanded ridiculous volumes of information, including copies of all speeches made at group events, copies of all newsletters, emails, and advertisements — and even the content of members’ prayers. As Dave Barry would say, we are not making this up.

One group provided 3,000 pages of documentation. The IRS, in turn, said that it would be too much trouble to tell the group even the names of the employees reviewing its file.

Now The Washington Post reports that litigation over such politically motivated harassment has not even reached the merits of the issue, “because, the appeals court panel said, ‘at every turn the IRS has resisted the plantiff’s requests for information’ on the targeting practices.” Likewise, a district court judge says the federal government has been “just running around in circles and not answering the questions.”

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Las Vegas Review-Journal: IRS foot-dragging

Editorial Board

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s important to remember why this scandal matters so much in the first place. This isn’t just executive branch employees running roughshod over Americans’ rights, which already happens too often to begin with. No, this is about our nation’s federal tax collection agency using taxpayer resources and its considerable powers to actively influence the outcome of national elections.

The IRS needs to meet that seven-day deadline — that’s this week — with no excuses, and with every piece of documentation the Sixth Circuit mandated. The Department of Justice also needs to move its investigation forward and hold the IRS accountable for its actions.

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Independent Groups

The Hill: Super-PAC promoting Carson for VP shuts down after torrent of criticism

Jonathan Swan

Sousa said he “can’t go over” the reasons for why he shut down the super-PAC at the end of last week, but the pro-Carson group had been under fire for continuing to raise money despite Carson no longer being a candidate for president.

After spending more than $10 million in a failed bid to make Carson the Republican presidential nominee, Sousa’s group announced two weeks ago that it was transforming into a big-money vehicle designed to promote him for vice president.

Prominent conservatives denounced the move, calling it a “scam PAC” run by “grifters.” Carson decried the fundraising in a Facebook post without mentioning the super-PAC by name.

“I was rather surprised that some are raising money using my name regarding a vice presidential bid,” Carson wrote on his Facebook page last Wednesday. “I do not believe that it is appropriate at this time to be using any notoriety that I have gained to try to get people to donate to a political effort on my behalf.”

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ELB Podcast: Lee Goodman: FEC Commissioner with Libertarian Outlook

Rick Hasen

How does a Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission skeptical of regulation enforce the law? Is there a sound basis for limiting foreign money in elections? Why does the FEC deadlock along party lines, and what can be done about staff unhappiness at the FEC?


Dangers of Disclosure

Washington Post: Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study

Karen Turner

A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online…

“The fact that the ‘nothing to hide’ individuals experience a significant chilling effect speaks to how online privacy is much bigger than the mere lawfulness of one’s actions. It’s about a fundamental human right to have control over one’s self-presentation and image, in private, and now, in search histories and metadata,” she said.

Stoycheff is also concerned about the quietly oppressive behavior of self-censorship.

“It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority groups. And it is difficult to protect and extend the rights of these vulnerable populations when their voices aren’t part of the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas, and self-censorship starves it,” she said.

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Political Parties

New York Times: How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump

Nicholas Confessore

While the party was drawing more of its money from an elite group of the wealthy, it was drawing more votes from working-class and middle-income whites. Between 2008 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, more lower-income and less-educated white voters shifted their allegiance to Republicans.

These voters had fled the Democratic Party and were angry at Mr. Obama, whom they believed did not have their interests at heart. But not all of them were deeply conservative; many did not think about politics in ideological terms at all. A 2011 Pew survey called them the “Disaffecteds.”

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American Prospect: The Democrats as a Movement Party

Paul Starr

Beyond 2016, the question is how the model of the Sanders campaign could work as a strategy for party rebuilding on a national scale. The party undoubtedly could use the grassroots-organizing capacity the Sanders campaign has developed. But winning national elections does require raising a lot of money. If money weren’t a factor in the outcome of elections, campaign finance wouldn’t be something to worry about. Sanders’s purism on campaign finance—no super PACs, no big financial donors—can work in states like Vermont with low-cost media markets and in congressional districts with lopsided Democratic majorities. It might even be enough to win a presidential nomination, thanks to all the free media coverage. But it is not feasible in most congressional and statewide elections.

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The Media

Washington Post: The very cozy relationship between Donald Trump and the National Enquirer

Callum Borchers

At a minimum, the Enquirer’s unsubstantiated story about multiple Cruz affairs is the work of a publication with an obvious rooting interest in the election. Although the tabloid has printed sensational claims about other candidates — Jeb Bush had a cocaine habit in the 1980s; Hillary Clinton is on her death bed; Ben Carson crippled surgical patients for life — Trump has been conspicuously spared this treatment. (And New York magazine reported in October that Trump was behind the Carson story.)

What’s more, a February issue of the Enquirer that promised exposés about multiple leading presidential candidates contained this faux revelation about the Republican presidential front-runner: “Donald Trump has also been hiding a secret — he has greater support and popularity than even he’s admitted to!” Ouch indeed.

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The Hill: Political spending disclosure and the SEC

Lisa Gilbert

At the SEC, which is charged with protecting investors above all else, the idea that a commissioner might come into office and work to protect the secrecy of corporate political spending (while investors are demanding its transparency) seems inherently problematic. By pushing on this issue, the Democratic committee senators aim to ensure that these nominees place the protection of Main Street and the markets above any allegiance to industry. A disclosure rule is a perfect marker, as support of it will demonstrate an awareness of the risk inherent in political spending that can threaten a company’s bottom line by embroiling it in hot-bottom political issues.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Guardian: This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest

Jill Abramson

The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

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MTV News: To Suspend or End a Campaign, That is the Question

Jaime Fuller

Not only are candidates who still technically have a campaign entitled to their delegates and future fundraising — they can also donate money to other candidates. If they aren’t able to secure a presidential nomination themselves during a confusing convention, they could at least try to tempt the winner with cash and try to get a plum administration gig.

In short, whatever the heck “suspending your campaign” means — especially in this nonsensical election year — is in the eye of the desperate beholder. It probably won’t mean anything but “I quit,” but don’t tell these guys yet. This is the only thing they’ve got going for them.

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The States

Wall Street Journal: Show Me Your Donors

Editorial Board

Independent money hasn’t made much difference in the presidential race, but that isn’t stopping politicians in the states from pushing new regulations on political speech in the name of transparency. Missouri Republicans are poised to pass the latest misguided effort to require 501(c)(4) groups to disclose their donors.

A bill that has passed the state Senate would require all 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups to disclose contributions and expenditures if anyone who makes spending decisions for that group is a candidate, a candidate’s spouse or “has a contract or is employed by a candidate.”

This means if Sally Smith runs for office and her political consultant also does work for the Sierra Club or National Rifle Association, that group would have to disclose its donors. That would be true whether or not the group is active in the state, has run any advertising, or is even interested in Sally’s candidacy.

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Jackson Clarion-Ledger: House wants campaign finance study

Geoff Pender

The state House on Monday voted to study the need for campaign finance reform over the next year after debate in which some argued the need is clear and present.

“I’ll tell you, this bill is all about figuring out what we can do sensibly and without all the rhetoric,” said House Elections Chairman Bill Denny, R-Jackson. “Let’s find out what we need to do with campaign finance.”

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