Daily Media Links 3/31: For Some SuperPACs Backing Ted Cruz, It’s Time To Unite Against Trump, McCain-Linked Nonprofit Received $1 Million From Saudi Arabia, and more…

In the News

Financial Advisor: SEC Scrutinizing Finra Pay-To-Play Proposal

Dan Jamieson

Facing freedom-of-speech issues, the SEC is taking a closer look at a pay-to-play proposal from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority that would regulate political contributions…

Pay-to-play rules are designed to prevent fraud in the awarding of state pension contracts. They can cover a broad array of advisors, including retail reps who may work with defined benefit or defined contribution plans such as 403(b) and 457 plans.

But the political-giving restrictions are being challenged by opponents who say recent Supreme Court rulings raise doubts about the constitutionality of such limits.

Republican state parties in New York and Tennessee and the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that advocates for removing political spending limits, have objected to Finra’s proposal on constitutional grounds.

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Petition for Writ of Certiorari with U.S. Supreme Court in DSF v. Denn

Here, Respondents (“the State”) demand the right to review and publish four years of donor records from a §501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit – private information protected from disclosure by federal tax law. The State does so even though DSF makes no

endorsements and conducts only traditional charitable activity, including the publication of an educational, non-advocacy voter guide listing all major party candidates for federal and state office and their statements on fifteen different issues…

It is undoubtedly proper – and supported by this Court’s precedents – to ask Americans to stand with civic courage behind their public, political acts. See Doe v. Reed. It is wholly improper – and contravenes this Court’s precedents – to demand such courage from persons in Delaware making general charitable donations of $25 a year, especially when the State splashes a donor’s identity across the Internet because of her donation’s loose connection to a communication made four years later. The Buckley precedent forecloses Delaware’s overreach. Preservation of that precedent counsels in favor of granting the writ.


Independent Groups

NPR: For Some SuperPACs Backing Ted Cruz, It’s Time To Unite Against Trump

Peter Overby

As Ted Cruz insists he can still overtake GOP front-runner Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination outright, the Texas senator has an innovative and well-funded alliance of superPACs supporting his effort.

The 2016 campaign has not been kind to presidential superPACs. The ostensibly independent committees, which help presidential candidates at arm’s length and with no fundraising limits, failed to help Republican hopeful Marco Rubio. And the superPAC backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spent more than $100 million, but couldn’t get the one-time front-runner past the first round of states.

Charles Spies, a Washington lawyer who ran the Bush group, Right to Rise USA, said he learned this lesson: “If you are running against a reality television star who can generate billions of dollars of earned media, the utility of superPAC funds is greatly diminished.”

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Washington Post: Maryland Senate candidates spar over super PACs in latest debate

Rachel Weiner

At a debate televised by WJLA (Channel 7), Van Hollen attacked Edwards for refusing last summer to sign a pledge barring super PAC involvement in the contest and again urged her to sign it — even though outside groups made possible by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision have spent heavily on behalf of both candidates.

“Why don’t you join me in putting your name to what you stand for?” asked Van Hollen, who like Edwards opposes the Citizens United decision.

Edwards countered that she is “proud” to have the support of a super PAC run by Emily’s List, a group committed to electing female Democrats who support abortion rights and which has committed $2.4 million to the race so far.

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Wall Street Journal: An Ugly General Election Takes Shape

Karl Rove

If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Priorities USA promises to go after his bankruptcies and business failures, his misogynistic remarks, his character flaws and divisive comments. Mr. Cecil warns that the attacks on Mr. Trump so far are “a drop in the bucket” compared with what his super PAC will spend. The Donald has provided lots of material to work with.

Conventional wisdom is that these attacks on Mr. Trump in the Republican contest have so far failed. But they have likely limited the former reality television host’s upward movement and could cost him Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz and the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC has run a barrage of ads.

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Think Tanks

Bloomberg: McCain-Linked Nonprofit Received $1 Million From Saudi Arabia

Bill Allison

A nonprofit with ties to Senator John McCain received a $1 million donation from the government of Saudi Arabia in 2014, according to documents filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service…

“Foreign governments are prohibited from financing candidate campaigns and political parties,” Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for ethics watchdog Public Citizen, said. “Funding the lawmakers’ nonprofit organizations is the next best thing.”

Holman said that the Clinton Foundation, whose top donors include Australia, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, may have started the trend of foreign governments donating to nonprofits connected to political figures.

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Government Reporting

Sunlight Foundation: A new frontier in opaque political ad spending: GIFs

Libby Watson

This isn’t the only post like this at BuzzFeed. In January, Bernie Sanders’ campaign ran an ad on BuzzFeed, “15 Reasons Bernie Sanders Is The Candidate We’ve Been Waiting For,” featuring a mix of embedded tweets, videos and memes of Sanders quotes. It also included a section where readers could sign up with the campaign by entering their name, email and zipcode — vital data that campaigns work very hard to collect…

Sites like BuzzFeed aren’t breaking any rules when they put these ads up, and campaigns are complying with requirements when they just list the purpose of these expenses as something vague like “Media placement.” But this process doesn’t leave voters very informed about these ads. Voters deserve to know who’s behind the political ads they see, how much they cost and how often they run, no matter where they’re placed. With a growing focus on native ads, there’s a whole new frontier in opaque political spending.

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The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Judge Tosses Louisiana GOP Bid to Depose FEC

Sabrina Canfield

A federal judge quashed a request from Republican Party of Louisiana to depose elections officials it accuses of stymieing the electioneering process, ruling the inquiry would be “unduly burdensome.”

The Louisiana GOP and two local party committees sued the Federal Elections Commission in August 2015, seeking to invalidate portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

The plaintiffs claim the Act imposed new contribution and reporting requirements that unnecessarily restrict election activity and violate the First Amendment…

In their notice, the state GOP and county committees said they wanted to depose federal elections official seeking “evidence of corruption of a federal candidate resulting from ‘the types of activities in which plaintiffs seek to engage.”

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Washington Post: Judge: Gyrocopter pilot can’t join campaign finance protest march to Washington

Spencer S. Hsu

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District noted Wednesday that it did not appear that D.C. police have issued a permit for what organizers with the group 99Rise called a “Democracy Spring” march, featuring Douglas Hughes, 62, of Ruskin, Fla…

 “While Defendant may not intend to participate in civil disobedience, he may not be in a position to control what happens on the march,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. The judge also expressed “some concern” about Hughes’s “ability to be forthright,” noting that, about six months before he made his flight, he was deceptive when he told a U.S. Secret Service agent he did not own a gyrocopter or have any plan to fly to Washington.

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Dangers of Disclosure

Front Page Magazine: Arrest George Soros

Matthew Vadum

It is time to hold radical ringleader George Soros to account for the growing civil unrest that he has helped to foment in this presidential election cycle and his efforts to shut down Donald Trump rallies using physical force and intimidation.

Soros, the billionaire speculator, is the preeminent funder of the activist Left in America, which means he is the Number One funder of the domestic terrorism that is part and parcel of the Left.

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Candidates and Campaigns

The Hill: Clinton ally files FEC ethics complaint against Sanders: report

Mark Hensch

A group founded by longtime Hillary Clinton confidant David Brock has filed three ethics complaints with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Bernie Sanders and his allies.

The American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF) accused Sanders’s Democratic presidential campaign of accepting more money from individual donors than allowed under federal law, MSNBC reported.

The group also accused the Vermont senator’s camp of failing to include a proper disclosure on a Facebook ad it ran after the New Hampshire primary last month…

The ADLF’s filings are its first targeting of a Democrat since the organization’s founding in 2014, MSNBC reported. The group’s co-founder is Brad Woodhouse, who is also the president of a pro-Clinton super-PAC called Correct the Record.

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Huffington Post: Hillary Clinton Is Using Bernie Sanders’ Small Donor Success To Get Her Supporters To Give

Samantha Lachman

Clinton’s fundraising emails increasingly attempt to galvanize her supporters by mentioning reality television star Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee. But a more sustained trend is her fundraising team’s use of Sanders’ success with small donors, or those who give less than $200, to encourage potential Clinton contributors to chip in.

While Clinton posted a much-improved small-donor number in February, Sanders’ near-total reliance on small donors is unprecedented. The senator had raised nearly $140 million by the end of last month, with two-thirds of that haul coming from small donors. Clinton, in contrast, raised just $19 million from small donors last year.

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The States

WJAC Johnstown: Gov. Wolf says his agenda includes cleaning up campaign finance reform

Gary Sinderson

“Pa. is one of, I think, 12 states without any limits on campaign contributions,” he said. “I’d like to work with the legislature to develop some contribution limits that are in keeping with federal statues and federal judicial decisions that would actually put Pa. in the majority of states.

“We really need to have some limits so that people don’t have the sense that we have a system that is up for sale.”

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Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Senate votes to ban personal spending of campaign money

Geoff Pender

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved campaign-finance and elections reform that includes prohibition of politicians using campaign money for personal expenses such as cars, apartments and clothes.

“It’s really common sense,” said Senate Elections Chairwoman Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven. “The question you ask yourself is, ‘Is this a campaign-related expense, or an expense related to holding office?’ If the answer is yes, you’re fine. If it’s no, then you shouldn’t do it.”

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Helena Independent Record: Rep. Wittich’s phone calls debated in campaign finance trial

James DeHaven

Motl told a jury phone records show at least 15 phone calls between a cellphone number registered to Wittich and a phone number belonging to a Right to Work staffer, suggesting those calls contributed to a campaign so awash with undisclosed “dark money” it was “dark in every way you can get.”

Attorneys for Wittich — who has denied taking unreported contributions and accused Motl of engaging in a political “witch hunt” — suggested their client, also an attorney, was simply keeping in touch with his client, a separate Right to Work-affiliated group which was then embroiled in a campaign finance case that eventually wound up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The disagreements and alternative explanations did not end there.

For nearly two hours Motl, himself a lawyer, went back and forth with Wittich’s attorneys over everything from the definition of the word “hiring” to the order of trial exhibits.

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