Daily Media Links 4/26: Donald Trump is the Death Rattle of TV News, Fight Against NC LGBT Discrimination Law Reveals Hypocrisy Over ‘Dark Money’, and more…

In the News

More Soft Money Hard Law: Disclosure Wars: Issues of Policies and Purposes

Bob Bauer

Related to this is the question of whether it matters that a state would endeavor to keep this information off the public record, for its use only.  In another case testing the facial constitutionality of this requirement, the Center for Competitive Politics has argued unsuccessfully that the harm to its donors was complete with the exposure of their identities to state officials.  The court in this as-applied AFP challenge did not squarely take on this question.  But this is a point in contention on both sides of the ideological divide.  Other comments on the California rule and by no means from conservative quarters also reflected this worry about what the government might do with the information.

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The Media

Medium: Donald Trump is the Death Rattle of TV News

Luke Thompson

Trump’s out-sized share of “earned media” (in contrast to media you have to pay for, i.e. commercials) has many commentators asking whether or not his success stems from favorable network treatment.

Offended by this suggestion, CNN President and sometime Trump sidekick Jeff Zucker has insisted that his network followed the news rather than making it. Trump’s rise in the polls drove coverage, Zucker claims, not the other way around. Smelling a rat, pollster Jan van Lohuizen and I combined ratings data from the Television News Archive with publicly available polling data from Huffington Post Pollster. Zucker is full of it…

Trump received nearly a full month of breathtakingly elevated coverage from the cable and broadcast networks before his polling share started to move.

Zucker ought to know this. Because in the Mos Eisley Cantina that is the 2016 presidential election news cycle, CNN definitely shot first. The other networks quickly crowded in, but the guy who ran NBC Universal into the ground is either delusional or dishonest.

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Independent Groups

Reason: Fight Against NC LGBT Discrimination Law Reveals Hypocrisy Over ‘Dark Money’

Barton Hinkle

HRC is right to describe the law as vile, and right to seek its repeal. But there’s no getting around the fact that if campaign-finance advocates had their way, the group would not be allowed to. After all, it is (a) a corporation that is (b) using its financial resources to (c) drown out the voices of ordinary North Carolina citizens, who support the law by a slim majority. What’s more, it has (d) “blasted” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who is running for re-election. Finally, the HRC is (e) not required to disclose its donors.

This is the very definition of “dark money politics” that campaign censors want to eradicate.

And HRC has a lot of company. As The New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, more than 80 leaders of for-profit corporations have written to McCrory urging the law’s repeal. Some of them, such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank, have cancelled plans to expand operations in North Carolina.

In 2012 The Times echoed the views of good progressives everywhere by lamenting: “The corrupting influence of money is not limited to bribery… When outside spending is unlimited, and political speech depends heavily on access to costly technology and ads, the wealthy can distort this fundamental element of democracy by drowning out those who lack financial resources.” Yet now The Times et al. are quite happy to see moneyed interests do just that.

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Wall Street Journal: Let’s Make a Deal

James Taranto

The Cruz-Kasich alliance does, however, raise an interesting legal question. While campaign law has nothing to say about “collusion,” it does regulate “coordination”—a term both Politico and the New York Times, the latter in a headline, use to describe what Cruz and Kasich are doing.

There’s no rule that campaigns can’t coordinate with each other, a circumstance so unusual it’s unlikely anybody anticipated it. But the law does prohibit coordination between campaigns and independent groups, including political action committees. Both campaigns’ statements include exhortations to such groups…

And if third-party groups do “follow” the “lead” of the campaigns, as the Cruz campaign “would hope” they do, is the connection between the exhortation and the “communication” direct enough to trigger the regulation? The answer is probably no, unless regulators decide to pursue the matter zealously—in which case, this would make for an interesting First Amendment case.

When you put aside all the legal technicalities, it seems preposterous to think the government can punish a politician simply for saying publicly that he hopes (or expects) his allies to follow his campaign strategy. Then again, the Obama administration once argued that campaign-finance law could be used to ban books.

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Supreme Court

Mother Jones: Will Citizens United Save Bob McDonnell From Prison?

Stephanie Mencimer

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the criminal case against the former rising star of the Republican Party. In January 2015, a federal judge sentenced McDonnell to two years in prison on corruption charges, stemming from his acceptance of loans and gifts from a political supporter. McDonnell is now fighting the sentence before the Supreme Court. The former governor argues that the charges against him should be thrown out, pointing to the court’s ruling in Citizens United where the court’s majority rejected the notion that political favors are always equivalent to criminal corruption.

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Dallas Morning News: Texas Democrats allege Cruz campaign violated federal election laws during Dallas fundraiser

Katie Leslie

Texas Democrats have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging presidential contender Ted Cruz and his associates violated campaign finance laws.

The complaint, dated April 22, asserts that Cruz national co-chairman J. Keet Lewis broke election laws at an official campaign fundraiser in December by asking attendees to donate unlimited amounts, as well as to make corporate contributions to the pro-Cruz Stand for Truth PAC.

Cruz and his wife, Heidi, reportedly attended the Dec. 30 event in Dallas.

Federal law prohibits coordination between candidates and Super PACs. While a candidate or agent of a candidate can solicit donors to a PAC, it is illegal for them to solicit unlimited contributions or corporate contributions to a Super PAC.

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The Hill: Groups sue FEC over dismissed complaints

Lydia Wheeler

Two advocacy groups are suing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for failing to investigate claims that donors illegally contributed to super PACs through personal limited liability companies.

In its suit, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 claim the FEC dismissed five complaints they filed with the agency from 2011 to 2015 alleging individuals had used “LLCs” and other corporate entities as straw donors to hide their identities as the true sources of contributions to “Restore our Future,” the super PAC’s that supported Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run; FreedomWorks for America, the super PAC backing Tea Party candidates; and Black Men Vote.

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Free Speech

Washington Post: Scientific silencers on the left are trying to shut down climate skepticism

George F. Will

The leader of the attorneys general, New York’s Eric Schneiderman, dismisses those who disagree with him as “morally vacant.” His moral content is apparent in his campaign to ban fantasy sports gambling because it competes with the gambling (state lottery, casinos, off-track betting) that enriches his government.

Then there is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who suggests using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, written to fight organized crime, to criminalize what he calls the fossil fuel industry’s “climate denial apparatus.” The Justice Department, which has abetted the IRS coverup of its criminal activity, has referred this idea to the FBI.

These garden-variety authoritarians are eager to regulate us into conformity with the “settled” consensus du jour, whatever it is. But they are progressives, so it is for our own good.

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Florida Politics: David Jolly says ideally he’d like to ban all TV political advertising

Mitch Perry

“You know what I really want to do?” Jolly replied. “The British model. Take political ads off of television using the FCC regulation. How about that one? Right? But that will take years to get to a bipartisan campaign finance reform package. This is about getting Congress back to work. We can do this right now. If we cultivate the constructive anger of the American people that you’ve got a part-time Congress in a full-time world whose failing to even show up and do their job? We can pass the STOP Act.”

The United Kingdom bans paid TV and radio advertising on any ads on matters of “political or industrial controversy.”

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Candidates and Campaigns

Los Angeles Times: Sanders calls Clinton’s fundraising ‘obscene,’ but it’s more nuanced — influence isn’t corruption

Richard L. Hasen

Sanders and his supporters call Clinton’s fundraising “obscene.” Using fuzzy math (such as counting all the donations bundled by lobbyists who have had oil companies as clients), the Sanders campaign asserted that Clinton took millions in donations from the fossil fuel industry.

More recently, the Sanders campaign’s lawyer issued a letter suggesting, without evidentiary support, that Clinton or her supporters were breaking the law when they solicited six-figure donations in a joint fundraising operation with the Democratic National Committee and state political parties. In fact, while that fundraising strategy might be troublesome, it does not appear to violate any of the many porous rules set by Congress, the Federal Election Commission, or the Supreme Court. Nor is there any evidence, despite the belief of some ardent Sanders supporters, that Clinton has somehow been bribed to do the bidding of big donors.

Still, Clinton struggles to explain why, when she opposes the influence of big money on politics, that no one should worry about her super PAC money and massive donations.

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Politico: The desperate scramble for Bernie’s secret weapon

Gabriel Debenedetti and Darren Samuelsohn

Bernie Sanders shows no sign of dropping out of the presidential race anytime soon, but the vultures are already circling over his email list — perhaps the most coveted and valuable catalog of potential voters and donors in the Democratic Party at the moment…

“There’s efforts ongoing,” said Faiz Shakir, Reid’s digital director, pointing to Wisconsin Senate hopeful Russ Feingold as the kind of candidate — a liberal in a state where Sanders campaigned extensively — who lines up ideologically and would be eager to use the list.

“He’s built up an incredible list of passionate believers in bold, Democratic ideas,” added Shakir. “In order to remain impactful, relevant and helpful to the party, I think you have to find a way to leverage the enthusiasm he’s generated after his campaign has concluded.”

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New Yorker: Money Trouble: What does Bernie’s attitude toward campaign finance mean for Hillary?

Amy Davidson

The quandary—for Sanders and for the Party—is that the corruption of the political system is his issue. Last week, he was asked on the “Today” show about Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” line, and he called it “an ugly statement.” But, when asked if he, in a roundabout way, hadn’t also called Clinton crooked, he smiled and said, “In that case, the entire United States government is crooked.” This disjunction is at the heart of the growing bitterness between the two candidates. Sanders believes that money distorts a politician’s character; Clinton experiences this view as an attack on her particular character. She has responded by pointing out that President Obama collected tens of millions of dollars of super-PAC money. That money, in other words, may be the currency of the corrupt but is not in itself corrupting.

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The States

New York Times: Lawyer for Fund-Raisers Tied to de Blasio Fires Back at Elections Board

Jesse McKinley

In a strongly worded response to a New York State Board of Elections report alleging illegal fund-raising activities by a team of people with close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a lawyer for several of the implicated parties has accused the board of “a shocking lack of understanding or a complete disregard of the most fundamental aspects of the state’s election laws.”

The letter, drafted by Laurence D. Laufer, a longtime campaign finance lawyer who also represents the mayor’s re-election campaign, came two days after accounts in the news media of a January report from Risa S. Sugarman, the board’s chief enforcement counsel. The report, which was confidential, found “willful and flagrant” violations of election law by a group of political operatives known as Team de Blasio.

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