Daily Media Links 4/27: Gifts and politics: Supreme Court to hear sides in former Virginia governor’s case, Billionaire Environmentalist to Spend $25 Million to Turn Out Young Voters, and more…

In the News

DC Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion: Holmes v. FEC

The linchpin of plaintiffs’ argument is that contributing $5,200 to a candidate in a general election in one lump sum cannot be considered corrupting because Congress determined that contributing $5,200 to a candidate in two installments ($2,600 for a primary election and $2,600 for a general election) is not corrupting. In support, plaintiffs invoke the McCutcheon plurality’s statement that “Congress’s selection of a $5,200 base limit indicates its belief that contributions of that amount or less do not create a cognizable risk of corruption. The district court may be correct that McCutcheon’s repeated references to a “$5,200” contribution limit were just “shorthand … dicta” to describe the combined limit “for the primary and general elections.” But then again, it may be that plaintiffs are correct in treating those references as support for their position. We do not take sides on the merits of the dispute.  It is enough to say that plaintiffs’ argument is not “obviously frivolous” or “obviously without merit.” [Citation Omitted]

Read the opinion…

Denver Post: Bringing Colorado campaign finance laws in line with the Constitution

Editorial Board

Tom Paine may remain a political icon, but his modern-day successors who spend a few hundred dollars on yard signs and leaflets to support a ballot measure will be subjected to a welter of complex legal rules and no one gives it a thought.

Except the courts, fortunately. In three separate opinions — in 2010, 2014 and again last month — federal courts have indicated that Colorado’s law governing individuals and groups that raise and spend relatively small amounts of money on ballot measures violates the First Amendment.

If you raise or spend more than $200, you become an “issue committee” that must register with the state and then comply with a host of disclosure rules. Basically, you’ve got to hire an attorney to make sure you are following the law when all you’re doing is engaging in protected speech.

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Supreme Court

Washington Post: Gifts and politics: Supreme Court to hear sides in former Virginia governor’s case

Robert Barnes

The Supreme Court on Wednesday morning will consider whether former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell is a criminal for the favors he bestowed on a high-rolling businessman who showered him and his family with gifts, or just another politician.

McDonnell’s lawyers will tell the court that the acts that caused a jury to convict him of 11 counts of political corruption and a judge to sentence him to two years in prison are indistinguishable from the favors politicians regularly provide in exchange for gifts and campaign contributions.

“Officials routinely arrange meetings for donors, take their calls, politely listen to their ideas, and refer them to aides,” McDonnell’s lawyer Noel Francisco said in his brief to the court.

“In criminalizing those everyday acts, the government has put every federal, state, and local official nationwide in its prosecutorial crosshairs.”

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Campaign Donors

The Economist: Does freedom from big money help election campaigns?

But an analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data by The Economist suggests that rather than propelling a campaign to victory, small donors may in fact drag it down. Since 1980, successful Democratic and Republican primary candidates have raised an average of 74% of campaign money from large donors. Losing primary candidates, meanwhile, have relied on such donors for just 54% of their campaign cash. No primary candidate has ever won the nomination of the Democratic or Republican Party without raising at least half of their money from large donors. The candidate to come closest was Walter Mondale in 1984 who raised 51% of his contributions from large donors. Our analysis shows that each ten-percentage-point increase in the share of money that a primary candidate raises from large donors increases the candidate’s likelihood of winning the nomination by over 7%.

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Independent Groups

New York Times: Billionaire Environmentalist to Spend $25 Million to Turn Out Young Voters

Coral Davenport

Mr. Steyer, the single biggest political donor of the 2014 midterm election cycle, said the campaign would target at least 203 college and university campuses. He called it the largest youth voter outreach program ever undertaken by a candidate or political campaign.

Mr. Steyer spent $74 million in the 2014 midterm elections, including $67 million for NextGen Climate to reward candidates who embraced climate change as a major issue. That year, Democrats were clobbered, losing control of the Senate and falling deeper into the minority in the House. Of the seven candidates for Senate or governor NextGen Climate spent money on, three won.

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Politico: Super PAC to mount pro-Trump charge in California

Alex Isenstadt

Great America PAC has emerged the leading pro-Trump super PAC. While the New York businessman has made opposition to outside groups a centerpiece of his campaign, Great America PAC has pushed forward, tapping seasoned operatives Jesse Benton and Eric Beach to oversee its efforts.

The memo also seeks to assuage concerns about Trump’s finance operation. With questions lingering about whether Trump is building a sufficient fundraising infrastructure for a prospective general election matchup with Hillary Clinton, Great America PAC bills itself as a burgeoning financial powerhouse.

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USA Today: GOP elite donors have spurned Ted Cruz

Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and his allies are moving aggressively to court the super-wealthy donors disenchanted with GOP front-runner Donald Trump, but a USA TODAY analysis shows the tough challenge the Texas senator has faced in wooing the party’s moneyed elite.

Only 16 of the more than 720 organizations and individuals who contributed $10,000 or more to a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC four years ago have donated money to the array of super PACs pushing Cruz’s candidacy this year, a USA TODAY examination of newly filed campaign-finance reports finds. Another 12 have donated to super PACs supporting Ohio John Kasich’s bid for the GOP nomination.

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Effects of Campaign Spending

Vox: Why Charles Koch says “it’s possible” he could support Hillary Clinton

Lee Drutman

Or perhaps in his increasingly old age (he’ll turn 81 this November), Charles Koch has come to value the social part of libertarianism more highly than the economic part, and is genuinely disturbed by the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Republican Party. Perhaps he understands that the public is not with him right now on truly shrinking the size of government, and therefore that he has more work to do in funding groups to make the case to a younger generation. By contrast, the social issues, like reducing mass incarceration and legalizing marijuana, are more ripe for immediate change.

Most likely, the simplest answer is probably the right one. Koch, like many libertarian-minded, global business leaders must be struggling with this election. Like Koch, they are probably horrified by the nasty tone this race has taken. They are generally pro-trade, pro-immigration. They also must feel personally disappointed that the GOP voters have solidly rejected their libertarian agenda, despite all the money they spent.

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Talking Points Memo: Editor For Adelson-Owned Paper Says Columnist Can’t Write About Adelson

Sara Jerde

The new editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reportedly told a room of journalists this weekend that a longtime columnist for the newspaper won’t be able to write about its owner, GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Political reporter Jon Ralston flagged that Review-Journal editor Keith Moyer made the comment about columnist John L. Smith on Saturday at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting. Here’s an account of what Moyer said from Review-Journal reporter Pashtana Usufzy:

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Candidates and Campaigns

Washington Post: Bernie Sanders is outraising, outspending and outadvertising Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Philip Bump

Sanders’s campaign has the air of the long-shot outsider, in part because that, for months, is what he was. Last summer, he trailed Hillary Clinton in fundraising across the board. By the fourth quarter of 2015, though, he’d nearly tied her. For each month of this year? He’s outraised her.

In practical terms, that means out-advertising her.

Before last week’s New York primary, NBC News reported data from SMG Delta showing that Sanders was outspending Clinton 2-to-1 on ads in the state. On Tuesday, they looked at numbers in states that are currently voting — and, once again, Sanders has consistently spent more on ads.

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Salon: Mystery over booted Bernie Sanders Facebook groups — which have more than 50,000 members

Antoaneta Roussi

Several Bernie Sanders Facebook groups and pages were deleted from Facebook on Monday night outraging the democratic socialist’s supporters. The removals occurred around the same time in what appeared to be a targeted attack, with members questioning whether they came from a Hillary Clinton Super PAC, according to Heavy.com.

The suspicion comes after Shaun King from The Daily News reported that a pro-Clinton PAC, called “Barrier Breakers,” was spending $1 million to troll Bernie supporters on social sites like Instagram, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter.

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The States

Huntsville Times: Alabama Senate holds up ‘dark money’ disclosure bill

Howard Koplowitz

But Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said that while Orr’s bill may be well-intentioned, he said he believed the legislation would have unintended consequences that roll back voting rights or intimidate voters. He pointed out that the law that allows dark money groups to hide their donors is rooted in the ruling of the 1958 Supreme Court case NAACP v. Alabama, where the court decided that the state could not force the group to hand over its membership list.

“There are too many people that I know about who died for the opportunity to vote,” Smitherman said. “I agree with the philosophy [of the bill], but the price that we have to pay is too great. Instead of plugging in NAACP, we’re plugging in another foundation. I have a personal commitment that not on my watch that voting opportunities and rights are going to be set back one inch.”

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New York Post: Bill de Blasio’s blatant campaign-finance hypocrisy

Randal John Meyer

The Board of Elections report is pretty damning, citing “considerable evidence” of wrongdoing. “The de Blasio team solicited contributions for the benefit of the campaigns of Justin Wagner, Terry Gipson, and Cecilia Tkaczyk, and instructed contributors to route the donations through” political committees as straw donors, which then deposited the money with the candidates’ own committees.

This funneling of funds through the various committees was done “in order to evade contribution limits and to disguise the true names of the contributors.”

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Lexington Herald-Leader: Beshear asks ethics commission to investigate Bevin’s campaign finance claims

Jack Brammer

Andy Beshear also is asking the commission to investigate whether the Bevin administration, which took office in December, used political contribution histories as grounds to fire non-merit, or politically appointed, state employees. Political appointees generally serve at the pleasure of the governor and may be fired without cause.

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KHBS Fayetteville: Arkansas AG rejects wording of campaign finance measure

Associated Press

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand the state’s ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials…

Couch’s proposal would impose other new campaign finance restrictions, including a ban on political action committees funded by corporations or limited liability companies. It would also lower the maximum amount a donor can contribute to a candidate from $2,700 to $1,500.

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Arizona Republic: Campaign wants Arizona voters to say no to everything

Mary Jo Pitzl

“As many Arizonans have figured out in recent election cycles, there are numerous, primarily out-of-state-funded, ballot initiatives that use Arizona as a political laboratory for their singular agendas,” Chairman Kurt Davis said. A ballot committee called “Vote No Arizona” opened last week. Its goal is to highlight ballot proposals that are paid for largely by out-of-state groups and encourage voters to just say no.

He and Barry Dill, his partner at FirstStrategic, a public-affairs/lobbying group, say they haven’t homed in on any specific target, although he said measures such as the ongoing drives to legalize marijuana, beef up the state’s public-campaign finance system or enact protections for solar energy would all be potential candidates.

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